Gator Nation News

Commentary:When You're Not Asked
to the Big Dance

Celebrations like this one in 2006 have been missing from Gators basketball for a while. Those and other moments make March Madness special.

Being left at home for another NCAA Final Four Tournament is hard. Here are 10 things Gators are going to miss most.

Back in the old days — and by that I mean when I was old but considered myself young — Gators basketball coach Billy Donovan told the media boys and girls about something one of his players had said.

Major Parker was a freshman on the 1997-98 team. When he found out Florida would be playing in the NIT that year, Parker said to Donovan, “Wait a minute, I thought everybody got to play in the NCAA Tournament.”

Well, that would truly be March Madness.

Not everyone gets to go, of course, and Parker never played in another NIT because the Gators became a fixture at the Big Dance under Donovan. Before him, the Gators had played in five NCAAs and won seven games — four of those in 1994’s incredible run to the Final Four. With Donovan, UF went to 14 NCAA Tournaments, won 36 games, two national titles and made four Final Fours.

Billy the Kid is in the NBA now, and his replacement, Mike White, is gone after making the tournament four times himself. Poor Todd Golden tried to cobble together a roster that could get back to the Big Dance, but he lost his best player on the stretch run. Gators fans will have to watch the NCAAs this year without the men’s team in it for the second year in a row.

Instead, fans will turn their attention to other sports, like spring football. But we will miss the Final Four Tournament — a lot.

It had become the expected. Now, well, we don’t know when it will come back. But we know what Gators will miss:


The Rowdy Reptiles, UF’s student super fans, won’t have as much to cheer about this year with the Gators sitting at home this season for the Final Four Tournament.

1. The rush of hearing the theme song
It started in 1993 after CBS had a contest to come up with a new song for its coverage of the tournament. The winning tune is now as much a part of the tournament as buzzer-beaters and the media complaining about free food. When your team is playing and you hear that song, man, you get chills.

2. Finding the right channel and sneaking it onto your work computer
Sometimes, the first part is the most difficult because not many people watch TruTV any other time of the year. Those 2 p.m. starts can make you take a late lunch. Or call in sick. Or pay for a subscription to something you won’t use again until next year. It stirs the adrenaline once you find the right channel.

3. The reveal
I remember sitting in hotel rooms after the final game of the SEC Tournament waiting for the Final Four Tournament brackets to be announced and screaming at the TV to get it going. If Florida came up early, the rest was for kicks and giggles. Just seeing the name on the screen has always been a warm, fuzzy feeling.

4. Sizing up the brackets
Coaches and players are supposed to think about one game at a time. Not fans.
We look ahead in the field, contemplate who would be a better second-round opponent and look all the way to the Final Four. It’s exhilarating to imagine what could be coming up.

5. Complaining about the seeding
Hey, we all have a little John Calipari in us. The Kentucky coach complains every year, but fans are never happy with their seeding either unless our team is a No. 1. And ESPN? Oh boy, complaining is half the selection show. The good thing is it all dies down by the first tipoff. But we still like to complain.

6. A shot at 50
You may or may not be aware of this, but if UF had gotten into the tournament, the Gators could have notched their 50th win of March Madness with a trip to the Sweet 16. That doesn’t get us into the Top 10 all-time, but it’s respectable. Alas, it will have to wait another year.

7. Picking the bracket, with UF going far
We’re fans, it’s OK to pick our team to go all the way to the Final Four, even if it limps into the tournament. Strange things happen in the tournament. Go ahead, take a chance on your team. In 2006, my daughter Kelsey, who is now a Rowdy Reptile, picked Florida and LSU to make the Finals. She was 5 — she picked the Gators for obvious reasons and LSU because there’s an “L” in her name. Nailed it.

8. The exposure
You’ll definitely miss seeing your school talked about and the attention that comes with being in the tournament, whether they’re playing in Seattle or Dallas or Oklahoma City. If college football is the front porch of colleges around this country, college basketball is the foyer. It’s that important, and at some places defining.

9. Guys having a day
You never know who will surprise you. Like Casey Prather in 2012 coming out of nowhere to have a day in Omaha. Or players who you expect to play well putting the team on their backs, like Al Horford did against Purdue in 2007 and Scottie Wilbekin against Pitt in 2014.

10. The moments
The closing theme song for the tournament is “One Shining Moment” and that’s the feeling at the end for the champs. But there are so many shining moments during the tournament. And they stay with you. Mike Miller’s shot … Chris Chiozza’s SHOT … Craig Brown for 3 … gosh, the eight overtime games Florida has played in its tournament history. You remember where you were.

Oh, well, you can still join me in the Negative Rooting Club this year to enjoy the tournament. I always buy a T-shirt of the team that knocks out Kentucky or FSU. Here at the NRC, we don’t want Kansas to win because Florida is the last team to win back-to-back titles. We don’t want Miami to win for obvious reasons. I could go on.

Sportswriter Pat Dooley (BSJ ’76) covered the Gators for The Gainesville Sun for 33 years until his retirement in 2020. He still shares his love for Gator sports through his podcast, “Another Dooley Noted,” and WRUF radio program, “Dooley’s Back 9.” His Gator Nation News column does not necessarily reflect the views of the University of Florida.