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.
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The stadium fare available is your typical burgers, hot dogs, fries, popcorn, sodas, and water at typical stadium prices. For early season daytime games, Gatorade is your friend. They sell the bottles for $4 each that would normally be a dollar at the grocery store. It is the best $4 you'll ever spend.
The Swamp also has Domino's Pizza and Newberry Bar-B-Q inside the stadium. There is definitely plenty to eat and also plenty of concession stands throughout the concourse level. My personal favorite is the popcorn. You can get a large bag for $5 that you likely will not finish. Of course it will make you thirstier, so stock up on that Gatorade.
What you won't find is beer as it is not sold inside The Swamp as is the case for most college on-campus venues.
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 you can imagine 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, but actual full stores. The one on the north end is open all year.
As Gainesville is a typical college town, football games are the biggest events in the city. The neighborhood surrounding the stadium is one of college buildings, many over a century old, bars, restaurants, mom and pop food stands and of course, large parking lots full of tailgating fans in RVs with grills, coolers and TVs with other games on. A Florida game is an interruption of a day-long (or in some cases weekend long) cookout/football party. With about 100,000 people wearing their orange and blue walking around the streets celebrating their love for the Gators, it is truly an event a college fan should experience at least once.
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.
In recent seasons, Gator home games have seen crowds dwindling. For the 2013 opener against Toledo, the stands had several sections of empty seats. There are many theories for why this could happen for a program with so much success, especially recent success.
One, during this nearly decade long recession, Florida has been hit especially hard. Another reason is the fans are spoiled. Gator fans expect SEC and National Championships and lately the team has not been delivering.
But the main reason for it is that Gator fans not only expect to win, but they expect to win with style. Winning 17-10 is not acceptable at Florida. Gators fans want to see points. Their current coach, Will Muschamp, is a defensive coordinator-turned-head coach who believes in running the ball, eating clock and winning with defense. This seems to have tuned the fans off a bit. So the atmosphere right now is a bit hostile. But that is sometimes better than an apathetic fan base, which is what might happen if this goes on for too long.
The stadium is not difficult to find. University Avenue can be accessed from I-75 from the west or from 441 from the east. Once in Gainesville, the university is hard to miss as it takes up the center of town. Once you find the university, it is difficult to miss the stadium. It sits on University Avenue just a few blocks west of 441. Parking around the stadium is fairly inexpensive as there are many homes right across the street from the stadium that will park your car in their yard for about $10.
Since there are many places within walking distance to eat and drink, there is no real hurry to go get your car after the game. Traffic can be tough immediately following the game, so post-game tailgating is almost as popular as pregame. Since traffic can be a bit difficult we'll have to deduct a point.
Since the crowds are a bit smallish these days, tickets are cheap out on the street before the game. Tickets with $50 face value can be had for $25 a pair or cheaper. Parking can be had for $10. With food, gas, and a souvenir tee-shirt or hat, you can spend the day at Gator football for less than $100.
If you can get to the game early enough to participate in the "Gator Walk" it is an exciting thing to be part of. The team buses in and gets off right outside the stadium and enters through a tunnel of adoring fans, taking pictures and signing autographs.
If you can make it to the game on Friday, check out the Heavener Complex located on the southwest corner of the stadium. It's a treat to see the crystal footballs from the National Championships won by the team sitting in front of video screens playing the highlights from the championship games. Next to those are the three Heisman Trophies won by Steve Spurrier, Danny Weurffel and Tim Tebow. Outside the stadium all three are immortalized by huge bronze statues that fans like to pose with for pictures.
There are also Gator souvenir stores at each end zone where you can shop for Gator gear before, during and after the game. If they make it with a UF logo on it, you can find it there.
One of the greatest moments in all of college football is the end of the third quarter when all of the fans stand and sing "We are the Boys" while swaying back and forth, arms around each other. If you've never seen it, it is very cool.
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.
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.
1700 W University Ave
Gainesville, FL 32603
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