[Editors Note: Although authored by Bon Jush, this post idea was actually conceived by Kendon. I admit this to give credit where credit is due and also to blame whatever overwhelming arrogance oozes from this post on someone else.]
I’m a winner. I won my 5th grade elementary school science fair (“Which Anti-Bacterial Soap Really Works the Best?). I won a slew of little league championships from 1992-1999. I even won Most Atheltic as part of the Senior Superlatives during my senior year of high school (this is true but it was a joke. I just told everyone to vote for me and it worked. See picture below). It’s bad enough that I am an unapologetic Heat fan writing for a blog that was created by, staffed with, and probably mostly read by fans of Cleveland sports teams. What makes it even worse is that I know what it feels like to experience a championship for a team I cheer for. Not 1, not 2, not 3, not 4, not 5, not 6, not 7….do you see what I did there? By my count, I have experienced 8 separate championships of college / professional sports teams of which I call myself a fan.
Before I continue, I need to explain which teams I cheer for and the reasons behind it. I often get accused of being a band-wagon fan (you’ll see why in a moment), but this is hardly true.
When it comes to collegiate sports, I support one team and one team only: The Florida Gators. Truth be told, I didn’t care about collegiate sports until I attended college. I watched but I didn’t really have any sort of allegiance. In fact, if I have to be completely candid, I think when I was a youth I actually liked FSU more than UF because I thought FSU players were bad ass bullies and UF players were a bunch of nancies. This changed once I attended the University of Florida. I’m all Gator. FSU can eat a dick-kabob.
As for professional sports, I split my allegiance between South Florida teams and Philadelphia teams. Here’s the breif explanation: I was born in Philadelphia but moved to South Florida when I was 4 years old. My father lived in Philadelphia from 1952-1989 and is a huge Philly sports fan. I can recite stories of him and his friends sneaking onto the floor of the old Philadelphia Spectrum to watch Dr. J slam it down. He has a signed puck from the 1974 Flyers Stanley Cup Finals sitting on his desk in his office. It was natural as an impressionable youth to support any team my father rooted for. As for myself, I spent most of my entire youth in West Palm Beach, Florida (about an 80 minute drive north of Miami Beach) and so I happened to also support these teams as well because they were the ones I could actually see in person. The reason people accuse me of being band-wagon is because I like both the Phillies and the Marlins and each season I kind of have to only choose one to support, because they both play in the NL East division. I would gladly support both teams each season if they played in different divisions but this is simply not the case. I can’t switch back and forth from day to day concerning who I want to win, so each season I pick a team and I run with it. It simply comes down to who has a better shot at winning that season. For example, even though the Marlins are playing suprisingly well right now, this season is a no-brainer: Phillies. 1997 was also a no-brainer: Marlins. It gets sticky when neither team is particularly great and I just have to go off of gut instinct. If someone wants to call me band-wagon because of this, I can live with it. I can’t really argue it, but it’s just something I’ll have to deal with until the Marlins are removed from MLB. So to sum things up, the following is a list of teams of which I am a fan: Florida Gators, Florida Marlins, Miami Dolphins, Miami Heat, Philadelphia Phillies, Philadelphia Eagles. I don’t include the Sixers (no particular reason — I just never cared) or any hockey team (to say no one cares about hockey in South Florida would be an understatement — NO ONE CARES). I’ll spend the rest of this post providing a description of where I was when my team won a title and what winning has meant to me in the long run.
Sunday, October 26th 1997 – Florida Marlins defeat Cleveland Indians in Game 7 of the World Series
This was the first championship I experienced and by definition of where I was when it happened, it should be the one I cherish the most (but it isn’t). I actually attended this game with my father, his partner (not gay partner, his work partner) Barry and a few other of my father’s friends. To say I was a giant Marlins fan in 1997 would also be an understatement. That season, I spent my nights skipping family dinners to sit in front of the television to watch Marlins games and I spent my mornings clipping out the box scores so I could examine them on the bus ride to school. I even bought my father a Florida Marlins “sports locker” for Father’s Day which I ended up keeping in my bedroom instead (it’s still there!). I actually attended two games of the 1997 WS. I went to Game 2, which the Marlins lost 6-1 despite the best efforts of my then favorite player, Kevin Brown.
The night before Game 7, I attended the Bar Mitzvah of my good friend Eric. All that I remember from that night is huddling in front of a television in the hotel lobby along side 9 or 10 other adults who would rather watch the World Series than dance the Hora. The only difference between myself and them was that I was actually rooting for the Indians! The adults yelled at me as if I didn’t know what was going on and just arbitrarily chose a team. The truth was that I needed the Marlins to lose so that there would be a Game 7 because I had tickets! This is an arguable rooting interest. Some would say you should never root for your team to lose but I found this to be an appropriate exception.
The Marlins tied Game 7 in the 9th inning (sorry to rehash this) and then won on a walk-off in the 11th. I remember the tension going into the 9th and feeling there was no way we were losing when it went into extra innings. I remember watching Jim Leyland circling Pro Player Stadium with a Marlins flag. I remember my dad encouraging me to allow him to buy me a tee shirt and wear it to school the next day because in his words, “you’ll be the only person who has this shirt tomorrow.” It was the most significant sports moment I’ve ever seen in person but still doesn’t hold the top prize as my favorite championship moment.
Saturday, October 25th 2003 – Florida Marlins defeat New York Yankees in Game 6 of the World Series
If the 1997 WS was one of my favorite championship moments, the 2003 WS was definitely the least significant to me. I was a freshman in college, living in Broward Hall, which is a residence hall on the campus of the University of Florida. I’ll be honest: I just didn’t pay attention to this season. I was too busy trying to score weed and get my dick wet as an 18 year old college freshman. I just didn’t watch baseball that season. I mean, I kind of followed it. I knew the Marlins were in the World Series. I knew who Josh Beckett was. I kind of liked Mike Lowell. I just didn’t care that year. However, on the night a 23 year old Beckett pitched a beautiful shut out in Yankees Stadium to close out the series, I watched in a friend’s dorm room. We split a 12 pack of Coors Light and I remember hearing cheers coming from throughout the hall. I was happy they won but in the end, I knew it didn’t mean much to me.
Monday, April 3rd 2006 – Florida Gators defeat UCLA Bruins in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament
This championship meant the most to me, and if I don’t see another title for the rest of my adult life I won’t care because I was there for this one. The 2005-2006 Florida Men’s Basketball team is and always will be my favorite team of all time. I felt a connection to that team that I’ll never experience again for as long as I live. I was 21 years old and I attended every home game that season. I was a Rowdy Reptile (the nickname given to the student section at the O’Dome). We started that season unranked but went 16-0 and reached the # 2 ranking in the nation before settling somewhere around #9 – #12 when the tournament started. If you are unfamiliar with that team, it was composed of 4 starting sophomores and 1 starting junior. We had Joakim Noah, Al Horford, Corey Brewer, and Taurean Green, nicknamed the “Oh-Fours” because they came in together in the recruiting class of 2004. The reason I felt such a strong connection to that team was because those guys were college students just like me. I know it sounds weird but I didn’t think of them as rock stars like Reggie Bush might have been on the USC campus in 2005.
Joakim Noah used to walk around campus that season with a giant boom box resting on his shoulders. Corey Brewer used to eat at a Subway restaurant on campus almost every day, just hanging with his buddies. Al Horford had a math class near mine every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday in the 2005 Fall semester and he never missed a class. Moreover, no one ever bothered him. He could walk around Little Hall (the math building) and no one thought anything of it. They were OUR players and we treated them like our own and not like all-important superstars.
They entered the NCAA tournament as a 3-seed and could have easily been ousted in the Sweet 16 round against Georgetown, aside from a heroic off balance shot from Corey Brewer to steal the game. Although UCLA was a 2-seed, Florida went into the Final Four as the favorites and they played liked it. They blew out George Mason, the Cinderella darling of the tournament thus far because as Al Horford said after the game, “they were a nice story but tonight they were playing the Florida Gators.” That quote still gives me chills. I watched the championship game at my friend Ernesto’s apartment with around 12 other friends. I don’t remember a lot of the game. We played beer pong and cooked burgers.
When the game was over, I immediately bolted to my car and started driving towards campus. I didn’t know what was going on there but I knew it had to be something and it had to be big. What I arrived to was a cacophony of cheers and car honks. I parked a few blocks away, probably illegally, from University Avenue (the main strip of bars and restaurants adjacent to the UF campus) and ran towards what could best be described as a sea of orange and blue jubilance. I slapped high fives with anyone I passed. What I arrived to was one of the most memorable nights of my life. There were no riots. No one was shoving or got out of control. Pockets of students shouted “It’s Great to be a Florida Gator!” while others swayed back and forth, singing the school fight song. I ran into so many friends and random classmates that evening, hugging and cheering with each and every one of them. I remember thinking that so many sports fans go to college hoping to see their team win a title and they almost all leave empty handed. I didn’t take that night for granted. I savored every moment and it will never be topped.
Tuesday, June 20th 2006 – Miami Heat defeat Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Finals
In the summer of 2006, I was invited by NSCS (it’s a national honor society for college) to partake in an internship run through Boston University. I was to live in the BU dorms for 8 weeks and work at an intership that was going to be found for me through the organization. Leading up to the program start date, I still didn’t have an internship but the program coordinator promised that they would find me one and that I should definitely still come to Boston. And so I did. I lived in the BU dorms with about 25 other similarly aged college students from all across the United States. Unfortunately, as the days passed I did not have that internship they promised. I spent every day just wandering Boston and going to the BU gym for a few hours before hanging out with my new friends at night.
I also threw myself into the NBA Finals as the Heat finally beat the Pistons (they should have won in 2005) to reach the Finals for the first time in team history. I had so much time on my hands, all I did was watch the Finals interviews that were posted on NBA.com. These weren’t short snippets of interviews either. These were 45 minute press conferences held by Pat Riley and Avery Johnson every single day. The Heat lost the first two games and were seemingly about to lose the third when D-Wade turned Michael Jordan in the last 4 minutes of the game (I think he scored 13 points in 4 minutes or something stupid like that) and blocked the game winning shot by Dallas. This would be my last night in Boston as I was fed up with the fact that NSCS didn’t have an intership for me, and although I met new friends, I was kind of wasting my summer. So they refunded my housing payments and I took a flight back to Florida before Game 4.
I flew into West Palm Beach and watched Game 4 with my dad at a sports bar in town and then I watched Game 5 with my friends Dan and Ali at Ali’s house. The officiating was questionable to say the least but Miami won both games, riding Wade’s heroics. I was still living in Gainesville at the time and I wasn’t about to spend the remainder of my summer living at my mom’s house. And so I drove back to Gainesville before Game 6. However, I stopped off in Orlando along the way to see a concert by one of my all time favorite bands, the Rx Bandits. The show was relatively early (I think it started at 6:30) and it was over by 8 o’clock. After the show, I retired for the evening at my friend Trevor’s apartment with about 6 other people and we watched the Miami Heat beat the Dallas Mavericks for the 4th game in a row en route to winning their first NBA title.
Monday, January 8th 2007 – Florida Gators defeat Ohio State Buckeyes in the BCS National Championship Game
If the 2005-2006 Men’s Basketball title was my favorite championship moment, then the 2006-2007 Football title was my favorite championship season. The students were still riding high months after winning our first bball championship and there was a lot of buzz going into that football season. We had a new freshman quarterback named Tim Tebow, the number 1 wide receiver recruit in Percy Harvin, and we were all excited about what Urban Meyer could do in his second season as head coach (Urban had HUGE success in years 2 at both Bowling Green and Utah). College Football on a campus that cares about college football is the best sporting event you can possibly attend.
Waking up in Gainesville, Florida on a gameday conjures an energy that is almost unmatched anywhere else in the sports world. Parking spaces don’t exist; just park anywhere you see grass. Generations of families grill out, drink beer, play dumb bean bag toss games, throw the football, and reminisce about previous seasons for hours leading up to the game. Florida was consistently ranked in the top 5 that season. We lost one game at Auburn. My all-time “in person” sporting event happened that year: I was at the home game against South Carolina when Jarvis Moss blocked a game-winning FG which kept UF in the championship hunt.
As the season came to a close, we were assured a spot in the SEC title game but not the BCS title game. We needed USC to lose to UCLA for that to even become a possibility (Michigan had already lost to Ohio State that season but many thought they deserved a re-match in the title game). The football gods were with us, because UCLA stunned USC and UF jumped Michigan to face OSU in the BCS National Championship Game. There was a lot of talk about how much better the Buckeyes were than Florida leading up to that game. Call it naivety but I didn’t buy it. The Buckeyes were indeed undefeated and Troy Smith had won the Heisman but I knew the SEC reigned surpeme. My major argument was that OSU wouldn’t have been undefeated had they played an SEC schedule. They would have lost to SOMEONE (just like Florida lost to Auburn). I also don’t have respect for the Big 10 brand of football. I made a lot of jokes about how they just bred Iowa cornhusker type players who worked out by pushing tires in a field. Florida had SPEED. We were dynamic in the way we played offense.
Here’s a quick side story before I talk about where I was for the game:
The one thing I hate about college football is how long of a break there is between when the championship game teams are decided and when the game is actually played. It’s literally like a month off. Sometime in mid December, I went with a buddy to purchase some weed at his friend’s house. When we arrived, 3 prominent UF football players (I’ll not mention their names just for the sake of privacy) were in the living room breaking up pot in preparation to smoke, while watching a replay of the SEC Championship Game they had played in just a week prior. I made small talk with them and they were kind of visibly nervous about me recognizing them while they were dealing with marijuana. I wished them good luck as I left a few minutes later and they said thanks but probably were more annoyed than anything else.
As for the championship game, I went with my roommates and friends to a local bar called Calico Jacks. This particular bar has some of the worst food I’ve ever tasted in my life (honestly might come from a trash can) but it’s layout is really big (it has multiple layers like a pirate ship) and it was close to University Avenue should we win the game. The bar held a lot of nervous energy prior to kickoff, and then Ted Ginn Jr ran back the opening kick. The bar went silent. It was like someone kicked us in the collective nuts. Were the Buckeyes really better than us? No. No they weren’t. Chris Leak marched the Gators down the field to tie the game with a nice pass to Dallas Baker and the route was fuckin’ on. Tebow scored a few TD’s, Harvin added some more, and we held the Buckeyes’ offense to 0 points and a total of 84 yards in the second half. It was so much fun to enjoy 30 minutes of football KNOWING we had it in the bag. I was able to drink casually, slap high fives, and send taunting text messages to my FSU friends. When the game ended we all ran from the bar and proceeded down to University Avenue to much of the same events that took place after the basketball championship. However, if at all possible, the football party on University Ave was even bigger! I’ll summarize the events that followed with some pictures below.
Monday, April 2nd 2007 – Florida Gators defeat Ohio State Buckeyes in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament
By the time UF was set to play the Ohio State Buckeyes in the title game of the 2007 NCAA Final Four, the hate for the Scarlett and Grey was at an all time high. There really was no previous bad-blood between the two teams prior to the 2006 football game as far as my knowledge goes, but trust me when I tell you that UF students really hated Ohio State. I’m still confused as to why to be honest. We won the football game and then layed the fuckin’ smack down on the bball team when the two played in December of 2006 at the O’Dome in Gainesville (a game I also attended). If anything, the Buckeyes fans should have hated us way more than we hated them. This might have been the case, how the fuck would I know? But we really hated them. For the championship game, me and my friends returned to Calico Jacks (same place we watched the football championship at just a few months prior). I arrived about 3 hours before the game started in order to secure a seat and to get my boozin’ on nice and early so that I could be buzzed in time for tip-off. I was more nervously anxious going into this game than any of the other UF championships just because I thought OSU was a really good team, I was confident that Greg Oden was actually 26 years old, and I just thought it would be difficult to beat the same team twice in one season when that team was out to avenge their brutal beating we had given them a few short months back. Needless to say, after the first half of the first half, the game was UF’s to lose. If I remember correctly, we had a consistent 5-10 point lead for the rest of the game thanks to Lee Humphries’ shooting and the impressive play of Corey Brewer. As the game ended, we were all set to take the usual trip down to University Avenue but then the weirdest thing happened: some people said they were just going to go home instead. I was appalled. “We’ve already done that a few times,” “I have work in the morning.” I shit you not but some people were honestly TIRED of celebrating national championships. It wasn’t just my group of friends either. By the time I reached University Avenue, the party was still a blast but noticably smaller in stature than the other two championships. Check below for a collection of pictures from that evening. As I’ve mentioned before, some people go to college hoping to see one national championship. I saw 3 in one calendar year. It is the definitive reason that I can say that I had the best college experience of anyone who lives for college sports and that 2006-2007 was the best year of my life.
Wednesday, October 29th 2008 – Philadelphia Phillies defeat Tamp Bay Rays in the World Series
I knew the Phillies were going to win this series from the beginning. They had the most potent offense in all of baseball and the Rays just felt like they didn’t deserve to be there. The Rays spent that entire season just a few games ahead of the Yankees and Red Sox in the AL East standings. The conversation on Baseball Tonight was always the same: “The Rays look good now but they can’t sustain this over the course of the entire season.” Well, they did. But I didn’t buy it. The Rays were awarded home field advantage due to the fact that the AL won the All Star Game (the dumbest reason anyone should have homefield advantage) but even that didn’t worry me. The Rays were a gimmick. They have a fuckin’ fish tank in the center field wall for fuck’s sake! Their fans didn’t support them until they made the World Series and they had to resort to bullshit like ringing cowbells (uhhh…what?) and cutting their hair into mohawks to rally up any sort of momentum. I was attending Harvard Grad School at the time (that’s right bitches, suck my dick) and I watched most of the games in the dorm room lounge with a few other friends while we all worked on assignments.
If anyone besides me watched the World Series that year, you may recall that the Phillies had a chance to close out the Series in Game 5 on a Monday night in Philadelphia but severe rain and wind storms forced the game to be called in the 6th inning. Game play resumed on Wednesday evening but unfortunately I had to write a paper in the Education School library that evening. And so I took my computer with me because I was able to keep an eye on the game through the Slingbox application I bought because my lame dorm didn’t have a TV jack in my room. I watched in the library until the top of the 9th inning at which point my dad called me from his house in Florida. I took my computer outside and sat on a bench by myself, watching the game with my dad via telephone. The Slingbox is on a 5 to 6 second delay from live TV so even though I knew they were going to win, my dad’s cheers prior to Brad Lidge’s final pitch on my computer screen let me knew they won the game. We talked for a few more minutes about how my deceased grandfather would have loved that Phillies team (he was a good baseball prospect in the late 1940′s in Philadelphia but had to quit playing to support his newly growing family).
Monday, January 8th 2009 – Florida Gators defeat Oklahoma Sooners in the BCS National Championship Game
This was the first Gators championship I could not celebrate on University Avenue as I was in Boston attending Graduate School at the time. The 2008-2009 Gators football season was also memorable but not as much as the 2006-2007 season. Tim Tebow was coming off winning the 2007 Heisman Trophy and we were ready to be a national contender again. That is, until the Ole Miss game at home on Sept 29th 2008. This was the day of the famous Tebow “Promise” speech which is now immortalized on a plaque outside of the UF Stadium. We lost the game but Tebow promised that no team would work harder than the Gators the rest of the season. And how he ever delivered on that promise. The Gators steam rolled their opponents over the next several weeks and finally reached the #2 standing in the last week with the right to play Oklahoma in the national title game (played in Miami, Florida which was unfairly a home game atmosphere for the Gators). I watched almost every UF game that season at an alumni bar in downtown Boston called McFaddens. It’s a douche of a bar at night but they rented out the entire back room to Gators alums so I kind of liked it. Depending on the relevancy of the game, anywhere between 50-150 Gator fans packed McFaddens each week. They served us free bar food at half time and the beer was cheap by downtown Boston standards. On the night of the title game, I had a graduate school class until 6 pm. I remember that I couldn’t concentrate on anything but the game in class. I was in my UF garb (in preparation to high-tail it the fuck out of there once class ended) and instead of listening to my professors, I just read pre-game articles online for 3 hours. In hind sight I should have skipped class.
Regardless, I made it to the bar around 6:45 PM but there was a line around the fuckin’ corner. I stood in the line for about 20 minutes hoping that I could someone get in when the miracle of the night happened: the president of the Alumni club came outside to smoke a cigarette and saw me and my friend Rachel in line. He didn’t know us by name but recognized our faces as loyal fans who came week in and week out and he brought us to the front of the line and told the bouncers to let us in next. SCORE! The game was memorable but I’ll skip any explanation. Florida won but unfortunately there was no party to attend afterwards as I had school and work the next morning, and it was about 10 degrees that night in Boston. I took the train back to my dorm and chatted online with UF friends for a few hours before I went to bed smiling.
Websters Dictionary defines winning as “the act of a person or thing that wins,” but that’s a really fucking lame definition. Winning to me is about the memories that I just shared. Although it may seem like it’s about bragging, as I have spent 4 hours of my day typing this self-aggrandizing post, it’s honestly about the memories. Look, there’s a lot of teams that win each year. For every championship that I’ve celebrated, there’s another fan of another team that can say they’ve done the same. Winning is about the nerves that build up before the game and the child like jubilation that pours out when it’s over. It’s about being able to say “I was there.” It’s about remembering college for more than math classes and trying to get tail. It’s about generations of the same family sharing a singular moment in history even if they have passed from this Earth. It’s not about the banners. It’s not about the Sportcenter interviews that follow. It’s about where I was in my life and what it meant to me in that moment. I have surely been spoiled beyond my wildest dreams when it comes to watching teams I cheer for win. Are there more I would like to see? Sure. I’d love to see the Eagles or Dolphins win a SuperBowl before I die but if it doesn’t happen, then so be it. I’ve had a hell of a ride and I’ll remember every second of every win.
[Note: Although I was in Boston in 2008 when the Celtics won the NBA Finals, I did not feel it right to include it in my list as I was not a true fan of that team. I just happened to be in the city when it happened]