The Life of a Man Changed By A Game

This is the final 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. This final Part Three brings the story full circle and shows the impact that GSU sports has changed Hillyard's life.

I don't think there was a single precise moment when I realized he was right. There wasn't an "Ah HA!" moment when I knew my life had changed. But I can tell you the day it all started... That day was September 2, 2010. The place was the Georgia Dome, where I had run around carrying my "Welcome to the Wuerfell House" sign with "Wuerfell House" imitating the Waffle House lettering. I had been there in that same building to see the Gators win five SEC Championships and lovingly referred to it as "Ben Hill Griffin- North".

But this day was different. This day I wasn't watching the Gators… I was watching MY team. I will never forget the first time MY team ran out onto the field… I will never forget seeing over 30,000 people watch MY team play their first game… I will never forget MY team scoring their first touchdown… And I will never forget how I felt when I walked out of the Georgia Dome that night after I had watched MY team win a game.

I knew immediately that I certainly did care about Georgia State football much more than I had thought I would. But it didn't just change my perception of Georgia State football; it changed my entire perception of MY school. Suddenly I cared about Georgia State sports. That winter I went to Georgia State basketball games, and the ones I didn't go to I listened to on the radio. I started going to Georgia State baseball games. I bought more Georgia State Football shirts than I had Georgia State shirts of any kind whatsoever before that year. I learned the names of people like Dave Cohen, Carl Patton, Greg Frady, Bob Heck, Cheryl Levick, Shernard Long, Kevin Morris and Thomas Terrell and what those people meant to Georgia State University Athletics. I will be able to tell my kids about the time Georgia State beat South Alabama in overtime and I sprinted through the halls of the Georgia Dome in order to celebrate with my friend Logan. I didn't care in that moment how stupid I looked… because MY team had won!

Ultimately I can tell you that my older brother Jonathan had been right all along. I didn't understand how I could possibly care about a school's athletics more than I did Florida's… until September 2, 2010. That day changed my perception of college athletics and therefore my life. Now, to be fair, does this changed perception mean I am telling my father to sell his tickets in row 73 of section 19 at Ben Hill Griffen Stadium? Absolutely not. Does this change where I will be the last Saturday in October from now until probably the end of my life? Not likely.

However, the fact that I am writing this column is something. Georgia State faces many struggles ahead in trying to build a successful football program. One of which is convincing the alumni base and student body, who did not grow up with memories of Georgia State like the ones I had of Florida, to change their perception of their school. I am an example of a student who wanted nothing to do with his own school. I wasn't ashamed of it and it wasn't that I disliked my school… I was simply indifferent. I had my team and there was nothing that was going to happen to change that. Oh man was I wrong.

But when something has impacted your life so much, it is impossible to let it go so easily. I have been to more than 100 Florida Football games and I will never stop making that trip down I-75 to Gainesville. But there will be a day when I won't be able to claim both any longer… I know that one day the two teams that I care so much about will meet on the playing field. And I am proud to say that I will have learned yet another lesson from my brother and there will be no orange in my attire that day. I will be dressed in my blue and white and will cheer as loud as I can in hopes of a glorious Panther victory.

It's funny that something as silly as watching 18-22 year olds play a game can have such an impact on a man's entire life. I can't explain it the passion that I feel for both the Florida Gators and the Georgia State Panthers. I would like to think of it though as something romantic that I could care so much about something regardless of what I get in return. There have been many days that I spent the entire night sulking after a Florida loss. I have now endured my first losing season as college football fan in the form of Georgia State's 3-8 season. But I have also experienced the joy that loving something so much can bring. I love the Florida Gators… but I know that nothing will ever top the experience of what happened to me on September 2, 2010. I challenge all Panther alumni and students, regardless of where your allegiance lies, to embrace that day and what it has meant to your school. Lives were changed that day… and even if yours wasn't, that is something that anyone who calls themselves a Panther can take pride in.

Panther Primer Top Stories