October has a certain feel to it for most of us. Sure there are the trite harbingers across the country of cooler weather, school in session everywhere and tasty Oktoberfest beers on the grocery store shelves. But for me, there have been two markers of October’s arrival since the time I stepped foot on campus back in 1992. October meant the football schedule was going to get tough and the Atlanta Braves were going to be playing in the postseason.
I understand some of you are not Braves fans. You didn’t come here to read about baseball and you don’t care about future Hall of Famer Chipper Jones’s last hurrah. Fair enough. Skip down a couple of paragraphs or close out this tab on your browser. Because for me, the Braves were as much a part of my time in Gainesville as biking to class, Burrito Bros and parties at the White House on SW 13th Street. I moved into Rawlings Hall in the fall of 1992 not knowing anyone on my floor. My roommate was a weird dude who liked horses and show dogs. I had some friends from back home spread across campus so I didn’t spend much time in the common areas of Rawlings and Broward. That changed on October 14, 1992, when I charged out of my room moments after Sid Bream slid across home plate and ran into another screaming lunatic and die-hard Braves fan. I’d seen Sonny Beam around and we had chatted before that night but the pure elation of the Braves rally and World Series berth forged a bond that has become a 20-year bromance and included my marrying his cousin. Thank you Sid Bream.
If you grew up in the South in the 80s, chances are you were a Braves fan. Florida didn’t have any professional baseball teams back then and thanks to the superstation qualities of WTBS, if you liked baseball, you could watch the Braves just about every night. Sonny and I both spent many nights on the couch watching some horrible, wretched baseball in our early teen years. But by the 90s, that devotion started paying off.
As Major League Baseball enters the postseason this weekend, I’d be remiss if I didn’t squeeze in an homage to the man who has replaced Dale Murphy as my favorite Brave of all-time, Chipper Jones. Chipper’s first full-time season was 1995, my junior year at UF. That was one of the two years the Gator Bowl was being renovated for the arrival of the Jacksonville Jaguars. And it just so happened that ’95 was the Gators turn to visit Athens. We made the road trip for the game, the infamous “Spurrier wanted to hang half-a-hundred in their place” game and then cruised through downtown Athens looking for a bar to watch Game 6 of the World Series. When the Braves won, it was the only time in my life I have ever hugged a Bulldog.
As you know, this is Chipper’s final season. The future Hall-of-Famer will finish up in the only place he should: the postseason. Yes the haters among you will point out that Chipper and the Braves have only that one ring from their amazing run (never mention Jim Leyritz or Kent Hrbek to me… EVER). But the numbers speak for themselves. The respect of his peers, the accolades and the place in history will say more than those postseason flameouts. And he has one final chance to finish off what any Braves fan will tell you has been one of the most magical, entertaining and emotional seasons ever.
You don’t have to root for him, but give him some respect. And remember he’s one of us, as evidenced by his appearance on GameDay back in 2009, decked out in orange and blue.
As for the Gators, their recent play in October has been reminiscent of those October Braves collapses. The past two years, the Gators are 1-7 in October. Last October might have been the worst month in the history if the program. October has always been the defining month of the season for Florida. Again going back to my freshman year in 1992, the Gators lost their first game in October at Mississippi State but then ran the table to secure the SEC East crown. In fact since 1992, the Gators have only run the table in October six times. Two of those seasons were national championship years (1996 and 2008) and two others (1995 and 2009) were the best teams never to win it all.
So once again Gator Nation enters October with the fate of the season in the balance. No one should have delusions of grandeur for this team so expecting a perfect month is unrealistic. All we can reasonably ask for is improvement from the past two years. A 2-2 mark this month will continue the progression we’ve already seen from this team with no shame. As of now, the 4th, 5th and 6th ranked teams in the country are on the schedule. I’m not sure there is a team in the country this year that could run that gauntlet. Certainly few Gators teams have faced a stretch like this one. Best I could find was the 2006 run through 9, 11 and 25 in the polls (and of course they lost one of those).
So as you read the previews this week and get ready for the first October showdown with LSU, remember that one game shouldn’t get too much weight. The key to this season, and arguably the future of the program, will be the end result of the month. Certainly LSU is a winnable game to start with. But if things don’t go well on Saturday, try not to despair too much. It is October and that means losses are going to happen and more tough games are around the corner.
2. Florida State
5. South Carolina
7. Kansas State
8. West Virginia
9. Notre Dame
13. Ohio State
14. Oregon State
16. Mississippi State
17. Southern Cal
24. Louisiana Tech
25. Texas A&M