While I’m certainly not the only ‘Nole to have grown up a gator fan, I wanted to share my perspective on the rivalry and offer a little insight into the minds of our hated rivals.
My gator upbringing and subsequent conversion to the Garnet and Gold side has given me a really good understanding of why gator fans act and think the way they do in general, how they perceive FSU, and why Florida State’s third and most recent National Championship has gator nation hurting in the worst way.
I chose to attend Florida State, if I’m honest, because I was a foolish and love-drunk 18 year-old following my girlfriend to college. As bad a reason as that is to choose any school over another, I'd say in hindsight the choice worked out better than I could have ever imagined and I am incredibly thankful I chose FSU over UF. However, as a kid I vividly remember watching Bobby Bowden’s Seminoles dominate the 90’s. In the same era, the gators were also consistently very good. Spurrier’s gators won 6 SEC Championships. In fact, from 1990 to 2000, Florida only lost 5 home games (3 of them to FSU). But no matter how good the gators were it didn't seem to matter because, more often than not, FSU beat Florida. While previous generations of gators might consider Georgia to be UF’s main rival, for any kid that grew up a gator fan in the 90’s, the Florida State Seminoles were the rival. SEC Championships be damned. What good was winning the SEC if the gators had lost to FSU? Sure, winning the SEC was always incredibly important but only later with the advent of the BCS did gator fans come to care as much about the winning the SEC as they do now (because winning the SEC became a de facto a National Championship game berth in the BCS era). In the 90’s, however, beating FSU was all every gator fan I knew cared about.
Although the gators had some great teams and iconic players in the 90’s, FSU always seemed to get even better players and I couldn't understand why. I can remember watching UF play all season and thinking that they looked really good, but when the FSU game rolled around and you saw the ‘Noles take the field, it was shocking to see how much bigger, faster and stronger they looked than the gators. They just looked so bad ass. Sure an alligator is a pretty good mascot as far as animal mascots go but there’s literally nothing more bad ass than a Native American warrior. Though you’d never say it out loud, every gator fan envied the talent, swagger and cool factor that the ‘Noles seemed to have year after year… the great players like Neon Deion, Ward, Brooks, Dunn, Warrick, Minnis, etc… the garnet jerseys, the spears on the gold helmets, the Warchant, the whole "Indian" theme, Osceola and Renegade … what gator kid (or adult for that matter) could help but be a little jealous?" It was intimidating. The gators were talented but seemed vanilla and meek compared to the ‘Noles. I remember seeing Spurrier yelling at Danny Wuerffel to "play more angry." UF just didn’t have the BAMF GAM that FSU did. What it all boils down to is that every gator fan I knew growing up, including me, knew damn well that UF was not the "cool" team in Florida, despite UF’s success in the SEC and prestige as a university.
From a former gator fan’s perspective, watching Florida State dominate UF like it did from ’87 to ‘03, become nationally relevant before UF, win a national championship before UF, win a second title in half as many years as it took UF to win one, to spend 14 straight years ranked in the top 5 and outshine UF as the top football program in Florida and the team of the ‘90s… was awful. It was frustrating and bewildering. To translate that into something ‘Noles fans can relate to, it’d be like if FAU came out of nowhere, started consistently beating the hell out of the ‘Noles and won something like 5 national championships and surpassed the 'Noles as a program.
Jealousy of FSU’s swagger and success alone is not what makes gator fans hate the ‘Noles like they do. It’s much deeper. Most ‘Noles would agree that a lot of gator fans are arrogant, elitist prigs. To be sure, every fan base has a-holes and arrogant prigs. Every fan base thinks of its team as the "good guys" and every fan base believes its alma mater is a great place to go to school. However, many if not most gator fans take these notions to an unhealthy, even narcissistic extreme. Growing up, I was taught by gator friends and family and gators everywhere that UF and the gator fan base were wholly different from every other school and fan base, that gator fans are actually better people than the fans of other teams, that the players on the gator football team are better people than those on other teams, that everything at UF is better than everything at any other school, that the gators are in fact God’s team, and that all of UF’s rival fan bases are nothing but trashy, immoral people rooting for teams comprised solely of thugs and villains. This is why gator fans are different than fans of other college football teams, and why seemingly every other fan base in the country has noticed that the gators are uniquely arrogant. The mentality of Notre Dame fans’ is the only one that is remotely comparable to that of the gators… but at least with Notre Dame, the fact that they’re a Catholic institution makes their "God’s chosen team" complex somewhat understandable. UF’s collective narcissism is unrivaled even by other fans of teams that have had WAY more football success than UF (Alabama, Ohio State, Michigan USC come to mind).
It then makes sense that gator fans are taking FSU’s recent National Championship so poorly. They simply cannot reconcile their core beliefs that UF is divinely favored over FSU and that UF is superior to FSU in every conceivable way with the harsh reality that the Florida State Seminoles are the best team the entire country, are coached by a man of great moral character and led, in large part, by very good character kids… whereas the gators are coached by an insane, foul-mouthed animal and boast an embarrassing lack of discipline, thuggery on and off the field, and an abysmal 4-8 record. When two opposing truths clash, the result is anger, confusion, chaos, weeping and gnashing of teeth in biblical proportions, which is exactly what we’ve seen out of Gainesville for the past 3+ months. FSU winning the National Championship with the wealth of talent we had, juxtaposed with the apocalyptically devastating season UF had, is rocking gator fans to the core. Our brilliant resurgence in the face of their dumpster fire is making them question the gospel beliefs they knew to be true of their football program and of ours just 5 short years ago. Even after Tebow and a once-in-a-lifetime group of recruiting classes left, gator fans thought UF would continue to dominate FSU and consistently field an elite, championship-caliber team every year forever… and they’re having a really hard time accepting the reality that Gainesville is not the center of the universe, UF is not some special or divinely favored program and they'll suffer through down times just like every other program.... they are not the #EverythingSchool... and that the Florida State Seminoles are Kings of the Sunshine State and National Champions. We're back and better than ever, and it's their worst nightmare.