The Florida Gators football program first debuted all the way back in 1906, but the club didn’t emerge as one of the nation’s finest until the 1990s when the “Ol’ Ball Coach” took over and dubbed the team’s Ben Hill Griffin Stadium as “The Swamp.” Sure, the ‘66 squad won the Orange Bowl while swilling Gatorade (a product invented on campus), but it was during the ‘90s when phrases like “dominant” and “dynasty” became associated with the school from Gainesville.
Before Steve Spurrier (the aforementioned “Ol’ Ball Coach”) began patrolling the sidelines for UF, he was on the field as the school’s Heisman winning quarterback. It was his savvy and leadership in ‘66 that led to victory on the national stage, and in a lot of ways, it was those same skills that transformed the Gators into a perennial powerhouse nearly 30 years later. Now, this isn’t to suggest that UF was terrible up until Spurrier’s arrival; it’s just that a total of 18 bowl appearances between 1911 and 1990 doesn’t quite have the same ring to it as 11 straight bowl showings and a national championship. Another way of looking at it: the team had never posted a season of double-digit wins until ‘91, Spurrier’s second year on the job.
For all the success that Spurrier brought to Gainesville, there is one staple of Gators athletics that he had nothing to do with. One of the most celebrated gestures in all of college sports, “The Chomp” was introduced in 1981 by two members of the school’s marching band. For the uninitiated, you stretch your arms out and mimic the motion of an alligator opening and closing its mouth. Whether it’s before kickoff or after a big play, it wouldn’t be a Saturday at “The Swamp” without 80,000 diehards doing “The Chomp.”
The Gators captured national championships in both 2006 and ‘08, but by this point, the football team had some competition for the title of best squad on campus. In addition to a thrilling run to the Final Four in 2000, coach Billy Donovan and the men’s basketball team won the NCAA crown in both ‘06 and ‘07. Members of that hoops crew such as Joakim Noah and Al Horford would go on to All-Star careers in the NBA.
Success isn’t solely limited to “The Swamp” or the hardwood, as men’s golf, women’s tennis, swimming, gymnastics and track & field have all been awarded top honors by the NCAA. For those who don the Orange and Blue (and it’s always the Orange and Blue, never the other way around), representing the Gators is about more than just a name on a jersey: it’s an attitude and a way of life. Now, as they say here in Gainesville, “Two-bits, four-bits, six-bits, a dollar. All for the Gators, stand up and holler!”