Florida’s win: big; area sports bar crowds: small

Lake Raymond, from left, Sohn Moon, Kyle Bradley and John Bohannon cheer after a Gator touchdown while watching Monday’s Outback Bowl at Gator's Dockside.

BRIANA BROUGH/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Tuesday, January 3, 2006 at 1:20 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 3, 2006 at 1:20 p.m.
Check out most Gainesville sports bars during the University of Florida Gators' football season, and you'll find a wall-to-wall crowd of blue-and-orange-clad fans cheering at the top of their lungs.
But during the Gators' Outback Bowl game in Tampa on Monday, area watering holes in the university city were eerily quiet, with only a fraction of the usual turnout watching the match-up against the University of Iowa.
"We're usually really crowded, but it's pretty pathetic today," lamented Melissa Vigil, a hostess at The Swamp, as halftime neared. When school is in session, the sports bar across from UF's campus hosts droves of fans both indoors and outdoors. Vigil blamed the low turnout on winter break, noting most of her friends were out of town.
Down the street at Gator City, a bar usually thick with fans during away games, there were stacks of unused overflow chairs at the entrance. One patron, a young mother, easily found a booth to suit herself and her 5-year-old son.
Wearing a Gators #1 jersey, little Dani Sakkal watched the game while listening to a Nickelodeon show on his headphones. Occasionally, he pulled the headgear off to ask his mother questions like, "Who's got the ball? What's the yellow team doing?"
Linda Sakkal, a UF graduate, said she brought Dani to watch the game with her because she wanted him to learn about football, and her husband could care less about the sport. In town visiting friends, the Boca Raton resident said she had taken her family to see Ben Hill Griffin stadium the night before, and her 7-year-old daughter looked around and said, "You care way too much about football, woman."
"I told her she'd been listening to her dad too much," Sakkal said, laughing.
At Gator's Dockside on Newberry Road, the turnout was a little better, but still much lower than usual. Nevertheless, four Gainesville buddies dressed in full Gator fan gear said they were in the mood to cheer on their team, whether other fans were or not.
"I got here at 10:20 this morning, and there were probably half a dozen people or so sitting out there, waiting for it to open," said Sohn Moon, who works in UF's physical plant. He and buddies Kyle Bradley, John Bohannon and Lake Raymond are season ticket holders, but they couldn't afford to go to the Tampa game.
"Plus we would have had to get up way too early for a tailgating party," joked Bradley, who wore Mardi Gras-style Gator beads.
The men cheered on Gator quarterback Chris Leak, pointed out fouls ahead of the referees and yelled questions to each other, while the majority of their fellow spectators were more low-key.
At one especially quiet table, three men were wearing yellow shirts matching the Iowa team colors . . . but they were Gator fans. "I didn't know their color was yellow," grumbled Wayne Mosley, a Tampa resident. Mosley had hoped to attend the game in his hometown, but was unable to get there in time after a vacation to North Carolina. Instead, he said he started driving from North Carolina at 1 a.m., arriving at Gator's Dockside just in time for the 11 a.m. kickoff.
The crowd at Gainesville Ale House was subdued, too.
Sitting alone at the bar in a Gator T-shirt, Steve Turnage stared at a television screen unblinkingly.
"I've been rooting for the Gators since about 1975, so I watch all the games," the Gainesville resident said. He speculated a lot of fans didn't come out because the game started so early.
That may have been true for most, but some die-hard fans, such as Joy Fincher, had to work on Monday. The co-owner of The Gator Shop on University Avenue still managed to keep tabs on the bowl game, playing a radio broadcast of it over the speakers in her shop.
Fincher said a lot of fans showed up earlier in the week to buy Gator gear for the game, planning to watch the matchup in Tampa since they had the day off from work. But business was nearly dead during the game. Fincher guessed a lot of fans had parties and cookouts at home since so many restaurants had closed for winter break.
Watching a lone customer amble around the shop, Fincher said, "When the college students leave, this town shuts down."
The Gators defeated the Hawkeyes, 31-24. And for those who may be enjoying Gainesville's quiet streets, classes resume at UF next Monday.
Tiffany Pakkala can be reached at 338-3111 or pakkalt@ gvillesun.com.

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