Meet my hat.
This hat, in unmistakable orange and blue flannel, may be the oldest item of clothing I own (that I will admit to, anyway.) I purchased it during my senior year in college, which was twenty-some-odd years ago. Been wearing it ever since.
(Damn. Pardon me while I take a moment to let THAT little tidbit sink in. Oy. Those aren't the eyes of someone who graduated from college over 20 years ago -- are they?)
OK. Break over.
As you may be aware, the University of Florida are the National Champions in the fine sport of football. Achieved that distinction last night after beating the University of Oklahoma. This is a VERY big deal in my world. I am a third-generation UF graduate. My Nana received her Master's in Education from UF back in the early '40s. My parents met in the library (Library East, if you're familiar with the campus), allegedly studying. I think that's really what my mom was doing, but I suspect my dad and his buddy were there looking to pick up girls. Obviously, he succeeded. My brother and sister-in-law -- also graduates. My uncle, cousins and other relatives that I can't think of right now -- all Gators.
We take our Gator stuff pretty seriously.
When it came time for me to think about college, Daddy said that I could go anywhere I wanted to -- he would only help pay for me to go to Florida.
We've scheduled and rescheduled events and parties and yes, even weddings around the Gator football schedule. My parents have had the same seats -- season tickets -- for over 40 years. They're on the 50 yard line, About 40 rows up. My dad takes pride in the fact that the stripe in the middle of the field goes right between his legs. And yeah -- the seats are in the will (not going to me, though. I'm getting the silver and crystal.)
I learned to play cards -- poker, blackjack, gin -- with a deck of cards featuring the 1972 Gator Football Team and their Amazing Hair. Seriously, long hair, sideburns and afros... they sported them all.
I knew UF fight songs as well as I knew nursery rhymes from the time I was able to sing. (Which for me, was frighteningly early. Shocking.) When Will was in the hospital, I would sing them all to him -- comfort for me, genetics for him.
The University, for all intents and purposes, is part of my family. I'm pretty passionate about it -- and I don't even come close to the level at which some of my relatives reside.
So what is it about a person's loyalty and devotion to their university? Why do we care so much, even as alumni?
Maybe it's because it's a place where we grew up. Matured. Came into our own. The first place where we made adult decisions. Accepted responsibilities. Figured out who we were.
All of those things came into play with me last night as I watched the game while communicating online with friends and family, chatting live as we shared the common experience -- first of observation and investment, then of euphoria and joy. Even though none of us had anything to do with what transpired on the field, we all shared in the celebration. That investment thing again. Somehow, it's nice to feel like you belong to something.
My hat would agree.