The band cranked up the fight song and some of Florida’s players stumbled around like they didn’t know where to go. It had been that long.
The children of several coaches sprinted onto the field and jumped into daddy’s arms and daddies hugged each and every one like they hadn’t seen them in months. It had been that long.
UF president Kent Fuchs stood in his usual spot under the goalpost greetings players and coaches and shook hands with a smiling Scott Stricklin, the Florida athletic director. It had been that long.
It had been 49 days, 49 mind-numbing and excruciating days, since Florida had won a football game. It felt like longer.
“It’s a great feeling,” said senior receiver Brandon Powell. “Everybody’s happy now.”
Well, happier anyway.
The season isn’t going to right itself and suddenly Florida will have a shot at a winning record and a bowl game. But for a night, anyway, a perfect night for a football game, no team has ever been as happy to beat Alabama-Birmingham.
“They had a lot of fun,” said interim coach Randy Shannon.
Take all of the salt you want to digest a win over UAB as being a feel-good moment. Sharpen your cynical knives. Let the sarcasm drip like honey from a comb.
Pardon these guys if they enjoy it.
“Never going to forget (this season),” said defensive tackle Taven Bryan.
Who could? No matter how hard you try.
Florida made sure it wouldn’t have a Georgia Southern by doing all of the things right Saturday night that it hadn’t done in the last five games.
Twice in the game, the opponent left the ball go on the ground and Florida recovered it. I have checked with some people at ESPN Stats and they tell me this is called “a fumble.”
I had forgotten what one looked like.
Mostly, Florida won because a team that had every reason to quit decided not to. Only 52 scholarship players available at practice? Scale it back and stay fresh.
“It’s a grind,” Bryan said. “You get kind of sore. It’s very impressive what (the coaches) did with what they have.”
It would have been easy to cash in all remaining chips and spend days at the airport with the media members searching for Chip Kelly’s plane.
And the fans didn’t have to show up and make a bunch of noise either. They could have sat home and thrown bags full of Cheetos at their TVs.
Instead, the alumni side was filled and the students offered their usual drive-by attendance but it was loud enough to boost a team in need of afterburners.
“No matter what happens, fans are the fans,” Shannon said. “They’re going to support you no matter what because they are fans. And this is the one place I’ve been that’s not a fickle fan who’s only going to be there when we’re winning.”
Well, sort of.
It’s not like anybody’s jumping on a bandwagon that’s down to one good wheel. For a better analogy, I give you the Wyoming Wildman, Mr. Bryan.
“This thing was the Titanic, man,” he said. “These guys have been patching it up. And we’re floating.”
Of course, not everybody made it on the Titanic. For every Rose, there was a Jack.
But at least for a night, it felt like there was some hope.
Next week, two teams with seasons so bad they seem like a dream will play in The Swamp. Even though their seasons can’t be salvaged, there can be the tourniquet that is bragging rights.
“I appreciate all the fans we had, but we just need a couple more,” Bryan said. “Get a couple more fans in there and we’ll get that thing loud and we’ll win the game for them.”
But that’s for another day. This was a day (and night) for trying to forget every bad thing that has happened this season.
“It has been really hectic,” said center Tyler Jordan. “We’re not going to BS our way through the rest of this season. How we finish the season will put everything into the big picture.”
There’s no way that picture is fetching anything at an auction. But that doesn’t mean you have to quit painting.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.