Urban Meyer tells the story about how, when he was still a young assistant coach, he came to Gainesville for some sort of coaching convention. He said he went to the stadium known as "The Swamp" and stood on the 50 yard line. He looked around and pulled out his cell phone and called his wife and asked her "guess where I am?" He then told her that "this is it"¦this is where I want to get to". He also tells a story about his first game as head coach. It's the end of the third quarter and he is chewing out a player. He then looks up and sees 90,000 people singing with their arms around each, swaying back and forth to "We are the Boys". He had to stop and watch. "That was awesome," he said.
Tennessee QB and US Congressman, Heath Shuler tells a similar story. He had the Vols rallying at the end of the third quarter. When "We are the Boys" happened he and his teammates watched, then all looked at each other with a look that said "we're screwed." It was all Florida after that.
This from another UT player: Beneath the stadium's southeast corner, the Vols' voices rumbled as they recited Gen. Robert Neyland's game maxims. After promising to carry the fight to their opponent for 60 minutes, they gathered in the tunnel. Above them, the crowd roared like a jet engine. "That stadium is the loudest stadium, college or pro," UT running back Travis Stephens said. "I've never been in a stadium as loud as Florida's stadium. ... LSU is pretty loud. Georgia is pretty loud. But there's nothing like Florida."
That, my friends, is Florida football at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. It is THE toughest road game in college football. Not only does the visiting team have to deal with a team full of college football's finest athletes, but also 90,000 plus of the most rabid college football fans anywhere. Throw in 90 degree heat with stifling humidity and the visiting players actually feel like they are playing in a swamp full of live alligators.
How intimidating is it when the huge high def video boards show an intro of live alligators in the swamp a stone's throw away from the visiting locker room set to the theme from Jaws? This is truly a place for any sports fans bucket list.
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Stadium concessions include Domino's Pizza and Newberry Bar B Q. In Newberry, just up the road from Gainesville, this place is so popular they actually have a policeman that escorts people across the street who have to park elsewhere. They have a stand on the concourse between the north end zone and west stands. Of course there is plenty of the usual concession stand fare. Hot dogs, popcorn, burgers, nachos, soda and water can be found around every corner.
Not just a football stadium, BHG is a football complex. There is the Heavener Complex where fans can visit during the week. It has virtually every college football trophy there is in there. There are three Sears trophies (1996, 2006, and 2008) when you walk in the door staring you in the face. Encased in glass with video screens showing highlights of the games in which each of these trophies were won, these displays will give you goose bumps. Turn to your right and you will see three Heisman Trophies. Walk around the room and you will see numerous Davey O'Brien, Maxwell, Butkus and other trophies. It's like going to a Hall of Fame, only it's all for one school, one team, the Gators.
You want a souvenir? Or need some new Gator gear to wear? There are two stores, one on each end of the stadium. Not stands"¦actual stores. The one on the north end is open all year.
The tailgate parties start early in Gainesville. How early? I'm not really sure. Because no matter how early I get there, sometimes five hours before kick-off, they are already in full swing. Tailgate parties in Gainesville typically include all the food you could ever want and all the drinks too. Also several big screen TVs so the fans can watch their SEC rivals before they go to the stadium. Anybody and everybody are welcome to attend. It doesn't matter that you are a complete stranger. As long as you wear orange and blue, you're an old friend. By October you could not ask for better weather for these parties. Clear blue skies and 70 to 85 degree weather. You almost hate it when it's kickoff time.
You want restaurants? There are plenty within walking distance. The Swamp is a popular student hangout which sits right across from the stadium. There is also the Copper Monkey, Leonardo's, Tijuana Flats, Larry's and any number of mom and pop food stands. Whatever you want to eat or drink you can find it.
You like basketball? You can go inside the O'Connell Center, right across the street from the stadium. You can go inside and see where the Gators won back-to-back NCAA Tournaments and take pictures of the championship banners hanging from the rafters.
Listening to fans of rival schools, the Gator fans get a bad rap. But talk to fans that have actually been to the Swamp and they will likely tell a different story. Ole Miss fans said to me on the day they beat us in 2008 that they were amazed at how well Florida fans were taking it considering how damaging that loss was. Many remarked at how they would have been afraid of walking back to their vehicles had that happened at other venues. The fans at Florida want to win maybe more than at any other place, but by and large they are great fans. They show up early, they support their team and they scream very loudly. At times, poor performance will put them in a surly mood and they are not afraid to show it. But that's just passion. It matters to them.
What can you say about the campus? Its oldest buildings are nearly 100 years old. It is sprawled out over a huge area right in the middle of town. Walking and bicycling are the easiest ways to get around this lovely college setting. Walking around you will see some of the most gorgeous co-eds anywhere. Since it is always warm outside they are usually scantily dressed. The number of rear end collisions on University Avenue will attest to that. With the thousands of students who live near campus, parking is no problem. They will gladly watch your car for $10, many will even offer you food and beer.
Florida Gator football has been going on for over 100 years now. It took nearly 85 years for the Gators to win their first SEC Championship. National Championships were not even a pipe dream for all that time. These fans suffered through more disheartening losses than many of us can count. In 1990, our most celebrated player, Steve Spurrier, came to Florida to be the head coach. From that moment on everything changed. SEC Championships, All-Americans, Heisman Trophies and, yes, three National Titles have come about since 1990. Some of college football's most celebrated players of all-time have played in the Swamp. Danny Weurfel, Heisman trophy winner, led Florida to its first national title in 1996. Since 1990 the Gators have sent many players to the NFL. That's not to say there weren't any before then. Jack Youngblood and Emmitt Smith, NFL Hall of Famers, played their college ball at UF. This place IS college football.
The history is clearly here and worth an extra point. The statues of some of the Gator greats is also worth an extra point. Experiencing "We are the Boys" in person is worth an extra point. Overall, this is a great football experience.
Food: Hard to
Atmosphere: Probably the best out there.
Neighborhood: Pretty dreary. Gainesville is a dump.
Fans: They exist in large quantities.
Access: Not a fan of the circular ramps. Difficult to traverse different parts of the stadium. Pretty much cloistered to the immediate area around your section entrance once inside.
Return: SEC Yik Yik Yuuu
Extras: It's special, I admit.
food is cold, beverages are warm, overall fan experience is lacking.
1700 W University Ave
Gainesville, FL 32603
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