Game-day festivities

Published: Sunday, September 1, 2002 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, August 31, 2002 at 11:15 p.m.
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University of Florida junior Mike O'Neil grills some shrimp kabobs for the starving hoard of tailgaters on the campus side of NW University Ave., Saturday.

MIKE LEWIS/Special to the Sun
Let's get this tailgate party started - 12 hours before kickoff?
For 73-year-old Eston Hetherington and his wife, Irene, the tailgating ritual synonymous with University of Florida football started before Saturday's sun melted away the morning dew at 6 a.m.
As thousands of student season ticket holders slept in, awaiting the 6 p.m. kickoff against the University of Alabama-Birmingham, the Hetheringtons sat in two lawn chairs waiting for the party to catch up with their pre-dawn celebration.
"It keeps my blood pumping and keeps me young," said Eston Hetherington, parked outside his RV in a commuter lot along North-South Drive on UF's campus.
"I definitely feel younger," Irene Hetherington, 76, chimed in.
The Hetherington couple, married for 56 years, has attended UF football games for three decades. As the Gators entered a new era with Ron Zook as head coach, Eston couldn't wait for the 2002 season to kick off.
"We're Gators regardless if it's (former UF head coaches) Doug Dickey or Galen Hall or Steve Spurrier," said Eston, who attended UF from 1944 to 1946. "It doesn't matter. We're all Gators. When you start, you never stop."
While Eston and Irene Hetherington are considered tailgating pros, a newcomer to the Gainesville pregame scene was giddy with anticipation early Saturday. Across the motor-home parking lot, 4-year-old Vanassa Salazar of Guatemala listened to the Gators fight song, preparing for her first football game in Gator Country.
Along with her mom, Liza Salazar, Vanassa was visiting her grandfather, who, luckily, had extra game tickets and a 40-foot Mountain Aire RV to anchor the tailgating.
"I don't think she knows what to expect," said Liza Salazar, who graduated from UF in 1986 with a degree in food science. "She knows the tunes."
Added grandfather Ken Downing: "It's a little overwhelming for her, but she's got her Gator gear on and she's got the spirit."
Downing suspected that Vanassa's spirit would take a nap around noon, since there wouldn't be room for sleeping among the 85,000 fans packed into Ben Hill Griffin Stadium for the game.
Closer to the action, UF juniors Julian Andrews and Brandon Sullivan survived a lonesome morning and early afternoon guarding the down-sloping entrance to the south end zone parking lot. Their job as parking security attendants employed by the O'Connell Center was to allow access to the sub-stadium lot to a select group of 20 football coaches and other UF "bigwigs."
The duo, decked out in yellow "Event Staff" shirts, started their shift at 7 a.m. and by noon had turned away about 80 vehicles trying to grab Gainesville's best parking spot on game day.
Andrews, an aerospace engineering major, said Coach Zook hadn't arrived by 12:30 p.m. to claim his prime parking position.
"I bet he drives a nice SUV, like a Lincoln Navigator," said Sullivan, a 20-year-old mechanical engineering major.
And while Sullivan's work day ended at 2 p.m. - just in time for him to catch his friend's pregame party - Andrews held his position until 6 p.m. as the Gators kicked off the new college football season.
Unlike the thousands of other fans flocking to cheer on the Gators, Andrews had other plans after a draining 11-hour shift.
"When I get off at 6, I'm going home and sleeping."

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