Fla. fans gobble up Gator garb


Published: Wednesday, January 10, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 9, 2007 at 11:19 p.m.

As the celebration of the Gators' BCS National Championship win continued Tuesday, cash registers around Gainesville were raking in the profits as fans lined up to buy merchandise to commemorate the historic win.

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A crowd of customers sorts through 2006 Gator Football National Championship T-shirts at Gator Mania in The Oaks Mall on Tuesday.

OCTAVIAN CANTILLI/Special to The Sun

Long lines greeted Gator faithful for championship T-shirts, hats, stickers and extra and regular editions of The Sun at dozens of retail shops, bookstores and street-side tents across town.

UF gymnastics head coach Rhonda Faehn emerged from the Florida Bookstore on W. University Avenue armed with three bags filled with 22 championship T-shirts for the gymnastics team.

Faehn said she hopes the double championship titles shared by UF's basketball and football teams will inspire her team.

"I'm going to hand them out at practice today," Faehn said. "Hopefully, we can bring home a third national championship title."

At shops around town, the locker room-issued Nike T-shirts were selling like hot cakes, and the Florida Bookstore was no exception. Jackie Merritt, general merchandising manager, said a steady stream of fans and students have flocked to the store since Monday night to buy their slice of Gators championship history.

"A good football season makes our year," Merritt said as she surveyed the bustling store Tuesday morning. "It's going to keep getting busier. We're expecting a whole lot more T-shirts to be shipped today."

In fact, the store will probably see at least 10,000 T-shirts sell this week, Merritt said.

Most of the BCS National Championship T-shirts went for $20 each.

Customers at Gator Fever in the Butler Plaza scoured through dozens of boxes with T-shirts. David Bushnell, owner of Gator Fever, and several staff members managed the shopping frenzy as a line of customers spilled out the front door. Bushnell said the store had been open for 24 hours and was "slammed." While he couldn't say exactly how many T-shirts had been sold, he estimated "several thousand" had been ordered with more on the way.

In addition to apparel and hats, thousands of copies of Tuesday's regular and extra editions of The Sun flew off sales racks and bins around town.

Jim Miller, circulation director for The Sun, said 140,000 copies of the regular edition and 80,000 copies of the extra edition were printed Tuesday. A commemorative special section on the national championship season is scheduled to come out in Sunday's newspaper.

Throughout the day, a line snaked around The Sun's headquarters on SW 13th Street as fans waited to buy their copies of the papers.

Darren Perry, 23, of Jacksonville, who was buying 10 copies to send to family and friends, said he skipped work for two days for the game festivities in Gainesville. Perry plans to frame one copy of the extra edition and hang it up at home next to a framed copy of the basketball championship edition.

The fanfare of orange and blue was also inescapable at The Oaks Mall. Colleen Balestrieri of Ocala was armed with a shopping list from a friend in Pennsylvania as she looked over the piles of newly printed championship T-shirts at the Gator Mania kiosks.

"I'm just thrilled; everyone is talking about it today," Balestrieri said with an armful of T-shirts and hats in hand. "It's a good day to be in Gainesville."

Deborah Ball can be reached at (352) 338-3109 or balld@gvillesun.com

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