Florida Heat: An Afternoon at "The Swamp"

Bryan HoltCorrespondent IJuly 29, 2009

In all kinds of weather

We'll all stick together

For F-L-O-R-I-D-A

If there was ever a phrase that perfectly describes a game day experience at the University of Florida's Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, it would be the one above. The final three lines of the traditional We are the Boys From Old Florida bring nostalgic chills to some and drunken exuberance to others.

The song is greeted by the unanimous standing, swaying, and singing of 90,000-plus rabid Gator fans and is a sign that the fourth quarter is coming and the home team is on its way to another big victory.

So is life at everyone's favorite Gainesville sporting destination. Every fall, the stadium that is still best known as "The Swamp" (one of Steve Spurrier's many remnants of influence), is a mecca for anyone whose life revolves around all things orange and blue.

An afternoon or evening at The Swamp is a strange mix of tradition, charm, and intimidation that blends together for an epic and slightly overwhelming experience.

It is an experience that begins before one ever even steps foot into the stadium.

It begins with simple actions such as maneuvering your car through the intense game day traffic. Only on Autumn Saturdays will you find the usually bland Gainesville streets packed with the chaos of New York City. Replace yellow cabs with cars that are laden with any and every form of Gator decorations and the scene is set.

After parking, your walk may take you down Lemerand Drive where you can visit the sparkling new Heavener Complex that showcases the team's three National Championship trophies, three Heisman Trophies, and an assortment of other Gator history.

After Lemerand comes University Avenue where you will be greeted by abundant tailgate parties and the shoulder-to-shoulder packed patio of Swamp Restaurant, a campus institution. You may even catch a glimpse of the Gator Walk, a new addition to game days in Gainesville.

No matter how many times you return, the electricity of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium captivates you as soon as you walk through the gate.

Crowds often gather early to make their presence felt during warm-ups and the nearly 60 years of regular expansions give the stadium a number of quirky features. Few stadiums put fans closer to the action.

The field being significantly below ground level (the stadium was built in a ravine) makes the accumulation of  crowd noise and blistering heat make life nearly unbearable for visiting teams.

Opponents are always greeted with verbal hostility and the world famous chomp, a gesture that looks some what corny when performed alone but can sweep across the stadium quickly making for a unique sight.

The stadium goes silent only momentarily all day. That moment is when the crowd awaits direction for the now legendary "Two Bits" cheer. The cheer, which was initiated and carried on for almost 60 years by Gator super fan George Edmondson, will be the responsibility of Albert the mascot and the cheerleaders beginning this season.

With that comes the dramatic entrance of the Fightin' Gators, all set to an entrance video that concludes with the assertive public address system proclamation:

"The Swamp...Only Gators get out alive!"

Games are highlighted by an exciting on-field product. A product that was reinvigorated by Spurrier in the 1990s and now is a result of Urban Meyer's innovative coaching.

It has not always been this way. Veteran Gator fans will tell stories of miserable decades in which trips to Florida Field seemed hopeless.

Now Gator football is a fluent machine that approaches everything with a tremendous swagger.

Opponents make a mistake or fall victim to the Gators? They are berated with chants of "Gator Bait!" led by the "Pride of the Sunshine" Marching Band.

Momentarily forget where you are? The stadium displays numerous reminders that you are stuck in the middle of "Gator Country" or "The Swamp" or the "Home of the Florida Gators." Take your choice.

All of this high energy action brings us back to We are the Boys from Old Florida, the raucous yet subtle, boastful yet loyal anthem of Gator football fans. It is not a trip to The Swamp if you are not at your seat for We Are the Boys. It sends me home unsatisfied if it is not sung just the way I think it should be

While many game days may end in an anti-climatic manner, that is never the case in Gainesville.

After three-plus hours of standing amongst the Florida Field faithful, an obsessive fan can be caught in a vulnerable moment. For years, fans put their hearts, souls, and nerves into every painful down of Florida football and were then dismissed quietly after the whistle.

That all changed with the arrival of Urban Meyer and—finally—a postgame tradition!

Now, players head over to the band and students at the conclusion of home games for a passionate rendition of the school's alma mater and fight song.

The awkward post-thriller silence is no longer. The Florida Field experience now ends like this:

Neath the orange and blue victorious, our love shall never fail,

There's no other name so glorious, all hail, FLORIDA HAIL!

Ahh, much better.