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A Florida family affair

In this guest essay, Matt Boedy, a professor of English at the University of North Georgia, talks about family, football and the Florida Gators

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This is a guest essay from Matt Boedy, a professor of English at the University of North Georgia who teaches in its First Year Composition program, as well as upper-level courses in writing and publication. He is the author of Murder Creek, chronicling the story of the last man to die in Georgia’s electric chairand Speaking of Evil, an examination of the question of why God would allow for the existence of evil through a rhetorical prism.

There is a picture somewhere lost, but always in my mind. It is a Saturday morning in the fall in the South and like many of you we are dressed up in our team’s colors. It’s the 1980s, and we are standing outside a Knights Inn in Gainesville, Florida, a medieval-style rent-a-room with purple bed covers and coats of arms on the wall. 

There is my family — two parents, three kids — and my mother’s parents, all dressed in some shade orange and blue. Visors and hats and some with jackets. Some also with Gator icons rubbed on their cheeks. 

There is also in the photo the other half, my mother’s brothers and their children, dressed in garnet and gold. All dedicated to a school which these are directions to find it: drive north from Gainesville until you smell it and then left until you step in it.

We would chomp, and they would do that stupid arm motion and sing that stupid song where they spell the name of their stupid school like they are hooked on phonics. 

And win or lose, we all the next day would go to Shoney’s for breakfast. I loved that place.  

One year these two teams tied in what is known throughout Gatornation as the “Choke at Doak.” My grandmother, now deceased and in Gator heaven, said the 31-31 tie after Florida State came back down in the fourth quarter by four touchdowns was like kissing your sister. She said some other colorful things on the ride home with her FSU alum son, so much that he threatened to put her out of the car. 

Our annual family reunion stopped shortly thereafter. FSU has fallen on hard times in recent years, and we don’t talk about any of that at the Thanksgiving table. 

This is just one part of the larger history of how Gator sports marks my family. Mark is though too simple. It is not merely one of many passions in my family; it is the central one. Gator sports, especially football but not limited to that, is in our family DNA.

I am sure you can relate.  We could compare how far back your family’s season tickets go. Ours go back more than 40 years, before I was born. We could compare not just the number of team t-shirts but what percentage of those make up your shirt drawer. Then there are the dress shirts, the belts, the jackets, the cups, the flags, the decals branded into your meat, the books, the DVDs, and my god the furniture one could buy. 

No, none of us have any jorts.  

I think the thing that makes my team worth this post as opposed to all the teams you know is that my family has been willing to wear some combination of orange and blue in public. You can fashionably wear red and black, orange and white, and even the colors of Auburn. But you have to add some black or white or gray to our colors to make us look presentable.

Though clearly many Gator fans in the 80s didn’t care

But it is not just the orange and blue accoutrement, though there is plenty of that. It is the ways in which this is the glue that keeps us family. 

This is what makes a post about my family worth it. 

In my five-person family, we are all graduates, dating back to my grandfather. 

My father played football on scholarship for the Gators — a linebacker under 200 pounds in the late 60s, early 70s. 

The linebacker turned medical student met my mother while she was a nursing student and we all now have our graduation year painted onto a large wooden orange gator somewhere in my parent’s basement. 

My younger sister wrote her application essay on how she was extending the family legacy, though with good grades and lots of extracurriculars. 

My older sister met her husband there. There was some debate whether to add my brother-in-law’s graduation year to our tally. 

That basement may be like other basements in towns across Georgia, though with different colors. We have a Gator-tiled wet bar, orange and blue bunk beds for the grandkids, and of course framed memorabilia on many walls. Even a signed napkin by Urban Meyer. Hell, I used to have an autographed Steve Spurrier hat until the Gator lamp it was on burned it. 

There is a current country song about a son who listens to a voicemail from his father that ends in “Go Dawgs.” It is a ballad by some crooner that is supposed to tell us something about father-son relationships. 

One of those things is fathers talk about the weather. Yep, true here. But I also get texts on every known Gator sport, plus recruiting.

As a young high school kid in Augusta, Georgia, I was proud to wear my father’s “Georgia sucks snot and eats boogers” shirt to “college day.” I also had worn at some point a “F–k FSU” pin that no adult noticed until third period. Success. 

To that young kid, newly approved for Georgia’s Hope scholarship, my father said that if I went to Georgia he would … well … it was a joke. Perhaps. 

So I went to Florida, and even with some financial help from my parents, left with an outstanding degree and $20,000 in debt. It was totally worth it. 

All that might be normal for you, too. But does your dad refuse to watch any of your team’s football games on TV because it would jinx the team? 

Does your mother judge behavior by referring to the standard of being a “true Gator?” I am mainly referring to the list of bad boys and traitor coaches who have left stains on the Gator brand. [I’m looking at you Aaron Hernandez, wherever you are.]

Many of you may have eaten bad chicken and slim green beans at an alumni dinner to hear a coach make a few jokes. Fine. But have you done the same to hear Tim Tebow’s mom? 

Many of you may have bought every known team-themed gift for Father’s Day. Fine. But have you given your father a football program with his name in it? 

Many of you may have given and received team-themed gifts for Christmas. But how many of you get a Gator gift for Christmas Eve?  

Many of you may have spouses who graduated from other schools, other conferences, “basketball schools.” But how many of you use replays on the SEC Network to teach them football?  

And many of you may fly that flag or have that garden gnome or put out that themed welcome mat. But how many of you name your house Swamp North? 

I could go on. 

On TV you see families portrayed as a collective known for being part of something bigger than the individuals. What it means to be Braverman from “Parenthood” for example. Or the “Big Three” from “This is Us.” 

But when your family doesn’t have that, when the years have seared some scars, when parenting of your children makes you see how bad or good you had it as a child, when the grandparents start to die, when the reunions stop, when all this [gestures toward memories, moves and things that fade] seems less like glue and more like fraying twine, what brings you together? 

Many of you have seen your team’s “hype” video. Fine. But how many of you cry at “Gators Always?” 

Why do we raise our voices as one?

Each one of us remembers when we felt it for the first time.

We were not just cheering for a game or a win. We were rooting for something in ourselves. 

An acknowledgement. A realization. 

That is why we stand together. 

We stand to understand… 

Once again…

What it means to be…

A Gator. 

Or a Boedy. 

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