The Life of a Man Changed By A Game

This is the second installment of a three part series in which Chris Hillyard takes Panther fans on his journey from growing up the fan of the Florida Gators all the way to how September 2, 2010 would change his life. Part Two details Hillyard starting at Georgia State and refusing to accept the inevitable change occuring within him.

Frankly even after I enrolled at Georgia State University I still didn’t understand. Georgia State didn’t have a football team and I was a commuter student. My time was filled with being a full time college student and being a high school drum instructor… and of course, going to Florida football games. My first two years at Georgia State I attended 20 out of Florida’s 27 football games, including road trips to Tennessee, Florida State, LSU, Ole Miss, South Carolina, and both Florida-Georgia games. During that same time period I attended just one Georgia State sporting event: a 15 point loss to VCU in basketball.

I believe that what I had told my brother had been exactly right. I did not care about Georgia State nearly as much as I did about Florida. I owned maybe one or two Georgia State t-shirts and hoodies while I could have gone two weeks without wearing the same Florida shirt every day. Even when Georgia State announced they would be starting a football program during the Spring of my Freshman year, little had changed. Certainly I was excited about my school starting a football program, but they were going to be FCS, and while I would support them, they would never threaten my allegiance to Florida, even if they did one day ascend to the FBS level.
I could not have prepared myself for what was going to happen to me. I simply could not have thought it possible. My perception of college football was about to drastically change, and I have already talked about how much college football impacted my life. However, like most people who refuse to accept change, I fought it until the very end.

I first started getting excited about Georgia State football when I began reading Ben Moore’s blog, Covering Panther Sports From Every Angle. He was the only one that I had seen thus far that wrote so frequently on Georgia State athletics. So I became a regular reader, but as anticipation grew for September 2, 2010 I still refused to accept what was about to happen to me.

We had already announced at that point that we would be travelling to Tuscaloosa, Alabama to play the Crimson Tide. Alabama was the defending National Champions, a title which came after they embarrassed my own Florida Gators in the SEC Championship game. They were the odds on favorite to run the table once again and become the first team to repeat as unanimous national title winners since Nebraska in the mid-nineties, who also accomplished such a feat by defeating the Gators.

One morning my brother and I were eating breakfast and he asked me about Georgia State football. As suckers for cheesy ending sports movies, we entertained the thought of the first year Georgia State football team defeating an undefeated, defending champion Alabama team. We agreed that it would be the greatest upset in the history of sports and something that would never be duplicated. I had also already decided I wanted to be at that game, so he asked me what it would mean to me to witness such a thing. My answer was obvious to me, but I watched as that answer made my brother’s jaw hit the table.

“That would be incredible,” I said. “But it wouldn’t mean as much to me as seeing Florida win a National Championship in person.”

I could tell right away he was upset with me. I don’t remember the first words that came out of his mouth, but I am sure they expressed incredible disbelief while most likely including a few expletives. How could I possibly think that?! THE GREATEST UPSET IN THE HISTORY OF SPORTS?! How would that not mean as much as seeing Florida, a team that had already won three national championships, win another one?

My answer came to me quickly and made absolute perfect sense to me at the time. Upsets are the novelty of sports. They are what keep the casual fans interested in 18-22 year olds playing a game. Real fans don’t care about their teams pulling off upsets; they care about their teams winning championships. There is no greater feeling than saying my team is the best team in the world. Furthermore, I had never been there in person to see my team accomplish that goal. I certainly savored every moment of the 1996 Sugar Bowl, the 2006 BCS Championship in Glendale, Arizona, and the 2008 BCS Championship in Miami, Florida. But I savored all of those victories from my own living room. Being there in person to witness that would be the single greatest moment I could experience as a sports fan. Jonathan was flabbergasted and once again told me that I just didn’t understand.

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