Ms. Adventure has a confession to make: I never went to college. I blame my lack of a higher education for the fact that I have never developed a fondness for beer or football. Me? I like a dirty vodka martini, and my favorite sport is shopping. But, my husband, Todd, went to college and loves both beer and football. And when he shelled out some serious change for two tickets to see the University of Florida play his alma mater, the University of Tennessee, just a hop, skip and a jump up the road in Gainesville, it was time for moi to go on an adventure.
Like Todd, my father is a huge football fan—whether it’s college football or the NFL, he’s parked in his recliner in front of the TV watching. As a result, while I was growing up, I always associated football with yelling. I’d be happily lying on the couch reading the latest Judy Blume novel when Dad would start shouting at the TV, “Go! Go, go, go, go, go!! GO!! GO!!” And then suddenly, “YOU DROPPED THE BALL?! I can’t believe you DROPPED THE #*%#ing BALL!! WHYYYYY?!”
I’d put a pillow over my head to drown him out. “Dad,” I’d remind him, “they can’t HEAR you. Only I can.”
Clearly, I didn’t understand football, or the wide range of emotions it triggered in my Dad—the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat.
The other problem was that football games were always SO long. We had only one TV and I had to wait until the game was over before I could watch my shows. I would closely monitor the countdown on the clock in the corner of the screen as the game was coming to a close—or at least it seemed like it was almost over, but countdown clocks can be deceiving. The players would play, the clock would tick off the seconds—and suddenly the referee would blow his whistle and the clock would stop. Three minutes and 43 seconds could be stretched into 30 minutes or more. And don’t even get me started on overtime. It was torture.
When I became an adult and entered into relationships, I really didn’t date a lot of guys who were into football—or as I called it, “foot game” or “sports ball”—that is, until I met Todd. He enjoys most football, but there’s a special place in his heart for the Southeastern Conference. He loves the SEC and he adores his Tennessee Volunteers. As he says, “My favorite team is the Vols; my other favorite team is whichever one is playing the Gators.” Apparently, the Vols and the Gators have a strong rivalry. Little by little, I started learning trivia like that, and every time we visited Todd’s family in Knoxville (home of the University of Tennessee), I found myself collecting Volunteer T-shirts, hats, Tervis tumblers and such.
Love is a mysterious thing, because before I knew it, I started getting into football—but only when the Vols were playing. Todd’s spirit for his team was contagious. He’d drink beer and root for them, or yell at them, and I’d sip a dirty martini and do the same.
But, watching a college football game on TV is one thing—attending a game live and in person, especially in the famous University of Florida “Swamp” (their legendary football stadium) is another.
One bad choice was my game-day outfit. Vol colors are orange and white; Gator colors are orange and blue—so as a compromise when the two teams meet each other on the battlefield, Tennessee fans wear orange and Gator fans don blue. I have a solid orange, long, flowing, gauze sundress that I decided to wear because it was supposed to be particularly hot that day and the dress breathes well. But because it was my first ever football game, I didn’t realize that seating would involve aluminum benches that we had to climb over. I must have tripped over my hem umpteen times. It got caught on the corner of one bench and ripped. Several other fans accidentally stepped on it when we were huddled in masses. Lesson learned: Never wear a muumuu to a football game. Big mistake.
I had heard a lot about tailgating, so I was rather looking forward to it. Football-loving friends explained that we should get up to Gainesville early enough so that we could enjoy adult beverages in the parking lot since none are sold in the stadium. I brought vodka and Fresca while Todd, of course, brought beer.
We found parking for a cool $20 a little over a mile from the stadium—and according to my UF fan friends, we were “lucky.” Still, we had time to amble around the shady lot where we parked as Todd searched around looking for fellow Tennessee fans. They were easy to spot, as they were anyone not wearing blue and giving us the cold shoulder. This rivalry was no joke.
We chatted with four very nice young men who had driven down from Knoxville. They had thick Tennessee twangs and drank beer under an orange Volunteer tent. I love whenever my husband gets around fellow Tennesseans, as his typically light Southern accent dips way down into slow, deep drawl. “How y’all boys doin’?” he asked them. “I’ve got kin in Knoxville.” Keep in mind, natives pronounce it “KNOX-vul” and “TEN-nessee.” Don’t worry—it took me a while to get the hang of it, too.
College football games are great fun if you love big crowds, really loud noises and cramped quarters. But if you’re like me and you’re skittish, claustrophobic and sensitive to sound, you might want to rethink your plans. The people-watching, however, was highly entertaining. At the risk of sounding like my beloved late mother, college girls need to wear more clothes! Several loyal female fans chose to display their devotion to the Gators by simply tying blue scarves around their chests and wearing teeny, tiny little shorts that may or may not have been originally intended for toddlers. While there was a lot of skin on display, the teenagers were likely way more comfortable than I was in what must have looked like a giant, sweaty, orange ball gown.
As for the game, the first half was uneventful. The Gators were playing fine, but Tennessee couldn’t even score a touchdown. But, in the second half things tightened up and it got exciting. The score was tied 20-20 and nearly went into overtime when there was a last-second Hail Mary pass for the Gators and they claimed a victory. Our team didn’t win, but it was a good game.
As we started the long journey back to our car, my dress dragging in the dirt, a bicycle cab pulled up and we gratefully got in for a delightful ride through a charming old neighborhood near downtown Gainesville to our car.
The next day, Todd fired up our DVR recording of the game and we sat down to watch. At one point, we thought we spotted ourselves in the stand (the only advantage to wearing that ridiculous bright orange maxi dress). A few minutes into the second half, I was in the kitchen getting snacks when I heard Todd yelling at the TV. “Honey, they can’t hear you,” I said. “Besides, you already know how it ends.”
He sighed and took a swig of his beer. Even the second time around, college football games are an adventure.