Hoops, football with FSU and Florida

Florida Fans

Throughout the basketball season, ESPN.com will be spending 24 hours focusing on a person, place, thing or event. Our "Day In The Life" series makes a stop in Gainesville, Fla., for a Friday night hoops game between Florida State and Florida, which was followed Saturday by a football game between -- you guessed it -- Florida State and Florida.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The song rang out with 8:29 left in the game, the students in full throat chanting "It's great to be a Florida Gator.'' Which isn't unusual in the Swamp, the greatest place to be a Gator north of the Everglades.

But on this particular occasion, the Gators were not so great. They were trailing their hated rivals, Florida State, 27-7 in football, and the reaffirming boast was surprising enough that one fan chuckled, "I bet the players are like, 'What the … We're getting killed.'''

Twenty-three seconds later, the Seminoles scored again and, well, "Kumbaya" good sportsmanship only goes so far. Some fans headed to the exits.

Not all of them, not even most of them, and never Lucas Dolengowski. The Florida junior is the current president of the Men's Basketball Rowdies student group, and leaving any game early would be untenable; leaving this game would be unforgivable.

For Dolengowski, this past weekend in Gainesville was a 24-hour post-Thanksgiving feast. On Friday at 7:30 p.m ET, the Gators and the Seminoles tangled in hoops; at noon Saturday they kicked off in football.

There's been a lot said, written and discussed about the high cost and high price of college athletics and the erosion of its purity. All of it is accurate. To ignore the business transactions and pretend it's all about letterman sweaters would be Pollyanna foolish.

But there is still plenty left that is true and good in the game, and when the inner cynic threatens to run roughshod on optimism, it's good to find a student like Dolengowski, his buddies and extended family.

They are a great reminder that games are meaningful because they still do mean something to fans beyond just dollars and cents. And never do they matter more than when two intrastate rivals go head-to-head in a school's flagship sport -- or as it was in Gainesville this weekend, even more deliciously -- sports. The dislike between the two schools, as it is between any rivals, is as treasured as a family heirloom, passed from generation to generation, kids reared in it at Grandpa's knee.

Nearly 20 years ago, I worked at Jacksonville's Florida Times-Union and what I learned then about the Sunshine State still stands true today, even with the rise of Central Florida and the rebirth of Miami.

There are only two choices: Are you a Gator? Or are you a Seminole?

And the answer is never both.

"Anytime we play them it matters,'' Dolengowski said. "In any sport.''

When Billy Donovan first took the Florida gig, the Gators played the Florida State game in Orlando. It made sense for both teams. Neither was terribly good, neither had anything close to a basketball history, so the neutral-court, split house made sense.

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