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Growing up in the Chicago area in the 2000s gave me, essentially, the same sports allegiances as everyone else: Cubs, Bears, Bulls, Blackhawks.
Illinois Basketball’s dominant 2004-05 season and run to the National Championship game got me hooked on college basketball.
What I was missing, however, was a college football team to root for. Most people in this area support Notre Dame, which I had no desire to do, even from an early age. There was just something about them that I didn’t really care for.
Early on, I got a cool looking Michigan jacket for a low price at Steve and Barry’s (there’s a throwback), and I was officially a Michigan Wolverines fan. Only, not really. I liked them and all, but aside from my jacket, I didn’t really go out of my way to watch them.
By the time I was in eighth grade, I found myself even more immersed in college basketball. After following the Florida Gators all season, becoming pretty obsessed with Joakim Noah, I picked the Gators to repeat in my NCAA Tournament bracket. As you already know, they did. That remains my only bracket where I got the champion correct to this day.
Christmas 2008 was a couple weeks before the 2009 BCS National Championship, and I got an Xbox 360 from my parents. One of the games I had asked for was NCAA Football 2008. As a still-casual follower of college football, I decided to start a dynasty with the Florida Gators. I knew they were playing in the National Championship and, obviously, had seen Tim Tebow highlights all season on ESPN.
After countless hours over the next few days/weeks/months playing and continuing Florida’s run of dominance (Tebow and Percy Harvin graduated? No worries, just create some 99 overall recruits from Gainesville and they’ll be a perfect replacement), I was officially hooked on the Gators. The fact that they finished the job and beat Oklahoma in the title game helped, too.
By the end of 2009, Tebow, Harvin, and Urban Meyer had all left the Gators for various reasons. I wish I could say I stuck with the Gators through those rough transitional years, but eventually I moved on to be more of a general college football fan. However, I can always think back to that magical 2008 team for getting me hooked on the sport.
Why didn’t I go to the University of Florida? Well, Gainesville isn’t exactly close to Chicago. I wasn’t necessarily looking at somewhere that far from my house. Also, the academic standards were a bit higher than I was able to achieve (I wasn’t the best high school student, likely due to my playing hours of NCAA Football games instead of doing schoolwork). There was a school that was a fair distance from my house with standards I could meet, though. That school was the University of Missouri, and this is part two of my story of SEC fandom.
When I was admitted to Mizzou in August 2011, there was a bit of a sour taste in everyone’s mouth following the Big Ten spurning the Tigers in favor of the Nebraska Cornhuskers. It was evident something would have to be done, as the Big 12 was (is?) a sinking ship. Enter the SEC.
The initial reaction of Mizzou going to the SEC on campus was one of joy. Everywhere else was one of condescension, more or less. The Tigers had just gone 8-5 in the Big 12, after all. How would they ever compete in the SEC.
For a year, everyone was right. Mizzou had a terribly rough adjustment period in 2012, going 2-6 in SEC play with the two wins being Kentucky and Tennessee. In 2013 and 2014, though, Mizzou went a combined 14-2 in regular season SEC play, winning the East both years. While they ended up losing in the SEC title game both years, the Tigers provided moments and memories and proved a lot of people wrong, reigniting my passion for college football along the way.
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