15 years ago today I attended my first high profile Gator Football game as a University of Florida student. Well, attended isn't exactly true. Let me back up a bit.
It was October 10, 1998 and Florida was taking on LSU at The Swamp at 8 pm on ESPN. At the time, LSU wasn't the established SEC power that it is now. Nick Saban was still a few years away from becoming the Head Coach in Baton Rouge and restoring the Tigers to their former glory. Prior to Saban, LSU Football had seen quite a few lean years under the leadership of coaching luminaries like Curly Hallman and Gerry DiNardo. However, just a year earlier defending National Champion and #1 ranked Gators had gone into Baton Rouge on a Saturday night and been handled by a pretty average Tiger team. So, despite LSU still being less than "back", this game had some cache.
This particular Saturday also happened to be my 21st birthday. Greg drove down from Williamsburg with a pack of exchange students from Manchester, England in tow and the previous night and day leading up to the game had been appropriately boozy.
So, back to Saturday night. After some hearty pregaming I walked into the stadium with a few of my roommates. I didn't walk far. A cop stationed near the entrance grabbed me and asked what was in my cargo pocket (cargo shorts are terrible, I know, but at least I wasn't wearing jolts). As you can probably guess, it was liquor. A fifth of Captain Morgan to be exact. That was as far as I'd get inside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. I was escorted to the mini-police station/jail inside the Stadium. Upon asking for my ID the cop took a look at it and quipped "Hey, happy birthday". He then wrote me a ticket and sent me on my way. Like most of my alcohol related incidents in college (there were many) this would be nothing more than a slap on the wrist, but I wouldn't see the game in person. Instead, I'd meet another friend at the other Swamp to watch the game. It was here where we'd run into some LSU fans/attorneys in town from Louisiana. They discovered it was my 21st birthday and subsequently filled me with free booze all night long.
Somehow, even though I missed the game, the evening ended better than I could've imagined. We drank heavily, the Gators won and eventually I met back up with two of my roommates (The other roommate passed out somewhere on campus that night. We didn't see him until Sunday afternoon. This was not an especially rare occurrence for him.) and we ended up a party a couple blocks behind the Swamp where I hooked up with a hot Cuban girl I'd never met and would never see again. All in all, it was pretty fucking great.
Saturday it will all come full circle as I make my maiden voyage to Baton Rouge for the Florida-LSU game. I doubt I'll get kicked out of this game but maybe, just maybe I'll take pity on some poor, downtrodden LSU student and feed them booze at a bar postgame. Then again, maybe not. Either way, I'll feel lucky to be there. And not just to be there, but to be there with the same two former roommates who I "attended" that Florida-LSU game with in 1998. Life's not perfect, but sometimes its really, really good.