When I talked to my mother on New Year’s Day, she said, “Honey, I’m sorry about UCF losing,” like there was a death in the family.
My response was, “Thanks, but there’s no need to be sorry. It was amazing. I’m not sad at all.” My mom is a nice woman and knows her football. But she was surprised by that. I don’t think she should be. I don’t think any of us should be.
Now, I was disappointed at some of the missed opportunities that could have flipped the game, but I wasn’t upset at all, really. In fact, as a fan, I was probably more proud than I ever have been.
It wasn’t a death of a winning streak. It was the birth of a new era.
25 games ago at the start of the 2017 season, UCF was an afterthought - Not worth discussing. Just another team.
But now? Every person who knows anything about college football the world over knows exactly what UCF is, where it is, why it is, and what it’s about.
UCF is a national brand now, whether you like it or not.
UCF has become what its fans have always believed it could be. And now it’s finally happened. We always wanted the shiny new bike for Christmas, and suddenly, here we are riding it down the block while our friends look on. It happened so quickly that it bears reminding ourselves how far UCF has come in such a short amount of time.
Think about it: Last time UCF lost, it was by 18 in Orlando to a Sun Belt team. McKenzie Milton got benched in favor of Justin Holman and booed off the field. Just writing that sentence feels like it was 25 years ago, not 25 games.
13 wins, a conference title and a national championship claim later, and UCF was on the tip of everyone’s tongue, and it lasted through an offseason.
Then it continued through this season and another 12 wins. And College GameDay. And a prime time national TV game. And another conference title.
Even Kirk Herbstreit, the poster child of anti-UCF groupthink, changed his tune upon seeing what UCF is all about with his own eyes:
4️⃣ Herbie is all in on the Knights now. He even apologized for being late to the party https://t.co/LIk9KMBvEh— UCF Football (@UCF_Football) December 24, 2018
That’s what informed people do. To paraphrase John Maynard Keynes, “When my information changes, I alter my conclusions. What do you do, sir?”
Which brings us to the schadentweets.
If you listen to Twitter, UCF fans should all be ashamed of themselves. Not only that, but UCF sucks, the fans all suck, the entire athletic program should be shut down, facilities sold off for parts, and the entire campus razed and replaced with a SEC logo large enough to be visible from space.
Nope. I'm done. UCF fans can go scream into the abyss all they want, they lost to a defense that had to start a WR at CB for a half.— PodKATT (@valleyshook) January 2, 2019
They suck, and their team sucks, and it shoulda been worse. Take out 2 false start penalties on the goal line and this game was a blowout
We knew it was coming. That’s Twitter for you in 2019, I guess.
But that also gives in to rightnowism (my made-up term combining and replacing the ideas of instant gratification and/or short attention span and all of the baggage those terms carry with them). Whatever the latest result is, take it to the extreme, and that’s what you are.
What utter B.S.
But I don’t take enjoyment in their misfortune. I take pity on their joylessness.
It must be hard being an SEC football fan. It is an utterly joyless existence.
I get the desire for high standards. High standards are good. But there’s a difference between having high standards and having impossible standards, and that difference is the gap between UCF fans and (most) Power Five fans, especially in the SEC.
UCF is still trending upward, where the rest of the college football bluebloods have no more upward left to trend.
Because they have no room for joy in the achievements of their schools (I mean, I’d have been pretty happy with 9-3 and a Fiesta Bowl, when all is said and done), they have no choice but to try to slap down any newcomer who dares tread their turf. Hence the “Know your place” attitude on social media that has filtered its way among traditional media like Paul Finebaum and the rest of sports talk radio in the South.
It’s a familiar refrain. So familiar, in fact, that it no longer makes sense to listen to it, let alone clap back at it on Twitter.
These fan bases have enjoyed such success that they now define that success as National Championship or Bust. It’s a strain of Pat Riley’s Disease of More, where unless you win it all and do so in more dominating fashion than the last time. I mean, look at this:
How long before Alabama fires Nick Saban to hire Dabo Swinney?— SEC Mike (@MichaelWBratton) January 8, 2019
UCF fans don’t live in that universe, thank God. I hope we never do. It’s OK to expect to at least contend for a conference title, top-25 ranking, and a spot in the New Year’s Six. But to cast any non-championship season as a failure worth firing the coaching staff over is sheer lunacy.
So I’ve learned to not pay attention to the trolls on Twitter because what they say about UCF - Join a better conference, play a batter schedule, you didn’t win a championship, all of that - is actual 100% verified organic free-range nonsense. Like any coach will tell you, it’s mind over matter: If you don’t mind, it don’t matter.
But it matters to them. Because they know they’re wrong.
The only reason UCF’s success the last two years causes such visceral reaction among the bluebloods of college football is because they know UCF is right.
We live in a time where half the teams in major college football have no access to the season-ending playoff invitational. That much is undeniable.
What is also now undeniable is UCF’s place in college football as the 21st Century’s first major program. It is not a mid-level program that caught lightning in a bottle. The Knights have done this under two coaches, with two completely different staffs - no holdovers - and a sizeable contingent of players who survived an 0-12 season where the team completely quit on the field.
And this is what they did:
Longest College Football Winning Streaks since the Division I Split
|Team||Wins||Years||National Championships||Head Coach(es)||How It Ended|
|Team||Wins||Years||National Championships||Head Coach(es)||How It Ended|
|Miami||34||2001-2003||2002||Butch Davis/Larry Coker||#2 Ohio State, 31-24 (OT) in Fiesta Bowl (BCS Championship)|
|USC||34*||2003-2005||2003, 2004||Pete Carroll||#2 Texas, 41-38 in Rose Bowl (BCS Championship)|
|Miami||29||1990-1993||1991||Dennis Erickson||#2 Alabama, 34-13 in Sugar Bowl|
|Florida State||29||2012-2014||2013||Jimbo Fisher||#2 Oregon, 59-20 in Rose Bowl (CFP Semifinal)|
|Alabama||28||1978-1980||1978, 1979||Bear Bryant||at #19 Mississippi State, 6-3|
|Nebraska||26||1994-1996||1994, 1995||Tom Osborne||at #17 Arizona State, 19-0|
|Alabama||26||2015-2016||2015||Nick Saban||#2 Clemson, 35-31 in CFP National Championship|
|BYU||25||1983-1985||1984||LaVell Edwards||vs. #20 UCLA, 27-24|
|UCF||25||2017-2019||2017||Scott Frost/Josh Heupel||#11 LSU, 40-32 in Fiesta Bowl|
And in doing so, UCF put the lie to the ace that Power Five conferences thought they had up their sleeve. And then UCF reminded them about it. Every day. For a whole year.
In the age of internet-fueled tribalism, all Power Five fans can say is some variation of “JUST SHUT UP!” They want so badly to take it away, but they can’t, and it frustrates them to no end. They just cannot stand seeing another fan base as passionate, informed and as correct as UCF’s fan base come from nowhere and call out their BS. They can’t stand it because they remember what it was like to see their school make that climb. Or more often than not they weren’t around for it but heard stories about it.
And now they’re seeing it unfold before their very eyes and they can’t believe it. They can’t believe a former commuter school that started football as a Division III independent in 1979, when most of these schools were already at or close to the mountaintop, can not only crash their party, but become the life of the party.
I always thought it was possible #UCF could do these things. But I never really thought I’d see it happen.— Jeff Sharon (@Jeff_Sharon) January 1, 2019
It happened. As an alumnus and a fan, I’ll forever be grateful for the last 700+ days.
And in September, a new streak begins.#ChargeOn
They’ll never know what this last two seasons was like to experience. But we will always remember.
One year ago, I took my son to Atlanta and watched my alma mater do what I once thought I’d never see it do. It wasn’t just a win, or a cap to an undefeated season, or even a national championship. It was a celebration of the birth of a new era:
And when I think of my fondest memory from the last 750 days of UCF football, it’s standing in Mercedes-Benz Stadium, with him at my side, hearing this sound:
That’s the sound of 40 years fighting your way to the top of the college football world.
It’s a sound those Power Five fans I talked about earlier will never understand. No one-possession bowl game loss, no snarky tweet, no meme photo or animated gif can take that away.
That’s the stuff legends are made of. And to paraphrase Danny White, the legend is only just getting started.
So no, I’m not sad. I’m happy and I’m proud. And can’t wait to see what comes next.