Written by: John Carosiello
There were over one-hundred-thousand fans in Neyland Stadium who stood stunned after the Gators recovered an onside kick with less than 20-seconds in the game. It was obvious (as the cameras captured their horror) that many of these fans had been here before. Richardson threw a pass to Justin Shorter which was completed at the 39 yard-line, followed by a laser to Shorter that would have advanced the Gators into the red zone for a final play to the end zone, but Shorter was unable to bring it in. Final Play: Richardson drops back, pressure comes, and he throws an interception (his only interception of the night) Vols hang on to win.
As the stadium roared – and UT’s coach galivanted on the sidelines as though they had just won a title – the Gators slowly walked over to the sidelines, many with their heads down, and found a Head Coach waiting for them. Coach Napier didn’t sulk, he didn’t lecture, no – as each player headed into the locker room – he hugged them and patted their heads as they continued walking (video of this is beginning to surface.) Many UT assistants were trying to get a word with Coach Napier, and while he would talk to them, as soon as one of his players was within arm’s reach, Coach Napier turned his attention to his athletes, hugged them, and let them know how proud of them he was – THAT is what connection looks like!
Connection is what will cause a banged-up athlete to insist on playing anyway! Connection is what will cause a WR to go beast-mode, break three tackles on his way to the endzone, and then rally his offense on the way back to the sidelines! Connection is what can cause a QB who hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass all year, to have one of the single best SEC games in school history, finishing with more total yards than anyone else in a single game (besides Tim Tebow.) Connection is what causes an offense to look energized and excited when their coach tells them to “GO FOR IT” on their own 27-yard line on 4th down! Connection is many of those same players taking to the media, some to Twitter, talking about how they must improve themselves! Coach Napier isn’t just building a program, he’s building men with character, and he’s restoring the connection between the players and their Head Coach!
I predict that by the end of the season, many of the Gators will be willing to follow coach Napier blindly – not because he’s intelligent (he is intelligent,) not because he’s bold and courageous (yep, he’s those things too,) but because they are connected with him! This coach is not here for a paycheck (he made that clear from the beginning) he is here to actually coach (mind-blown;) and what he is doing is slowly making its way into the Florida fanbase!
Fans took to Twitter by the thousands Saturday night, commending the athletes for a hard-fought game. The trolls were there of course because the trolls will always be there, but the presence of the cynics does not bother me when they no longer seem to have influence! I saw nay-sayers getting overwhelmed by swarms of (connected) fans who quickly drown out their negativity, some even received invitations to vacate the fanbase. It was a sight to see! Some of the trolls are undoubtedly reading this, secretly hoping for Napier to fail, so they can feel vindicated and scream “I told you so!” And if he succeeds? Silence.
The problem is not an opinion but an attitude; and the fanbase, connected to Napier, is changing in a positive way! Fans aren’t just pulling for the Gators, but I see us coming together like I have not in a very long time! In a culture that is divided by so many issues – we had lost connection – some of us are disconnected in many areas in which we were connected just a few years ago. What is happening in Gainesville is bigger than football – it seems to me to be a path to unity, an outlet where we can relearn how to put differences aside and connect with one another.
I was drenched prior to the Utah game – I had been standing in the rain prior to the gates opening like thousands of other Gators fans; my phone desperately needed charged so when I walked into BHGS – I stopped at a charging station. The weather had caused the WiFi to go down for a moment – and while I was charging, I heard a nearby girl exclaim: “Thank God, connection’s restored!” (While staring at her phone!) In thinking about what I’m seeing from the Gators, their coaches, and our fanbase – I want to echo her sentiment: thank God, connections restored!