Friday, November 13, 2009

On Tebow, Florida and Expectations

This week's Yahoo-Tebow column is about expectations. (In addition to reading the post below and the Yahoo post, you may want to triangulate with this complementary post on TimTeblog.)

Over the years, I have talked a lot about expectations as one of the cornerstones of fandom. In a way, expectations are everything.

High expectations better be met. Not meeting them is the worst outcome for a sports fan.

Low expectations? I once had a great journalism professor who swore by low expectations: "If you meet them, you're satisfied and if you exceed them, you're thrilled."

Modest expectations are trouble. I'm convinced most fans do a pretty good job of adjusting their expectations accordingly -- maybe it's a few more wins, maybe it's making the playoffs.

In some cases, the expectation is the most severe it can be: "Championship or failure."

That's the way it was for UNC hoops this past spring. That's the way it was for the Yankees in the World Series a week ago. (I actually respect the Yankees and their fans for that more than anything.)

And that's the way it is for Florida football this year -- this team is so good that the expectation is a national championship.

Is that fair? I think so. It's not like "Title or bust" is common -- we save it for the teams with $250 million payrolls and defending college football national champs who return everyone.

Folks who have heard me go back to my Florida fan "origin story" know that the win-or-bust expectations were part of the lure for me.

What is the result? Not all positive: When the team DOES win the title, it's expected. And NOT winning the title? God forbid.

But there is something clarifying about the outlook:

It makes it easy to shake off short-term problems -- like an offense with a perception of sputtering -- and focus on the important stat: "And-oh."

As long as the Gators keep winning, Gator Nation should be satisfied -- even happy. HOW they win should be irrelevant.

(I think an expectation that this team would mow down everyone and establish itself as the greatest team of all time -- expectations I admit to harboring in the hypothetical-driven offseason -- is ludicrous. If historical superlatives are important to you, isn't it enough that the defense is one of the greatest of all time?)

I definitely admit to micro-managing my anxiety about the season so far: Don't play Tebow! Give the ball to Demps more! What's going on with this freaking offense? Where's the pass protection? Stop with all the dive plays already!

It got to the point when, during last Saturday's game against Vanderbilt, I found myself feeling dissatisfied. Dissatisfied! About a win! A convincing win!

It was a moment of clarity for me.

I fully own up: If this team loses, it will be devastating for me as a fan -- probably to lots of Florida fans. That's because my expectations are so high.

But that's OK.

I think "Title or Fail" expectations don't come around very often -- at some point, Florida will not be a title-contending juggernaut (hell: just look at 2007), and expectations will be refined, revamped and reconstructed.

I want to appreciate this high-wire act of "Title or Fail."

That means conceding the day-to-day or week-to-week freak-outs that come with HOW the team is winning.

I can totally live with that. Just keep winning, that's all I can ask for.

-- D.S.

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