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Football knocks chip off shoulder

Published October 17, 2007


Sometimes you feel like the kid picked last for Red Rover, college-wise.

When people ask where you went to school, you might add a self-deprecating, "but I got a job anyway" after "University of South Florida." Because that's what they were thinking, right?

So, yes, you had a bit of a chip back in school when it came to your cousins in Gainesville and Tallahassee, with their predictable bricks and hills and traditions.

You went to school at USF but each year faithfully road-tripped north to the University of Florida. There you joined your Gator friends for their mesmerizing Gator Growl, a guest at their high-energy party.

The tradition was to save those orange Gator-emblazoned plastic cups into which illicit beverages had been poured for reuse back home. Everyone in your USF dorm had them, somebody else's status symbol.

And the thing is, you really liked your school.

You liked your professors and the friends you made there. You liked the sprawling, grassy campus and even the squat, sand-colored buildings. You liked the lectures and the Sun Dome concerts and the quiet, musty-smelling library. You liked the Empty Keg and the feisty school paper, where you were thrilled to get a job and a chance to give the administration fits. You liked that your school was part of the town but not the reason for the town to exist.

So you leave school and get a job (get a job anyway, ha ha). Years pass and your school grows up, too. Buildings you don't recognize have sprouted each time you come to campus, new dorms and respected hospitals and who knows what next. You are impressed.

In the working world, you discover an odd phenomenon in those offices that are virtual shrines to Seminoles or Gators (never both). Plastered in regulation blue-and-orange or garnet-and-gold, nearly all belong to true alums, sure. But you suspect if you tested the DNA of a select few of those shrine builders, you might find people who actually went to school - let's just say a little closer to home.

Somewhere along the way your college gets a football team. Great, you think, but how good will they be? You go to games, not soldout but making up for it in crowd enthusiasm.

Hey, you think, this is fun.

While you are living your post-college life, the unbelievable happens: The Bulls make the front page. Above the Bucs.

Fans paint their faces green and gold and spill over in the Bucs' big stadium. They scrap for soldout tickets. They wear foam fingers.

Headlines keep coming. Your Bulls (they are, after all, your Bulls) are No. 6, they're No. 5 even. The concept of them at No. 2, of "Bulls" and "BCS" in the same sentence, is incomprehensible. There is heady talk of a stadium of your own one day. A coach from a big-time football program makes a snarky remark about your school, the surest sign the Bulls have arrived, footballwise.

In all this happy madness, Tampa's mayor decrees Green and Gold Day across the land. You go scrambling through closets and find only one dusty USF baseball cap, which you apparently last wore to paint the porch.

You vow to buy all the paraphernalia, down to the shoelaces, as soon as the stores restock those empty shelves. You make a note to yourself: don't forget the green and gold plastic beer cups.

[Last modified October 17, 2007, 00:06:23]

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