Gators show their spirit in writing

The Mellow Mushroom restaurant sign reminds passers by of the University of Florida football team's recent National Championship victory.

Published: Saturday, January 13, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 12, 2007 at 11:38 p.m.
Even after the sun goes down, when businesses close and the last call comes at bars, Gator pride stirs in the streets of Gainesville.
It's on Archer Road and down 43rd Street, on Newberry Road and downtown. Signs and banners with words of praise for the boys of the Swamp are everywhere.
They're on banks and restaurants, car washes, churches and sorority houses. Though fans are communicating their excitement over Monday night's national championship win in many ways, they're doing so particularly through the written word.
But why?
CVS Pharmacy Assistant Manager Chris Nasser relocated to Gainesville from Terra Haute, Ind., about a month ago. Though he's still brand new to the area, he said he feels just as excited about the football team as everyone else.
The general manager of his store on Archer Road and 34th Street gave the instruction to put up their "Go Gators" sign, which Nasser thinks a lot of people can relate to.
"I'm sure it's a cool thing when customers drive by, and they see that," Nasser said. "I mean why not, you know."
Many business owners are likely asking the same question.
After all, sales of Gator paraphernalia are soaring: T-shirts, caps, stickers, posters, flags. Gator fans might even buy orange and blue food.
The congratulatory sign outside University Lutheran Church and Campus Center across from Ben Hill Griffin Stadium isn't just meant to recruit parishioners, said Pastor Michael Collins.
"Our primary motive is to say, 'Hey, we're part of this with you, and we're proud of what you've become,'" he said, adding that their sign went up just as the game clock in Glendale, Ariz., hit 00:00.
UF sophomore Adam Long, 19, whose voice still cracks from too-much yelling Monday night, said he thinks the signs around town reflect Gator pride that already existed.
"Even when I'm grown up, and I'm an adult," he said. "I'll still be telling my kids about being there to experience two national championships in one year."
Long, who is from Ocala, bought a new Gator T-shirt and hung a poster above his bed. He wants to get a championship license plate for his car, so he can arouse jealousy among his friends at Florida State University.
But as football fandom spreads, some wonder if there are other reasons for the explosion of spirit.
Melanie Mousseau's research on Gator fans may yield some answers.
A doctoral student in UF's College of Health and Human Performance, Mousseau has conducted surveys to look for changes in a fan's level of attachment to a particular team. Based on more than 3,600 responses, UF students identified themselves as greater fans during periods of success in the 2006 football season - a phenomena known as basking in reflected glory. Or in simpler terms, everybody loves a winner.
"The town's really excited about this as well," she said, "but I think there's a little bit more to this."
Christopher Janelle, UF associate professor of exercise and sports psychology, would agree.
"More than a hundred million people in this country tend to characterize themselves as highly identified fans," he said, explaining that these fans are usually consumers of sports merchandise and associate personal success with their team's success.
When their team wins, they feel a surge of positive emotion, he explained.
"They feel more attractive - they feel more successful, more competent," Janelle said. "They feel that they're better people, more likable."
And if their team loses, fans take it just as personally. Failing, in a fan's mind, feels like they personally are failing.
"So instead of people saying 'we won,' it's 'they lost,'" said Mousseau.
For students like Long and his roommate 19-year-old Jose Velez, however, true Gators would have supported the team and been just as excited had the Gators lost.
"My sister went (to UF) when they won the championship in '96, so I wanted to win one also," Velez said.
To express his own happiness at the outcome of the big game, he created a group on the popular networking Web site, Facebook: "The Fall of Troy - Smith that is."

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