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Great to Be a Florida Gator

The contract between fan and team is such that, when the team is triumphant, it reflects well upon the fan. So it is that the triumph last night of the Florida Gators is yet further evidence of my own virtues. I root; they win. Coincidence? Not under the rules of sports. Today I radiate so much panache and saunter the planet with so much vim that it'll be a miracle if I get through the day without being asked to host The Today Show.

I spent my first 17 years in Gainesville, so I'm culturally a Gator. [Insert obligatory Memory Lane passage in which blogger describes rough and tumble shotgun-shack upbringing, selling Cokes at Gator games simply to get in the door, sitting in the cheapest of the cheap seats at Alligator Alley, listening to Otis Boggs on the radio make the call on a TonyMiller jumper -- "Miller, 20-footer, knocks the bottom out!!!" -- and all that other sentimental, crusty, Huck Finnish stuff that only the blogger cares about.]

One thing that the sportswriters have generally failed to mention is that the Gators never even won a Southeastern Conference championship until last year. Year after year, Kentucky would come to town and make our guys look like they were wearing cement blocks on their feet. The Gators weren't very good at things like dribbling, passing, shooting, and rebounding, but could boast of having remarkable cheerleaders.

This year the Gators had five starters -- four sophomores and a junior -- with double-figure scoring averages, and they grew into a great team over the course of March. Watching them, you had to wonder how they lost six games in January and February. They annihilated every team in the NCAA tournament, and last night they put their foot on UCLA's neck and never let up. There were moments in the second half when the UCLA players considered it a minor success if they forced the Gators to make a layup rather than a two-handed dunk.

Unfortunately, the Joakim Noah Era in Gainesville is likely to come to an end right when most of us have finally figured out how to pronounce his name. JOKE-um seems to be the right way, though there are hundreds of ventured variants (Wah-KEEM, JOE-uh-keem, etc.). Wilbon already has Noah going first in the NBA draft, which would not only make him a multi-millionaire but also get him out of a ton of classwork. I miss the days when college players stuck around for a few years. It would be nice to be talking about a Gator dynasty, but players now scatter to the pros as soon as they have a little success. This great Gator team is surely ephemeral.

But a fan is a fan forever.

By Joel Achenbach  |  April 4, 2006; 11:38 AM ET
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