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Shared experience

As we were leaving the stadium last night, bouncing along with the jubilant chants of: It’s GREAT to BE a Florida GATOR, I bent over and said into Adam’s ear, “you could go to a hundred more games and not see another one like this one.”

He didn’t hear me. I couldn’t hear myself.



His big smile told me what I’ve known a time or two myself. So what? This is awesome right now! This almost eleven year old boy pumped his fist in the air, chanting along with the crowd in the tunnel leading out of the stadium.

It’s GREAT to BE a Florida GATOR!

I’m hours removed but the electricity of that moment still gives me chills. If the past is a guide, it will for a long time.

There are moments in life that seem hard-wired into your brain. Life’s current passes through and the moment is reborn – the sights, sounds, smells, feelings… even the monumental headache you had – it all comes rushing back. Yesterday evening might have been pretty normal for you, but I was having one of those rewiring moments.

Cheryl and I took Adam to see the Gators play Tennessee yesterday evening. For those of you who may not already know, it was a college football game.

Yes, I know. It seems a bit shallow to attribute so much meaning to a violent game. I generally accept that it is just a game, except when it’s not. When you’re there, you’re a small part of ninety thousand loosely connected souls, pooling their collective hope, fear, elation, and despair. My sense of connection to a place of unique significance in my life tangled among these shared emotions. Before the game we walked around campus, soaking in the game day atmosphere and memories. We walked down paths last walked when Cheryl and I were two kids newly in love, living on our own for the first time in our lives.

We watched the band warming up in groups by Turlington Hall and around the music building. We weaved around the tailgaters who had taken over campus. We did it as adults, all the more special because we were making new memories with our son.

The game was a classic. Down by what seemed like too many points at the end of three quarters, we thought about leaving. It had been a hot afternoon, thunderstorms looked to be heading our way, and I had that headache. But we stayed. We saw the Gators win by one as the clock expired. Hope grew from a string of unlikely plays and some good fortune. As low as the crowd was with about seven minutes left, it was electric the rest of the way. We flipped between hope, elation, disappointment, and back again (in those seven minutes) more times than I might in several months. I forgot about my headache for a little while.

When another desperation play on fourth and long turned into the go ahead score with a minute left, the crowd lost its mind like few times I can remember. Strangers yelled, high-fived technically high-tens (with two hands), and hugged. Jumping and screaming ourselves horse, Adam I and I turned to high-ten. We exchanged some skin on our palms several times until I remembered I’m twice as tall as Adam, and he might not appreciate the pile driving I was giving him sometime later. We hugged and jumped with the crowd, using free hands to keep slapping strangers around us in the mindless celebration. When UT missed the second of two long field goal tries by inches (the second only possible because UF called time out right before the first – much to the crowd’s dread), we did it all again.

It’s just a game, except when it’s not.

We were all still awake late last night. Adam and I made crowd noises at each other, stopped, and just grinned. Yep, the chills were still there. They may be for a long time. Doing it with my kid, treating him to the same (shared) experience made it a hundred times better.


Here we go again

I’m in trouble.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s always great to be a Florida Gator, but I’m not sure my fragile nerves can take another deep run in The Show. Tell me, how many sleep specialists do you suppose recommend staying up past your bedtime with a sleep disorder?


How many of those fine specimens of medical know-how would recommend engaging in stressful activities right before trying to go to sleep?


The Gators made it to the Great Eight tonight. I’m a little scared. I’m worried I might misplace my sanity. I’m troubled what this might do to my productivity at the office.

Now, which sentence in this post do you think is a lie?

Billy D, what are you doin’ to me?

Gators in a close one

I’m used to UF winning football games, but not by three points, and definitely not with less than 15 seconds left on the clock.

I needed that like I need elective oral surgery.

Why do we do this to ourselves? I tell people I’m not the biggest sports fan, that my life doesn’t wax and wane on the outcome of a game. I prefer to think of it as a half-truth rather than half-lie. Come to think of it, I can’t recall the last time someone said “half-lie.” Why is that? Don’t tell me everyone else is as delusional as I am. In either case, it used to be easy to read my tell – or hear it (down the street). It’s one of the first behaviors Cheryl modified after we got married.

There’s no more shouting, unintentional spitting, or veins popping out of foreheads in the Kauffman household. No sir!

Now I’m more subtle: fist clenching, teeth gnashing, back going rigid, head thrown back – kind of like I’m having a seizure.

I suppose in a way it was good. Make that two ways: the Gators did win. Plus, it was nice to get the ‘ole ticker running again. Or was that sprinting?


Giving it up for Michigan

If you’re a Florida fan, you can’t say that Michigan didn’t deserve to win the game today. Other than turnovers, UM outplayed the Gators in every way. In fact, if it weren’t for the turnovers the game wouldn’t have been close.

The Gators young defensive line was handled by UM for most of the game, the Gators older offensive line was handled by UM for the whole game, and the UM quarterback was playing catch in the backyard with his receivers all day.

It’s a dispiriting loss for UF, but in a small way I do feel a little good for the UM coach. He won a lot of games there, had a tough time recently, and went out a winner. That was a heck of a game you called coach.

You can’t win them all

Auburn played a heck of a ball game. It’s just a shame they had to play it late at night, on a day when I was having a pretty good day. I’d like to say that Florida had some kind of moral victory… outplaying the Tigers, or being the better team… but it wouldn’t be true.

You get greedy when your team wins a lot of ball games. You want them to win them all. There’s always a night like this sometime, when you find out you can’t. I’ll tell you who I feel good for: Tommy Tuberville. He’s had a tough season so far, going 2-2, and loosing a tough game to South Florida at home. He coached up his guys pretty good this week. His quarterback looked like a different person; throwing with confidence and intelligence. Until the fourth quarter, his offensive and defensive lines owned the trenches. If it wasn’t for a heroic effort by Florida’s Tebow, it may not have been close.

I really wish I hadn’t been so invested in the outcome, otherwise it would have been a great game. Sadly, I’m not one of those people who can enjoy a good game when my team loses.

Now, somehow I’ve got to find a way to get some sleep. The kids will be up in seven hours, and I’m not terribly sleepy. It’s like I’m losing twice tonight.

Go Gators

There may come a day this season when Tennessee looks like a poor test, but going into this weekend I was a little worried. Partially, this is because I am a worrier by nature; but you’ve got to admit, the young Gator defense gave you a little bit of discomfort in the second half against Troy State, right?

There may come a day when I regret saying this, but the Gators looked like they picked up right where they left off in January on Saturday. The only cause for concern was the pass rush, but the run defense was pretty good, so they must have been doing something right in the trenches. Further, all I heard about going into the game was how big and athletic UT’s offensive line is/was. Well, if that’s how we stack up against a good offensive line, I’ll take my chances with the group we’ve got on the D line.

The extremely young secondary looked like they at least held their own. There were some mix-ups in coverage, but it looked like there were some pretty good tacklers in this mix.

And the offense? Even if UT is having a down year, it’s still an SEC defense – and if I recall, the product of some pretty good recruiting classes brought in by Coach Fulmer. Even in a down year, UT isn’t Troy State… and that was a world of hurt the UF offense put on UT.

Yep, Saturday’s game has me excited.

Beware of area code 352

My wife thinks I’m being silly.

But that’s not news.

My latest adventure down the road to lunacy involves my alma mater: The University of Florida. It was about mid-April when I received my very first solicitation for money.

“Can we count on your donation of $1000?”

If I had been drinking it would have shot from my nose in a fountain of incredulity.

“Ah, no.”

“Can we count on your donation of $500?”

“You’re still cold, but your getting warmer.”

“How about $250?”

“Would you take $100?”

And there it was. I had agreed to send my old school; the place that shaped me into the man I’ve become (don’t laugh) $100. About a week later I got the letter in the mail with my pledge card and the address to send the money. Like everything else that comes in the mail asking for money, it sat on my desk for the customary one week waiting period. It was during that week that I found out I had Leukemia, and I never sent that check.

This was my dirty secret for several weeks. Cheryl didn’t know that I’d agreed to give UF money, but I thought it was something important to do. Maybe I’m naive, but I thought I owed UF something. It was an important part of my life and I felt like I needed to give something back – even if no one but me noticed. Then Cheryl noticed the calls I was ignoring on my phone. It was area code 352… Gainesville, Florida… UF. I couldn’t face them. We were blowing money left and right to assuage my medical fears, the savings took a hit, and suddenly $100 seemed like a lot of money again.

Finally, one night not long ago, I told Cheryl my deep, dark, secret.

You know what she did?

She laughed at me.

“John, just tell them you got really sick, you were in the hospital, and you’ve been out of work for over a month. I think they might understand.”

I still haven’t answered any calls from 352.

What can I say? I hate disappointing people… even people who’re probably making 500 calls a day and couldn’t care less what I have to say. Maybe if they call tomorrow I’ll answer, but I’ll still feel a little dirty.

Mixed feelings

It’s not too often that I receive an email from UF President Bernie Machen. In fact, you could say that I’ve never received an email from UF President Bernie Machen. So why now?

No, he’s not asking for money. He’s not announcing an initiative to raise money. Instead, it’s an attempt at group therapy.

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Fear be gone!

A collective sigh could be heard from as far as the Paines’ Prairie State Preserve late last week as word spread that Billy Donovan was not interested in the Kentucky job – and would be staying at Florida (for now).

Going back to my days as a UF freshman, and lonely season ticket holder under the Don Devoe regime, I’ve had a destinct inferiority complex over my allegiance to the Gator B-Ball team. Even with the recent success (a bit of an understatement), I was ready to believe that other jobs were more attractive than the UF job. Maybe it’s not true anymore.

Now UF just has to deal with the loss of the starting five and the first guy off the bench. Next year the boy wonder will earn every bit of his pay.

I hope that no matter what happens next year, everyone remembers he’s the guy who did for UF Basketball what Spurrier did for UF football.