If you asked a lot of Florida State fans where they were on the afternoon of September 26, 2009, most of them will be able to answer that question with a high degree of certainty. They will be able to tell you what they ate that day, what they were wearing, and in whose company the day was spent. Husbands who forget anniversaries and wives who can never remember their husband’s favorite Star Wars movie will be able to recount a surreal array of details about that day in particular. What they won’t do, however, is remember it voluntarily. Most will have to be prompted, coerced, finagled into coughing up these details while their eyes glaze over with retroactive embarassment. If you’re reading this and happen to not be an avid fan, September 26, 2009 is the date that FSU lost to the University of South Florida. In Tallahassee. On television. And yes, in football.
Even as I sit here 5 years later, a flood of memories pounds relentlessly on a mental dam I’ve managed to erect around whatever part of the brain is responsible for keeping track of one’s humiliating experiences. Other experiences filed neatly away in this partitioned lobe include the time I threw up on the prettiest girl in gym class, the time I got homesick at baseball camp and cried through position drills and batting practice, and virtually every single first date I’ve ever been on. For better or worse, though, the loss to USF ranks supreme. The way we had to slink out of Doak with our eyes downcast, like the embarrassed parents of a convicted criminal. The way USF’s faithful stayed behind in the stadium—our stadium—to cheer and sing and dance or whatever the hell else they were doing in there…it made us sick. I do mean physically sick, too. But, then again, that might have been the poorly planned combination of well whisky and cheeseburgers of questionable origin. At any rate, we walked away from Doak that afternoon with a pain in our chest and we didn’t look back. We couldn’t bring ourselves to. We couldn’t bear to see the most beautiful brick edifice in college football tarnished with the rust of a comically inferior football program. The soreness in our chest stayed there the whole week.
And you know what? It doesn’t stop there, either. During my time at FSU, our football team endured a rather large handful of other catastrophes that would make Doak Campbell (the man, not the structure) roll over in his grave. They include a bowl game loss to Kentucky in 2007, three (three!) losses to Wake Forest between 2007 and 2011, a particularly heartbreaking last second loss to UM in in 2009, UNC in 2010, and of course UVA in 2011. In addition to the actual losses, there was a poignantly depressing level of athletic prowess put on display during a 29-26 "win" against a 2009 Maryland squad that would eventually go 2-10. I remember that game well because although we did not lose outright, it felt like a loss. Every dropped pass, every squelched run attempt, every busted coverage—they all felt like the body blows that would eventually topple a heavyweight champion. I remember feeling dejected, and I remember taking my frustrations out on the Terrapin mascot in the form of a series of hand gestures that we shall classify, for the sake of civility, as ‘unbecoming’. I remember feeling genuinely bad about it too, because I could tell his human eyes saw me making them from behind his fabric turtle eyes. I even wanted to say sorry—until he started making them back at me, that son of a bitch.
By now you, the innocent bystander made to bear forced witness to this journalistic crime of a blog post, must be asking: why dig all this up? Why re-open these long-since-sutured emotional wounds? Don’t you know that those years were a fluke, an accidental misstep? Didn’t you watch as the Seminoles outscored opponents by 44.5 points per game last year? Doesn’t last season’s success mean anything to you? Don’t you know that the FSU team from the late 2000s is no longer the FSU of today?
Before I answer that, I’d like to say that it is okay to get caught up in the craze. It’s okay to get caught up in the fact that FSU is favored by more than two touchdowns in every game they play next season (which, however, are artificially high betting lines due to the fact that Vegas got their royal asses handed to them last season as FSU went 11-3 against the spread). It’s okay to get caught up in Jimbo’s quote-a-minute interviews and the ESPN Gameday hype and Crabgate and Squirrelgate and the new beige(?) helmets. It's okay to be brimming with pride while constantly straddling the line between confidence and cockiness. Most of all, it's okay to wear garnet and gold every damn day of the week if that's what suits your fancy. This is what fans do. This is what love looks like.
So, here is the root of all this madness. I promise there is a valid reason I must periodically let these recollections out from thier proverbial straitjackets. To me, it's imperative to understand that all of this—the Heisman, the Crystal Ball, the booster money, the stadium improvements, the IPF, the media circus, even the blatant bias exhibited by USA Today—all of it needs to be processed through one lens: the lens of perspective. I think it’s vastly important for us as fans to recount the exact depths that our beloved program has dug itself out of. We must remember the empty seats in Doak on gameday and remind ourselves what it felt like to watch a program that hadn't finished outside the Top 5 for fourteen straight seasons falter so drastically. Remember how every game felt like a toss up? Remember what it felt like to be looking greatness in the eye, only to have it plucked away by a school like NC State? Remember the half-naked fat kid clinging to that pole, waving his shirt around like a jackass?
For those of us who have been following the program devoutly and who were still seated firmly on the bandwagon even when there was plenty of room to stretch out, the triumphs of last season are more aptly put into perspective. We can’t be a fan base that loves FSU football despite the late 2000s. We must be a fan base that loves FSU Football because of the late 2000s. After all, what is success if not accompanied by the risk of failure?
To that end, it’s important for us to also accept that we are no longer the National Champions. The National Champions for the 2014 academic year haven’t been decided yet. We summited the mountain last year with grace and integrity, but since that time Jimbo and the boys have returned back to base camp along with everyone else. It would seem that success in this game is as ephemeral as it is satisfying. We now stand shoulder to shoulder with programs like Ohio State, Alabama, Michigan State, and yes, even UF. The playing field has been leveled. Athletes are in peak condition. We are out to prove ourselves all over again.
Follow me on Twitter: @TMHayduk
Photo Credit: Christopher Holder Photography
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