There are only so many opportunities such as these. Only so many Saturday’s, only so many games, only so many moments to create memories.
This Saturday is one of those.
I don’t have to tell you why this game is important. Unless you’ve been under a rock for the past week, you know. I don’t have to tell you how much this game means to the Florida Gators program. You can feel it in the air in Gainesville.
I just want to tell you why you’re important and why you need to be in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium early.
Games like this one—Florida versus Auburn—they’re what college football is about. It’s a rivalry that has been ignored for far too long, making it all the sweeter the times it does come around. It’s a Top 10 matchup. It’s the game of the week. There are playoff implications on the line. It's Homecoming. You can go pregame with ESPN's College Gameday at the Plaza of the Americas. These games are special, they’re rare and the kind we tells stories about for years to come.
Tell the whole story.
"In a game like this, every single moment is going to matter. Be a part of every single moment."
There’s no point avoiding the elephant sized gator in the room. If you’re a student reading this, there’s been a contentious relationship between your fellow peers and media/administration/alumni/any opposing fanbase on Twitter and anyone else that got a glimpse of the stadium before kickoff. And I get it; it feels like the utmost disrespect to be called out about attendance. You pack in on the sunny side of the stadium in central Florida, stand in the dead heat and create a deafening wall of sound. You stand behind your team and support your Gators and feel like you give everything within your soul and voice to help impact the course of the game.
That's the point.
When media or older fans point out the empty student section 15 minutes before kickoff, it’s not a slight or a slap in the face. It’s a plea.
When those who drive hours to Gainesville for six to seven weekends each year, pay thousands of dollars in dues and expenses, go into a Gator Boosters meeting and ask Scott Stricklin what can be done about the students, it’s not because they don’t want you there. It’s because they want you to want to be there.
When people get upset that you’re not there early for the game, it’s because you ARE the game.
Anyone can sit at home and watch the matchup on television, taking in the replays and screaming to their refrigerator when something exciting happens. But being there in the stadium, that’s what you remember most. Being a part of the outcome of the game is the feeling you carry with you when reminiscing on the day some Thanksgiving 30 years from now.
“No matter what you do and watch on TV, it's still really exciting and it's a lot of fun. But not like being there, when you can feel the noise, when you can feel the energy, when you can feel the excitement,” head coach Dan Mullen waxes poetic.
“I'm sure watching Jarvis Moss block a field goal against South Carolina was pretty cool on TV. But probably felt a little differently if you were in the stadium. Right? You know, I mean, were you there? It was pretty cool to watch Brad Stewart pick off that pass last year against LSU. A little bit different when you were there and saw it and you were in the corner of that end zone.”
That Stewart Pick-6 against LSU quarterback Joe Burrow, I’m convinced, was a direct result of the atmosphere the fans—and particularly students—had helped create in the Swamp. It was a cacophony of discordance, pressing down on the Tigers and forcing Burrow into not one, but two bad decisions; the interception to Stewart and then another to Donovan Stiner, effectively ending the game.
It’s easy to remember those plays and games and think that’s when the atmosphere is more important. But there’s so much more to a game than just the final moments and the tone can be set from the moment the gates are open.
“At the beginning, that's when people will be really spooked,” says corner Marco Wilson.
“Usually, towards the end of the game, you're already used to what's going on [but] they come out loud right away, you're going to be worried about this and that because it's loud. The beginning part is really important.”
It’s stepping out of the opponents tunnel, according to wide receiver Freddie Swain, that creates the first curl of dread. The visitors enter Steve Spurrier Florida Field from the corner of the southeast endzone, stage right of the Gators tunnel. The visitors first see the alumni side, with its packed fans and windowed boxes reaching into the sky and reflecting back the sun. Then they turn the corner towards the sideline and are met with the students. Corner Trey Dean III thinks that when the Gators can first affect Auburn’s true freshman quarterback, Bo Nix.
“It’s very important especially a freshman quarterback coming in, it’s overwhelming. Even me as a freshman playing—and I’m playing defense—I’m like ‘wow this thing rocking’ so I know if a quarterback get behind center, he gonna feel it…especially a freshman quarterback, it’s gonna have a big affect. He hadn't played in the Swamp. He played a lot of different other teams but he hadn't played in the Swamp. Yea they played Texas A&M, but it’s not the Swamp.”
“Man we need everybody there. That atmosphere, the crowd yelling, crowd screaming, they can’t hear. It’s going to mess them up. We need everybody there,” pleads defensive lineman Kyree Campbell.
The time before the game kicks off is filled with an incredible pregame video and a moving band performance. The Mr. Two Bits Cheer can be chill inducing no matter who the celebrity is donning the seersucker pants that week. It really is something to see, even if just once. It also provides a chance to begin the mental game, using the intimidation factor during pregame warmups. This is something the Rowdy Reptiles do extremely well, so I know this student body is capable. So prepare accordingly, and for the love of all that is good and holy, don’t convince yourself that this is finally going to be the Saturday when everyone shows up at the same time to the gate but there’s somehow magically no line.
I didn’t graduate from the University of Florida so I can’t appeal to you as an alumnus. Journalist integrity with an unbiased opinion means I can’t appeal to you as a fellow Gator. But as a college football fan, I do implore you—nay, plead with you, to not let this opportunity pass you by.
One of the main things that makes college football so special is the atmosphere. The NFL can’t match it, baseball can’t replicate it and we spend all year waiting for those near spiritual experiences that only come from within these cathedrals. No matter what you do for the rest of the season, don’t let this Saturday be wasted.
In a game like this, every single moment is going to matter. Be a part of every single moment.