Now I know how Superman feels about Kryptonite.
In recent weeks, I’ve been brought to my knees by Technology Hell, hurricanes, car problems and a spate of bad news — including the loss of a friend – all the while doing my taxes.
My iPhone is still hijacked by IOS. I’m wrestling with Ma Bell about an overcharge. The tree deposited on my house by Irma has been removed, replaced by a tarp. My car is fixed but at twice the price I expected. We are all still grieving about our friend. And I still have a tough time watching the evening news. Taxes must wait.
It’s a process.
Ah, but there is always a big home college football game and tribute to Tom Petty to revive your spirits and help regain traction. And who wouldn’t take great pleasure in that drive up that iconic 441/301 route from Ocala to Gainesville on a Saturday?
Well, no, that route is still flooded, so you take I-75 and merge into a parking lot of cars creeping at old-lady speeds. You are deprived of your favorite ride of autumn for now. A one-hour trip turns into two. But it’s Saturday and during the trip up you have successfully negotiated with a foreign-sounding customer service agent to remove the extra charges from you cell phone bill.
Once inside the friendly confines of “The Swamp” – officially the Steve Spurrier-Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium – life immediately gets better.
Or does it?
This isn’t the Good Ol’ Days of journalism and no press box is familiarly chock full of colleagues – I get that. It was great to see Jeremy Foley, Scott Stricklin, Jerri Spurrier and my old friend from Chattanooga, Paul Grove. And besides, there is Gator football, which still brings out the passion in most of us Florida-educated folks.
Besides, who couldn’t get jazzed up by the appearance of Louisiana State University? The Tigers come limping in after humiliating losses to Mississippi State and Troy. We are almost pitying the fate of their vilified, barbecued and Cajun-fried head coach Ed Orgeron.
Living large and on the edge, winning close games like they were cherry-picking them, Jim McElwain’s Gators rally from two touchdowns back and set the stage for a fourth-quarter comeback that will surely wind up as another Florida win.
Maybe victory off the toe of Eddy Pineiro – because don’t the Gators always win the close ones?
But wait! After Lamical Perine’s second rushing touchdown, holder Johnny Townsend takes the snap from Ryan Farr, spins the ball toward the laces and the 178-pound, Miami-native, thunder-footed Pineiro is about to deposit it through the goal posts – just like he has done all 46 times before.
If ever there is a sure thing, it’s No. 15, who is so popular that the fans chant “Eddy! Eddy! Eddy!” before every kick. He wears the number of the most famous Gator player ever. What other kicker reaps that kind of love in college football?
Bad snap, ball down but spinning and, even though it’s not his fault, Pineiro shank-hooks it and LSU wins, 17-16, giving Orgeron his get-out-of-hell free card.
If you wanted to play the odds against that happening, you wouldn’t get much return on your money, because the probability of “Eddy! Eddy! Eddy!” missing his 47th PAT attempt is infinitesimal.
So, unfortunately, there weren’t any champagne corks popping in Gainesville for Homecoming, but there was another Homecoming of sorts.
In a tribute to Hogtown’s own Tom Petty, the crowd broke out in a rousing edition of Petty’s popular “Free Fallin’” in the first half that sounded so indigenous to “The Swamp” that I predict it will become the Gators’ Anthem much the way that Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” has become that to Red Sox fans in Fenway Park and everywhere else.
And if that didn’t give you a chill, then certainly the orchestrated “I Won’t Back Down” sounds like it’s ready for the flip side of the “We Are The Boys From Old Florida” hymnal that is sung between the third and fourth quarters.
Even my friend Paul Finebaum e-mailed me, “I’m sorry I missed the tribute to Tom Petty” while he was in the middle of his Sunday morning gig on ESPN.
So oddly enough, the most memorable moment at “The Swamp” was music. BTW, the heat of the Florida-LSU just got stoked. As if losing wasn’t bad enough, the LSU band tromped on the sanctity of Gator Holy Grail — the tribute to one of Gainesville’s favorite musicians – by playing over the crowd’s chorus of “Free Fallin’”.
Even the LSU band was talking smack.
The loss is disappointing but isn’t earth shattering. What should be more disturbing is all those empty seats – especially in the North End Zone. The announced crowd was 88,427. Wasn’t there a long waiting list back in 1997?
I could go into the litany of excuses and reasons Florida lost but won’t. Things are going to keeping changing everywhere week after week – see Michigan, Florida State and Oklahoma – so let’s just ride this one out.
I’ll just leave this here. After Saturday’s game, a long-time friend and big-time Gator advocate with a good football mind, texted me: “You were right back in 1997. We were sitting at Wolfy’s talking about Florida football and Spurrier. You said, ‘Enjoy it. These types of runs come along once in a lifetime.’ I didn’t fully appreciate it then. I do now.’”
Could that have been 20 years ago?