It had been 15 years since I last attended a college football game. I was a student at Florida State University and they were playing their archrival Florida. Until I stepped away to the West Coast I had no idea how big a game that was.
When I lived in LA between work and home I would often walk by a homeless man. Sometimes he stopped me in conversation and when he found out I went to Florida State he would ask if I could get him a ticket to the Florida State-Florida game.
I must have audibly scoffed at his request because he insisted he’d pay me back. When I reminded him we were 3,000 miles away from the game he said, “I’ll take a train. I’ll get there somehow. I want to see that kind of game at least once in my life.” For years he bothered me for that ticket and if I walked down Cahuenga Boulevard tomorrow he’d climb out of his sleeping bag and ask me for it again. So it was with the slightest sense of betrayal that I kept the ticket and drove up to Gainesville with my brother to watch Florida State play Florida this past weekend.
15 years away from college football is a long time. I forgot how much energy was devoted to it. Instead of saying hello people greeted each other with a “Happy game day.” For a noon kick-off the streets were filled at nine am with fans emptying beer bottles.
My brother lives in spitting distance of the Gators stadium known affectionately as the Swamp, so he can charge top dollar for desperate drivers to park on his property. One of his patrons had his face painted in orange and blue and at 11 am was already drunk enough that after three failed attempts his passenger parked the car properly for him.
The enthusiasm was impressive. I almost understood people who preferred the college game to the pros, which is like being a fan of fifth grade school plays instead of Broadway. But as we walked into the stadium I remembered the preference comes from the college atmosphere of pure unadulterated energy. From the moment the game started to the time it ended nobody sat down. The decibel level of the roaring fans makes your ears ring. If as much attention, thought, and passion went into other facets of life we could solve the world’s problems.
When I attended Florida State as much as I loved football it was hard for me to embrace the football team. Part of it was probably the fact that their mascot is a frat boy dressed like a Seminole Indian who rides a horse around the stadium while the fans (none of which are Native Americans) move their arms like a chopping tomahawk while chanting “Ooooo-oooo-ooooo-oooooo-ooo-ooo.” I love ethnic stereotypes as much as the next person, but it seemed to be in poor taste.
Back in the 90’s both sides were really, really good and national championships were often decided by this game. Since the turn of this century the Florida Gators have dominated while the Florida State Seminoles had been nestled in mediocrity. This year the tables had turned. Florida is stuck in their first losing season since the seventies, while FSU scored 80 points in their previous game.
Like all great teams in the corrupt system of college football there is a taint of scandal surrounding Florida State. Their outstanding quarterback Jameis Winston has been accused of rape. Even slimier, the investigation and charges against Winston have been halted as he racked up touchdowns and victories because the police warned the accuser that Tallahassee was a football town.
Florida fans at first glance seemed to be slightly more progressive. Instead of a caricature of an ethnic group their mascot is a reptile. They yell out positive affirmations spontaneously like, “It’s great to be a Florida Gator.” and when their team scored their one touchdown in the lopsided affair, they cheered unironically. They even seemed to care about sex being consensual as when the large contingent of Florida State fans let out their war chant, the Florida fans sung along with the words, “No00000- means-noooooo-Noooooo-means-nooooo.”
But with one questionable call, you’re reminded football fans no matter the venue are not the most open minded of people as they yell to the referee, “That’s a no call, you faggot.”
Perhaps due to the early start time or maybe because of the lack of drama with the game being decided before halftime, the two factions got along peacefully. No fist fights, no shouting matches. After three hours the game ends and the 100,000 strong crowd flood the streets desperate for places to urinate, refill with alcohol, and with Florida’s football season over for a place to channel their energy for the nine months until the next kickoff.