The Life of a Man Changed By A Game

The Life of a Man Changed By A Game

Panthersville.com writer Chris Hillyard did not always claim Georgia State Sports as his first love. In this three-part series Chris Hillyard takes Panther fans on his journey from growing up the fan of the Florida Gators all the way to how September 2, 2010 would change his life. Part One details the origins of Hillyard as a college sports fan and how it shaped him.

My earliest memories are not of my first bicycle ride or of my family opening presents on Christmas Eve. I don’t remember my first day of school, and I do not remember the first time I lost a tooth. I do not remember which Saturday morning cartoons I liked the best or what my favorite Disney Channel song was. Instead, I remember watching College Gameday and SportsCenter. When I find myself reflecting on my childhood, I realize that most of my memories are of one thing… Florida Football.

My dad is an alumnus of the University of Florida and first bought his own set of season tickets in 1990. I hadn’t even turned two yet but that moment would shape my entire life from that point forward. From that point on my weekends for every fall were set in stone. I was either going to make the trek down to Gainesville, Florida or I would be watching the game on TV. In the still blistering hot September days of northern Florida, I would be there in row 73 of section 19. I would get there about an hour before the game and watch the Pride of the Sunshine take the field at The Swamp. I knew then that for the rest of my life I would hear the jaws theme come over the crowd and turn my head towards the South End zone, bracing myself for the roar of one of the loudest crowds in all of sports.

My biggest heroes as a child were not the red power ranger or Leonardo the ninja turtle (although they certainly would be honorable mentions). Instead they were guys like Danny Wuerffel, Ike Hilliard, Jaquez Green, and Rex Grossman. I remember as a five year old watching from my grandmother’s living room in Jacksonville when Florida lost to Auburn in 1994. I remember sitting in my grandparents’ house in Virginia just a little over a month later and watching the “Choke at Doak”. I remember going to Athens, Ga in 1995 to watch the Gators play the Bulldogs at Sanford Stadium; the only time those two teams have done so in my father’s lifetime. I remember my dad telling me that one of the last things his father said to him before passing away from Cancer the summer before the 1995 football season were, “I will see you in Athens.” That day in Athens was a beautiful day, and I remember understanding as I gazed up into the clouds that there was no doubt my Grandfather was up there somewhere, watching his Gators play. Those moments are much more a part of me than my first spelling bee, my first bus ride, or the first time I scored a goal.

Florida Football was simply a major part of my life. However, once my older brother Jonathan started high school and had marching band competitions pretty much every weekend in October, it began to consume my life. Since that year, the 1999 football season, I have missed only two Florida-Georgia games. That same brother would be accepted to attend the University of Florida. I will never forget the smile on my dad’s face that day. And then the look of disgruntled frustration on my brother’s face when he realized that he could not turn the down the scholarship he had received from the University of South Carolina. It simply made too much sense for him to become a Gamecock instead… the thought of becoming a Bulldog was never truly entertained.

I remember Jonathan’s freshman year when the Gators went to Columbia, South Carolina and not understanding how he so easily could cheer against the Gators. He experienced the same childhood I had, so how could he just abandon that so easily? I asked that question frequently and said I would never cheer against the Gators even if I did attend another school. He told me I just didn’t understand, and the truth is I didn’t…

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