Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Falling in Love with the Most Hated Team in College Football

I've spent most of my life not caring much (at all) about sports. Sure, I went to every home football game when I was a freshman at PBHS, but only because I had a major crush on the kicker. I never paid much attention to what was happening on the field if he wasn't out there (which was very little). I have attended a single college football game - UM vs. I-don't-have-a-clue - back in 1988 when my best friend, Isabel was a Hurricane. I remember the ride on the MetroRail and how the SunTrust building was lit up in Miami Heat colors for their inaugural season. But, I don't remember much about the game itself. I got into hockey when the Panthers were on fire and it was exciting to watch. But after they traded away the "Dream Team," I lost interest.

When my daughter was accepted to Florida State last December, it occurred to me that I might have to get into the whole college football/team spirit thing. My sister and her family have been die-hard FSU fans for decades. Maybe she could help me understand it. I tried watching last year's Rose Bowl game with my daughter, but ended up going to bed at halftime. My daughter watched her soon-to-be home team win the National Championship and she was excited and proud to become a Seminole.

The "Garnet and Goldens" in
their Game Day collars from
Kolossal K9

It wasn't until my husband and I took our daughter to Freshman Orientation at FSU in May that I realized what team spirit was all about. (By the way, I just realized that I started a blog post called "Things I Learned at FSU Orientation" that I never finished...maybe someday.) The one thing that really stood out to both of us about Florida State was the sense of community, family and pride that every Seminole has. It truly was contagious. I caught the bug in Tallahassee, but it the bug had a few months' incubation period before I experienced full-blown Seminole Fever.

After discovering that hotel rates that were normally around $100/night were $400+/night on game weekends, I was absolutely certain that I wouldn't be attending an FSU game during my daughter's Freshman semester. But, I did start watching the games. In fact, I watched (at least part of) every single game. Anyone who knows me knows that 9:00 is my regular bedtime. Since many games didn't start until after 8, I had to record quite a few. But I watched. And I cheered. And I screamed at the TV. And I even listened to the game on AM radio if I had to be somewhere else. (Whaaaaaat?!) And still, I cheered. :) 

One of the benefits of recording a game (or even watching it live) on DIRECTV is the ability to rewind and pause the game. This allowed me to do a double-take and catch quite a few memorable moments with my cell phone camera. Did I just see what I think I just saw? YES! Yes, I did (and of course I took a picture of it)! I'll share a few of those moments with you:

The moon was out the evening we played NC State.
I'm sure this Louisville Cardinals fan's mama was proud to see her son do this on national television.
Also at Louisville, apparently nobody noticed that James Burgess' name was misspelled on his jersey. 
A successful Romance spotting after the UM game.
THE highlight of the season for me was seeing my baby on national TV. My daughter texted me early the morning of the FSU vs. Clemson game, telling me that she had gotten into ESPN College GameDay and asked me to record the program. I set the DVR and went about cleaning my house. At around 9:45 a.m., I decided to sit down and check out College GameDay to see what it was all about. I hadn't been watching for more than a couple of minutes, when I saw this small, familiar brunette head pop up behind some crazy guys in the crowd, right beyond the commentator's shoulders. I recognized that smile! I recognized that girl doing the Tomahawk Chop as she jumped up and down in an effort to be seen over tall guys' shoulders! It was my girl! :D Now, THAT was exciting.

Throughout the season, I was amazed at the tenacity and the never-give-up attitude shown by the Seminoles. There were nights I fell asleep at halftime, certain that they were going to lose the game. I'd wake up the next morning to see the posts of victory - 21 straight wins...25 straight wins...29 straight wins!  They beat minor teams (The Citadel has a football team?). They beat major teams, like Notre Dame. They came from behind to defeat both in-state rivals. It was amazing. 

I fell in love with Coach Jimbo Fisher. He was inspiring and supportive. He ALWAYS encouraged his team to never give up. He ALWAYS had something positive to say about the guys. You never saw him lose it on the sidelines at his players. He treated the team like they were his own sons and it was obvious that they respected him too.

What I never could understand was why everybody seemed to hate FSU. It just didn't make any sense to me. I would listen to the commentators during the game completely ripping any mistake the Seminoles made. They would get giddy when the Noles were behind. I asked my sister if it was because of Jameis Winston. She replied, "No. It's always been this way." WHY? 

Now, I'll admit, Jameis has brought a lot of negative press to FSU and the team. My personal feeling on Jameis Winston is that he's a college kid who has made some REALLY poor decisions. Stealing shellfish from Publix is wrong and, yes, illegal. Standing up on a table in the student union and shouting obscenities is also wrong. It's immature, offensive and downright stupid. But nobody ever said that college jocks were the wisest human beings to ever walk the earth now, have they? One thing that I don't believe about Jameis is that he is a rapist. I read the entire deposition (You can too by clicking the link, if you so desire. Warning: It's pretty graphic.) before making my decision. Yet it seems that the entire country turned on not only Jameis Winston, but the entire team because of one girl's "allegations". I think it's pretty ridiculous. I saw an amazing athlete who was always there encouraging his teammates, during good times and bad times. I saw a guy who genuinely seemed to care about the fans. I saw a guy who acted like a true leader on the field. As much as I am sad to see him leave FSU to move on to the NFL, I don't blame him one bit. I wish him the best. (Am I actually going to start watching pro football too?!)

In any event, the FSU haters certainly had their day in the sunshine following the Rose Bowl debacle. It was certainly not one of the team's best moments, but I say one loss (albeit a humiliating one) in 30 is nothing to be ashamed of. What is far more shameful to me is the fans who left the stadium before the end of the game; the ESPN announcers berating the FSU players for walking off the field at the end of the game (which I also thought was very wrong until I learned that they had been asked to do so by Rose Bowl officials); the Oregon players who mocked Jameis chanting "No means no!" during their victory celebration; whoever slashed players tires and keyed their cars back in Tallahassee; "fans" trash-talking Dalvin Cook and other players after the game; the FSU haters who just can't seem to let our ONE loss go (as if they have room to talk). I'm not lovin' the dark side of college football much at all. The Seminoles (or more specifically the following hype video) actually made me a Taylor Swift fan, though. As much as I loathed this song when it first came out, listening to it in the context of Seminoles football gave me a whole new perspective! No, we are no longer "unconquered" (heartbreakers gonna break), but the players are gonna play and the haters are gonna hate.

In spite of everything, I thought this was an absolutely thrilling season. A year ago, I never would have dreamed that I would be excited about watching a football game, let alone look forward to attending one! Thanks to the Seminoles, I now love to watch football (well, Seminole football anyway). I love the excitement of having a team to cheer for. I admit that I still don't fully understand the game, but I enjoy watching it.  I cannot wait for next season so that I can actually go to a game. One day this fall, I will be up in the stands at Doak in my garnet and gold, cheering, chanting (?) the War Chant and doing the chop with my girl. Thanks guys - you made this Seminole mom a fan! <3 #GONOLES