Buckeyes in Gator territory

Pete Nash attended Ohio State but has lived in Gainesville since 1982. His support of both the Gators and the Buckeyes has never been a source of conflict until now. He used to have Florida season tickets and has two buckeye trees in his yard.

Alexander Cohn/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Saturday, January 6, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 5, 2007 at 11:14 p.m.
There was a time when people like Pete Nash lived an unencumbered life.
They flew the colors of their favorite team at their front door with careless abandon and rooted for them with nary a ripple in the waters of the Swamp.
Now, Buckeye fans like Nash have been forced to defend their loyalty against more than a few good-natured, heckling Gators.
"I was hoping it wouldn't come to this, because I didn't want to make a choice," said Nash, a Nationwide Insurance agent who lived in Ohio for 12 years before moving to Florida to attend college in 1980.
"I'm a Gator fan as well," he avows. "This is the first time in 24 years I have to root against them . . . if they play, I have to root for the Buckeyes."
And when the University of Florida football team takes on Ohio State University for the BCS National Championship Game on Monday, Nash won't be the only sports enthusiast going against the local grain with his choice of team.
Still, the animosity between the two teams seems rather tame when compared to that of UF against Miami or Florida State. Ohio fans in Gainesville, it seems, have managed to coexist rather peacefully with the rest of the resident football fanatics in North Central Florida.
"It's different (now)," Nash said. "I have a Buckeye license plate on the front of my car, and no one ever noticed before. Now people are coming out of the woodwork noticing my license plate . . . I'm getting a lot of flack from people."
Though the teasing generally seems to be light-hearted, at certain times it can get slightly more heated. Nash displays a 4-foot picture of the Ohio State football stadium in his office, which is always a topic of conversation with his clients.
He also used to fly his Buckeye flag on his house every Saturday, he joked, "until my neighbors got worked up about it."
"It's all in good fun," Nash added. "There's no serious harassment. My logic is, win or lose, it's still just a game. Life goes on."
Another Buckeye fan, local attorney Jeffrey Meldon, earned a business degree from Ohio State in 1966 before attending law school in Cleveland and moving to Gainesville four years later.
But Meldon, who was born in Cleveland and raised as a Buckeye fan, has bumped his beloved Buckeyes into spot No. 2 in favor of the Gators, who are now his favorite team.
"My No. 1 team is the Gators," he said. "I always root for both teams unless they're playing each other in any sport. I look at it as a blessing because I've got two of the best sports programs in the country to root for. If one doesn't do well, the other usually does."
Meldon has never had a problem being a Buckeye fan in Gator Country, he said, mostly because he's a Gator fan first. And since the UF football team has never played Ohio State, he's never had a conflict until now.
He'd previously made plans to attend the championship game in Glendale, Ariz., to cheer on the Buckeyes before he knew the Gators would be their opponents. With airfare, reservations and a spot in his college roommate's luxury box already secured, Meldon headed to the Southeastern Conference Championship game in Atlanta to watch the Gators play on Dec. 2. The day after their win, Meldon found out they'd be playing Ohio State for the national title.
"I'd made arrangements with a bunch of Ohio buddies to meet in Arizona for what we thought would be a game with USC," he said. "(But then) I got excited and said, 'Well, I'm coming. Now I've got to decide (which team to cheer for).' My son and I have to wear Gator gear in a group of 20 Buckeye fans. We don't want to be rude, but we're not going to wear Buckeye gear.
"I'm going to go out there and be really happy if the Gators win," he added. "But if they don't, at least my alma mater won. One of my two teams is going to win."
A third Buckeye enthusiast, Ryan Walker, might hold a slight advantage over his fellow fans based on one thing: he can extol all the Ohio virtues he wants on Mix 94.3, a Lake City radio station. As the program and production director and midday announcer at the station, Walker, 31, is well-known as the area's resident Buckeye supporter.
"There's a lot of friendly banter back and forth," he said. "I'll hear something about the Gators and look over and say, 'When you win seven national titles (like Ohio State has), you come talk to me.'"
Walker was born in Pickerington, Ohio, a suburb of Columbus. Though he moved to Lake City about seven years ago and lived in Jacksonville before that, he's remained a loyal Ohio State fan.
"A lot of people in Lake City call in (to the radio station) and give me grief about being a useless nut, and we have a lot of fun with it," he said. "It's in extremely good fun.
"I'm absolutely going for Ohio," he continued. "I don't want it to be a blowout . . . it's a fantastic match-up. If Ohio loses to Florida, well, good for Florida. It's tough to knock out the No. 1 team in the country."
Finally, as is true with other fans, the experiences of Ben Talbot solidify the fact that it's possible to be a Buckeye devotee around here without too much harassment.
Talbot, 29, moved to Gainesville from Cleveland seven years ago in search of fairer weather. He found it, along with an enthusiasm for the Gators, though he remained loyal to his Ohio roots and it's never been a problem - until now.
"I guess I'm kind of happy (about the match-up)," he said. "Honestly, the Gators are my second-favorite team. It's a win-win situation. I'd rather have the Buckeyes win, but if the Gators win, I'd definitely take that."
Customers at the bike shop where Talbot works often tease him about his Buckeye attire, he said, though there's never any true malice in their words.
"At first they'll be . . . a little on my case about it," he added, "but then they'll leave me alone after they realize I'm not a Florida State fan or anything."
Talbot summed up his feelings in a way that seemed to follow suit to many other game-watchers in town.
"It's going to be a great opportunity for both schools - the National Championship Game is huge," he said. "I don't want it to be a blowout. A good game would be the best outcome."

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