The Florida Gators have won two NCAA Tournaments in the last decade and been to three Final Fours. They’ve been to the College World Series four of five times in the last decade, making it to the Finals twice. They’ve won the 2014 and 2015 Women’s College World Series titles and three Women’s Gymnastics National Championships (2013-2015). But the University of Florida is, and will always be, a “Football School.”
A good example of what I mean by this actually happened during the basketball season in 2014. That Gators basketball team ran through the SEC unbeaten and made the Final Four. Early in that season, they hosted the Kansas Jayhawks. Kansas is an “elite” basketball school. Their fans are used to being in the national spotlight.
Before the basketball game, I parked down the street at one of those “Park and Ride” lots and took a bus to the O’Connell Center. Some KU fans got on the bus and sat down in front of me. One turned to ask if they would be able to see “The Swamp” on the way to the game.
“Of course,” I said. “It’s right next door.”
“Oh, cool” he said.
When we got close to our destination, I pointed it out to them.
“There it is,” I said.
Their bottom jaws dropped as they stared at it.
“Wowwwww!” one of them said.
I found it a bit odd. After all, these fans are in the Big 12. They play Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Baylor, and Kansas State. Have they really never seen a giant college football stadium before? Evidently “The Swamp” is something special.
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There is no shortage of food options at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Domino's Pizza is the "official" pizza and they have stands throughout the concourse level. A personal size pizza runs $8, and it is a better quality pizza than the ones you get delivered to your house.
The concession stands have a $5 bag of popcorn that you will not finish and for $8 you can get a Pepsi with unlimited refills throughout the game. When it is 85 degrees at kickoff that is a great deal. If the cup was a bit larger it would cut down on your trips, but my guess is that is by design so you'll get more food.
There are burgers, hot dogs, candy, chips, and pretzels and there is a Newberry Barbecue stand on the west side. Newberry Barbecue is a very popular barbecue restaurant west of Gainesville.
There is no beer however. The Swamp has a no alcohol policy.
The atmosphere has gotten even better. The team is winning under head coach Jim McElwain and the fans are excited again. They have added a new video during the pregame they show on the new massive video board in the south end zone that will give any Gator fan watery eyes. Absolutely awesome!
With the Celebrity "Two Bits" cheer, that new video montage, the Video montage set to "Jaws" music with the real live alligators shown before the team takes the field, and at the Homecoming Game a fighter jet fly-over, pregame alone is worth the price of admission.
The 90,000 fans maintain their support for the Gators, even against teams they should crush, but there are no boos, no insults aimed at the players or coaches, (a few were aimed at the refs) and when they game is on the line and it is up to the defense to make a game saving stop, the noise is so loud that you get to the point that you can no longer hear.
Ben Hill Griffin Stadium is in the middle of a "College Town." If not for UF, there would not be much going on in this city. But, with this university, there is a lot going on in and around the campus. Small businesses that cater to college students abound. You want to shop for "Gator Gear?" There are two sports shops in the stadium, and there are at least three of these type shops within walking distance. On game days, there are several temporary souvenir stands set up all around the outside of the stadium.
Hungry? There is no shortage of places to eat within walking distance. You have several chain restaurants such as Larry's Giant Subs, Jimmy John's, Firehouse Subs, Tijuana Flats, Chipotle, etc and also sports bars and hole-in-the-wall places such as The Swamp, Copper Monkey, the Grog House and more.
Everywhere you look you see people dressed in Orange and Blue. The people are tailgating, eating, shopping, partying and rarely do you see an angry exchange among them. All of those people in one place and all of them get along. Even the few visiting fans are welcomed and some even comment on how surprised they are about the lack of hassle they have to endure.
Gator fans are among the loudest in the SEC, and that is saying a lot. The SEC is an entire conference that thinks, lives and breathes football 365 days a year and to be the loudest fans (and this is validated by rival players who will admit this) that is impressive. Visiting fans often look to be in shock when at the end of the third quarter 90,000 people stand at once, put their arms around each other, and sing, "We are the Boys" while swaying side to side.
Getting to the stadium and finding parking can be tough for the newbie. Game day traffic along University Avenue is tough, especially when they shut the street down two hours before kickoff for the "Gator Walk." I would recommend going to this if you can get there early enough. Expect to pay about $20 for parking if you do not get to the area three hours before kick-off.
If you are coming from the east coast of Florida, there is no interstate to get to Gainesville. It's a scenic drive, but can be a slow one, so leave early. Coming from the west coast, I-75 will get you pretty close, but you still want to leave early.
There are some "Park-and-Ride" options such as at the Oaks Mall near I-75, but they charge $20 a person.
Expect to spend a few bucks on your visit to Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. How much depends a lot on who the opponent is and how the Gators are doing that season. Buying tickets online or off of scalpers can be a very cheap way to go in years the team is doing poorly. In 2015, you could still go that route, but the tickets are more than they were a year earlier when the team was losing a lot. Your best bet is to get your tickets when the team is winning is from the UAA ahead of time. Lesser opponents cost less money. You can likely get good seats for $25 for a weak non-conference foe. That is pretty good compared to let's say, a Jacksonville Jaguars game which will run you $50 or more to sit in the third level.
There are also plenty of trucks along the outside giving away free samples of food and snacks, so you can get plenty of little freebies before the game just by walking around. All in all, it's a really good ROI if you know what to do.
Florida seems to be very intent on honoring as many veterans during the game as possible. Several times during every home game they have vets on the field and they receive a standing ovation. How do you not love this?
Some more pretty cool extras include the three statues of Florida's three Heisman winning quarterbacks outside the stadium, the "Ring of Honor" on top of the stadium, the SEC and National Championships noted on the south end zone façade, the many huge photos of great players and games along the concourse, the TVs at the concession stands so you can watch the game while in line, and perhaps the greatest "extra" of all, the weather. Yes, it can be very hot and humid even in November, but that is a whole lot better than freezing at a game in the northern part of the country.
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.
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.
we were there for a hot august game. it was hot, then poured rain, then was hot again - FLA in august. Its a big stadium and is typical college. Its old and doesn't offer much in the way of extras. Parking was fine and the crowd was into it. Unlike pro events college football games are tough to grade simply because most stadiums are built for get in your seat - watch the game - grab a dog and a coke - go back and watch the game. Im grading this based on college football stadiums and not comparing it to NFL or MLB stadiums.
The stadium that hosts the University of Florida football team is called Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, but to fans of college football it is simply called, “The Swamp.” In the video montage of live alligators played prior to all home games, the narrator speaks as a rather large gator opens his mouth with the music from the blockbuster movie “Jaws” playing the background. He says “the Swamp, only Gators get out alive” as the team begins streaming out of the tunnel onto the field. If you have ever been to an early September game for a 12:00 kickoff, you might think this is not an exaggeration.
I'm a UF alumni and loved gator games (and still do). The students are known for getting respectively rowdy, and the gator tailgating tradition is 2nd to none. Within a 3 mile radius of the UF football stadium in a neighborhood known as College Park, tens of thousands of UF students park and cookout before games. The crowds are very welcoming and will often have games out front (bean bag tosses, football, etc) and typically have a keg that they are happy to share with gator fans and visiting fans alike. Because parking can be horrendous, there's a lot of demand for the apartments and houses near UF, many of which have been renovated and restored (though there are still lots of professors who live in the area, too). Parking has become more of a problem since the city leaders changed the law about front yard parking, but it's still a great place to tailgate. Weather is awesome most of the year, and ESPN game day is SUPER exciting.
Until the 2013 season, it seemed like going to Gainesville for opposing teams was an automatic loss. I can see why after my trip to Florida (though I went when the Gators lost to Georgia Southern). The place, for a large capacity is pretty close to the action, regardless of where you are seated, and you feel like you are on top of the action. No wonder with all the talented teams Florida had they made it unbearable for even the best teams to fare well.
The stadium itself has one of the most unique layouts I've seen as it doesn't feel like it is a bowl seating at all. I really can't explain it. But anywhere you go you make sure you are in Gator country, via concourse or seeing out on the field with all the retired numbers, ring of honor, SEC titles, National Titles, etc. Regardless of whether the Gators are good or bad, going to Ben Hill Griffin is a must for any college football fan.
FOOD & BEVERAGE: A varied menu ranging from turkey legs, barbecue, and pizzas to the plain stadium fare. The brat I had (the Gator brat with fresh onions) was one of the better brats I've had in a stadium.
ATMOSPHERE: I think I went at the wrong time when Florida was on the verge of their first losing season since 1979 as it didn't seem as jumpy as I had imagined when I first went. It wasn't like dead or anything, but it seemed like the fans were ready for the season to end. After the game where Georgia Southern won, Florida fans just felt like "glad the season is almost over; let's get out of here."
NEIGHBORHOOD: Across the street from the stadium you have a wide range of Gainesville eats to go to. Your standard bar & grill fares, sandwich places, and even a few sushi bars. Don't drift too far out though as it becomes more chains.
FANS: Most fans were pretty good, but when a fan overheard me wonder if Muschamp would be fired if they lose to Georgia Southern, she went spastic, screaming how injuries decimated the team this year and then walked off during the first quarter, never to be seen again. I guess you have those in every fan base. Again, fans, while into the game, just didn't seem overly jumpy.
ACCESS: Take a straight shot on I-75 and go off the campus exit. The road will lead you to the stadium. Parking is decent and even anywhere near the stadium can net you $10-15. Not the worst thing.
ROI: I bet this would be better when Florida is one of college football's top dogs, but you have a great, unique stadium with a great atmosphere, you certainly get your money's worth on this one.
EXTRAS: The place was just a scenic structure, both inside and out. The scoreboard was good for what it was worth and the chomp, while annoying if you aren't a Florida fan, is a neat thing to see. Plus, the game I went was a very exciting game.
The thing I remember most about this stadium is all the orange - orange walls, orange seats, orange everything. Getting smacked in the face by all this color was actually pretty great, b/c a lot of stadiums don't have much, and are mostly industrial grey (yes, I do spell it like that) with a few flags.
The stadium is also pretty compact - it holds a lot of people but is built such that everyone is still close to the field. In fact, fans are packed in so tight you can barely see the stairways that lead to the concourse.
1720 W University Ave
Gainesville, FL 32602
1642 W University Ave
Gainesville, FL 32603
1718 W University Ave
Gainesville, FL 32607
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