By Shannon Snell – OnlyGators.com Featured Columnist
Like many in Gainesville, Florida, Saturday was supposed to be an exciting day for my family as I was taking them to see the Gators for the first time in over a year. Above all else, I was prepared to get the taste of last season’s dismal 4-8 finish out my mouth, but as we know now, Mother Nature had other ideas.
While she obviously prevented the Florida-Idaho game from being played, she also provided me with a vastly different perspective on Florida fans and overall fun experience.
Sitting 16 rows behind the visitor’s bench, near where many of the parents of UF players were sitting, everyone was getting settled in with about 31 minutes left in the pregame ceremonies when the officials called the teams back into the tunnel. Little did the crowd know it would not see the team again for more than three hours.
Instead of the crowd groaning and complaining while sitting in the pouring rain, the student section to our immediate right kept everyone in The Swamp entertained the entire time.
It started with the wave. I was watching Georgia-Clemson on the big screen and did not see it reach my section, so one fan who seem to recognize me gave me the business. “Hey Snell,” he said, “you better help us get this wave going or I’m gonna kick your ass! Well…in my dreams at least!” That got a good laugh from everyone around us and surprisingly everyone seemed to be in a good, upbeat mood most of the night.
Speaking candidly, I never paid a lot of attention to the crowd as a player, even when I was on the sideline when the defense was on the field or at the end of blowouts. However, after my experience Saturday and from being in crowds as a fan at other sporting events, I can absolutely say that Gators fans are some of the most loyal, dedicated and crazy SOBs out there.
Most of the students stayed in the stands singing and dancing while heavy rain and loud lightning was just miles away. I stood in the tunnel for much of the time waiting for the rain to let up and hoping that the nasty lightning would go away, but I still paid attention to the goings on.
There were plenty of “Orange…Blue” chants, and I think Marcell Harris’s mom – a very, very sweet lady who everyone liked – was ready to beat down some girl who was acting like an idiot for a short period of time.
The place was as electric as the lightning above when Florida took the field to start warming up. I would guestimate there were 30,000 people left at that point, but you would not know it from the volume of the crowd. It sounded like the place was packed.
Everyone was, of course, disappointed to only see the kickoff return (especially since it was so impressive and put the Gators right into the red zone). Trust me, the players and coaches were equally as upset.
I was once in a similar position when Florida took on Ohio back in Sept. of 2012. Both teams had already warmed up and been running around for quite some time in pregame; we were all mentally ready to play football at 7 p.m. Suddenly, the skies opened up and there was a substantial thunderstorm ahead, so we got called back inside to wait it out.
I cannot express how difficult it is to get yourself re-ready to play a football game after a delay. Sitting in the locker room after getting yourself loosened up, your body gets cold and reverts back to its normal state. It also weighs on your nerves. The more time you have to sit around thinking about the job, the more nervous you get.
Every game I played, I felt some level of nervousness before stepping on the field. It was not out of fright of failing or anything like that but simply because of the anticipation I had built up about performing in front of 90,000 people. Once the game started, I’d go into “show-stopping mode.”
The point? Delays suck for fans and players alike.
Normally in this column, I discuss my primary takeaways from each game. This week, all there is to note is the energy the Gators had when they took the field. If Florida can bring that each week, it has already taken a step in the right direction.
A three-year starter for the Florida Gators who played under Steve Spurrier and Ron Zook, former guard Shannon Snell joined OnlyGators.com in 2012 as a football columnist to provide his unique perspective on the team. He is now in his third year sharing his musings and will do so through the 2014 season. Snell, who played in 46 games over four seasons and started 36 of those contests, was named a First Team All-American by Sporting News in 2003 and spent two seasons in the NFL.