(9/10) Self-Imposed Deep South Bye Week
If you're an out-of-the-closet football fan, certainly
you've been sent the chain email that compares southern football with football
played up north. For those of you
haven't seen this classic, it is a side by-side comparison of each facet of
the college football experience, with the goal of convincing the reader that
football in the south is football the way it's supposed to be, and the
football in the north is slightly more exciting than doing your taxes.
The glaring problem with this (entertaining) comparison is that it rests
on the assumption that all southern football is exactly like the SEC football
experience, and that all northern football is exactly like seeing two I-AA teams
play on a soccer field in Connecticut.
With that email in mind, and with a very heavy heart, the
decision was made this past weekend to forego perfectly good tickets to the Kent
State/Ohio State game in favor of attending the Miami/Florida game in
Gainesville – and before you can say "Miami played Iowa this past weekend in
Oxford" – I'll clarify that it was Miami in Coral Gables – the little
private school in South Florida.
The attempt of taking this trip – other than to see the
only match-up of ranked teams playing this week and really the only game of
national consequence – was to check out first hand what the big game
atmosphere is like down south. I
had no doubt it would be spectacular – North or South, there is nothing better
than big game college football. However,
using this experience as a basis, we can compare it to the big game atmosphere
of the north – and by north, we'll refer to the Big Ten or Big XII games of
the Midwest, not New England (Southerners, take note: That is referred to as the
Tailgating: The Myths
tailgating lasts all weekend and involves heavy partying and non-stop excitement
about the game. Northern tailgating
involves hot chocolate and complaining about the weather.
Tailgating: The Reality
When we arrived in Gainesville on Friday afternoon, the
bars on campus across from the stadium were packed with students as well as
Miami fans who were already drinking heavily.
Lisa Guerrero from The Best Damn
Sports Show Period was broadcasting live from The Swamp – a bar across the
street from Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, which has the same nickname.
She was surrounded by dozens of star-struck guys who apparently did not
notice the 60/40 ratio of women to men on the patio.
The Friday atmosphere was excellent – not much different from the
atmosphere in the north with the exception of bars being built for the outdoors
– giant balconies and patios that are open other than just on game days.
About every fifteen minutes, this cheer would break out:
It's Great! To Be!
A Florida Gator, said it's Great!
To Be! A Florida Gator!
This cheer is repeated six or seven times, until it just kind of ends
awkwardly when people tire from doing it. But
it was done very enthusiastically – not unlike the O!
H! I! O! that can be heard throughout Columbus on any football game day.
What is just so peculiar about the cheer is that it is basically the
equivalent of group therapy – We're
Good Enough! We're Smart Enough! And
Darn it, People Like us! It's
Great! To Be! A Florida Gator! The
only northern college cheer I could compare it to is We Are! Penn State! The
PSU cheer has always struck me as bland if not stupid, but it is reminiscent of
the Florida cheer. Both serve as group self-confidence boosters.
Shortly after we heard the Florida chant for the third
time, the oddest thing happened: It's
Great! To Be!
A Miami Hurricane, It's Great! To
Be! A Miami Hurricane! The
same exact, "unique" cheer – but by fans of the other team. This reminded
me of the dozens of Midwestern high schools which use the Notre Dame fight song
as their own, but I didn't think that universities shared cheers as well.
Color me naïve. Appropriately,
this was met by a chorus of boos.
There were two more unique group cheers we heard that
night: Two Bits! Four Bits!
Six Bits! A Dollar!
All Florida Gators, Stand Up And Holler!
This was followed by very loud cheering – a huge crowd pleaser.
But by far the best cheer we heard the entire weekend though came from
the Miami Hurricane fans: We
Got Some Canes Over Here! Whoosh!
Whoosh! This is a great
cheer that unfortunately brought back awful memories of the 1999 Kickoff
Classic. Only a Cyclone or other
inclement weather-related mascot school could steal this chant effectively.
Game day tailgating was widespread, loud, and exciting –
as well as very young.
Decidedly, the biggest difference between tailgating in Gainesville and
tailgating in the Midwest is the glaring lack of people over 50.
I found out later in the day that the older crowd tailgates on the
opposite side of the stadium, far from the fraternities, bars and patios,
student tailgating and where the crew of ESPN Gameday was set up.
With a 5pm kickoff, there was no drop-off in activity anywhere on the
"younger" side of campus.
My only regret for the whole weekend – I never got a
chance to try the Gator Paella. Mmmmm…saffron.
Verdict: I believe that tailgating is what you make of it and cannot think of a single time in over 100 games attended that I did not have a great time before kickoff. That said, the weather, as well as general excitement and activity level – a function of a much younger crowd – makes big game tailgating in Gainesville one of the great college football settings. Big game tailgating at Ohio State is as good as it is anywhere. I'd be interested in seeing what it is like in Gainesville this weekend for the Ohio U game – probably a little more subdued, like Columbus likely was for Kent State.
Women: The Myths
Southern women are beautiful, friendly and plentiful.
Northern women wear baggy sweaters.
Women: The Reality
As this is a column on generalizations, there is no more
adequate generalization than when comparing northern and southern women:
If you took an average girl from the Midwest, grew her hair down to the
middle of her back, cut the sleeves and bottom six inches off of the shirt she
was wearing, pierced her bellybutton, and gave her yearlong access to
sunshine…you'd have a southern girl. Women
are beautiful everywhere. Southern
women are tan and wear less clothing.
Southern women are also entrepreneurs – we met one who
was selling her student ticket to the game, marked up 2000% (which was slightly
lower than the going rate). In fact
there were numerous students selling their tickets – we arrived empty-handed
and had our 40-yard line student tickets secured before the sun set on Friday.
Verdict: Any large state university with colleges of
nursing, education, or any other traditionally female-dominated concentration is
going to have large numbers of women in their late teens and early twenties.
Florida is sunny all year. Warmer
climates lend themselves to more active, outdoor lifestyles.
People look better.
Southern women are beautiful, friendly and plentiful.
Midwestern girls are as well; add sunblock.
Stadiums: The Myths
Southern football is played in giant, 100,000+ screaming stadiums. Northern football is played in stadiums the size of those where high school football is played in the South. Southern football games are loud and raucous. Northern football games are quiet and almost peaceful.
Stadiums: The Reality
Ben Hill Griffin Stadium could literally fit inside of
Ohio Stadium, or the hole that Michigan plays home games in, or even the erector
set in State College. The seats go
almost straight up into the sky on all sides – it is designed more like a
giant basketball arena than a football stadium.
Currently they are expanding even further, straight up into the sky.
About 85,000 people squeeze into the place – literally.
There would be no room in the stadium for everyone to sit down at the
same time. People in Columbus
complain about the inadequate amount of rump space in Ohio Stadium. At The Swamp, you are only allowed to sit down at halftime.
Otherwise you're standing up on your seat cheering loudly (other
exceptions, like throwing up, taking a phone call, or passing out are accepted
on a case-by-case basis). I was told that the opposite side (bottom of your television
if you're watching at home) was where the blue-haired money alumni actually
sit down and don't scream. There
is, both in numbers and proportions, a LOT more of the silent older types in
Midwest stadiums. I think this is
the case for a couple of reasons – one, Florida football is a fairly recent
phenomenon, so the older natives were not rabid fans when they were younger.
Two, in the Midwest, boosters donate a lot of money to a school, and
they're rewarded with good seats to the game.
In the South, many boosters skip the school funding and donate a lot of
money directly to the players, and the program gets put on probation, as over
half of the SEC currently is and Miami was very recently.
In any event, the stadium crowd is younger and much louder in the South.
I realize it was the national game of the week – but even when there
was a half-hearted cheer – like when the game was already out of reach or if
the Florida defense managed to hold Miami to under 15 yards on a running play
– the stadium was very loud. The
acoustics help do help make this happen.
The first quarter of this game was so loud you could not
hear your own voice. The whole
stadium stood and cheered throughout the first quarter. As it became evident that Miami could wipe the floor with any
college team that it faced – including the beloved home team – it grew much
more quiet. By the beginning of the
fourth quarter, it was no longer Great! To
Be! A Florida Gator!
Verdict: Architecture makes The Swamp a loud, loud
stadium. Surprisingly, the Florida
band did not play during the game except for halftime – they simply sat and
watched. Not that they were very
talented – there isn't a single Big Ten band that isn't better than
Florida's. However, there is an
ongoing debate in the Midwest as to when it is appropriate to stand up at a game
(or face the wrath of a blue-hair reporting you to stadium security).
There is no debate in the South – the answer to the question "when
are you supposed to stand and cheer at a football game?" is, undoubtedly –
Fans: The Myths
Southern football fans are rabid, boisterous and loud.
Northern football fans are quiet, reserved and sober.
Fans: The Reality
From the traditional cheers to the commitment to
celebrating game day, the fans in Gainesville were excellent. In another stark reminder of the Ohio State/Miami game of
1999, the Miami fans were not very gracious in victory, as evidenced by the
resounding chant outside the stadium after the game: It Sucks!
To Be! A Florida Gator!
In addition, a lot of the associated Miami gear that the fans were
wearing…printed statements like You Wish
You Were Me! on Miami t-shirts. The
pomposity was seemingly everywhere in orange and green, but there was a very
sharp dichotomy in the general Miami fan base in Gainesville.
There are exactly two types of Miami Hurricane fans, and it is very easy
to tell them apart:
Miami fans who did not attend the University of Miami: Loud,
trash-talking guys decked out in orange and green gear.
They look like members of the Vanilla Ice fan club, as would most anyone
in baggy, Miami Hurricane clothing.
Miami students and alumni: Analytical, knowledgeable football fans, and
there were many who had also scalped Florida student tickets around us.
Discussed each drive, the game and players with each other before, during
and after the game, and cheered loudly throughout.
Physically, they give up about six inches in height to their non-student
cohorts and look like future members of the Florida Bar.
Clothing is more reserved – no jerseys or loud superiority-proclaiming
shirts – simply school colors.
The dichotomy in fans here was very familiar – in this
regard, Miami is the Notre Dame of the South.
You've got the students, locals and alumni…then you have the Notre
Dame fans who decided to like Notre Dame, concluded their choice of football
team made them superior to the general populus, and subsequently cause the rest
of the Midwest to absolutely hate Notre Dame.
Miami is no different – they're only lacking the television contract
and their football team hasn't sucked for eight straight years.
Verdict: There are great and lousy fans all over the
country, and Saturday in Gainesville was no exception.
Miami is arrogance. However,
with the football team they've had the last three years, it would be difficult
to blame them for being so loud about it.
The SEC Tour, as we called this weekend, is going to
become an annual tradition. Thanks
to bye weeks and unbelievably cool wives, another visit to the South is in the
cards in the future.
As for how it compares to the North – the verdict
isn't black and white. One thing
that was glaringly missing from my experience was the emotion. I really didn't care who won the Florida/Miami game and was
able to enjoy the experience without and emotional peaks or valleys.
At Ohio State games, the state of my entire life seems in the balance
when victory is not totally in hand. However,
there was nothing missing in Gainesville that didn't make it an excellent
destination for the college football fan.
One thing is for sure: Miami is just about unbeatable.
They run a very plain, pro-set offense and an attacking man defense.
There is no gimmick. They
crush you on both sides of the ball and do not hide their game plan – they
will run right over you if the passing game is not working – and their passing
game is not shabby at all. They
only need to cut out stupid penalties and make sure they are committed to
finishing off every team that they play, and if they do, they have no holes in
their game. Several times I
shuddered at the thought of the Ohio State offensive or defensive lines going
against those guys. Fortunately, it
will be much easier watching them go against Washington State's this weekend. Or anyone else's for that matter.
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