Self-imposed Southern bye-week

(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 "Deep North")

Tailgating: The Myths

Southern 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 – YES.

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: 

1)    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.

2)   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.

It's Great!  To Be!



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