Why We Are Gators: The Roots Of Fandom Go Beyond Diplomas

This piece is dedicated to every kid who couldn’t get into their dream school, but never let it stop them.

I did not go to the University of Florida. I never got a degree from UF, and I never even applied – though I did get a college degree, and proudly let that hang on the wall above my desk for all to see. Yet, without fail, there is always that one person on social media who points out that I’m not a UF alumnus. The one person who says, “Where did you go again,” in that mocking tone. And while supportive, even my own family, I think, looks at my love for the University of Florida with at least a somewhat raised eyebrow.

The fact is I could not have gone to Florida even if I had wanted to. Nor could I have gone to Florida State. Not even North Florida (where I worked for three years). I am dyslexic. While it’s something that I overcame in regards to writing, reading and comprehension, one thing I could not topple was geometry. I took that class a grand total of three times, and each time I received the same grade: that same “F” stitched on the hats I wear to every Gator game.

You see, at that time in Florida, every State University System (SUS) required that high school students attain three years (it is now four) of math credits, Algebra I and greater. Without geometry I stood no chance. All 12 universities in Florida’s SUS system were never an attainable dream, and I was forced to look elsewhere.

Undaunted, I attended and graduated from Jacksonville University. I had an amazing four years there, and am now a member of the Alumni Board of Governors, and chair the Atlanta Alumni Chapter. I met many great friends (including the COO and co-founder of this very site), had a great education afforded to me, and happily talk up JU in academic circles and to any prospective students.

And this is precisely why the notion that you MUST have attended the college you root for is not only ignorant, but also insulting and demeaning. There are plenty of people who walk into The Swamp, Tiger Stadium, Doak Campbell – wherever – who never attended those institutions.

Maybe they had a learning disability (like me). Or they decided to raise a family (planned or unplanned). They may have needed to take care of existing family, and entered the workforce full time. What if they decided (or were drafted) to serve our country, and had to put off college? Some aren’t even old enough to attend college. Others may not have had the money. And the list goes on.

So what if a person didn’t attend an institution, but still loves the school. Where’s the crime in that? What is the point of ridicule there?

The reasons why a fan didn’t attend the college they happen to root for do not make these fans lesser people, because guess what: life happens. You react and make adjustments accordingly.

No I didn’t attend Florida, but I grew up a Florida fan. My house was a Gator household from a very early age and, like many kids, I went along with it. Parents raise their kids as fans all across this country – and that’s the beauty of America.

My mother happened to be an avid San Francisco 49ers fan, and Joe Montana was her favorite pro-quarterback. And guess who was photographed in a toddler No. 16 red and gold Montana jersey at 5 years old in 1990 when the 49ers crushed the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXIV? This guy.

My father is a long-suffering Cleveland Browns fan, and guess who wore a Browns shirt with his Dad at the bar last season when they played the Patriots? Again, this guy.

In return, guess who adjusted dinnertime when the Gators played a big game – all because they knew it was important to me. My parents. Newsflash: none of my family played for NFL teams and neither of my parents went to the University of Florida. That’s what makes sports beautiful: you need not have attended the college or lived in the city in which you currently reside to be a fan.

And for me it goes even deeper. I love the fall not only because of the weather, but because it means a lifestyle change. I get to travel and see friends I maybe only see once a year (or once every other year depending on the venue).

I made some of the best friends during my two-year stint in New Orleans, and those people are still in my life today. There is a guy in the group who has not missed an LSU game (home, away, bowl, or championship) since the mid-1980s. There’s another who is probably as diehard as they come for the Bayou Bengals, but went to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach – he only grew up a Tiger fan.

Or, there are the wonderful friends in Nashville who I get the pleasure of seeing when Florida clashes with Vanderbilt on the field. The people are always so friendly that I make new friendships every year – all while enjoying some of the classiest tailgating in the South.

Or all my lifelong friends in Jacksonville, who put on a tailgate to end all tailgates during the “World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.”

Or my friends in Lexington, who always have an extra bed or couch and cold beer available when they know Florida will beat their Wildcats for the millionth consecutive time.

Or when I travel to Gainesville on a crisp autumn Saturday and sit inside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium with 88,000 of my closest friends – getting goosebumps with the player intros, a sore throat yelling “GET UP AND GO!” or a tear in my eye when “We Are The Old Boys Of Old Florida” plays and sways.

My point is, folks, it goes beyond what’s on the field. It’s a cadre of good people and fond memories every single fall because we all share a love for something greater than ourselves.

It doesn’t matter where you are from. It doesn’t matter how much you make. It doesn’t matter what you look like. And no, it most certainly does not matter where you went to school. It’s about a camaraderie that transcends everything else going on in our lives. That’s why we are Gators.