Celebration at O'Dome welcomes Gators back


Dallas Baker impovises a dance during halftime at the basketball game against Arkansas as the CHampionship football team is welcomed home. Florida hosts Arkansas in men's basketball at the O'Connell Center; Tuesday, January 9, 2007.

ALEXANDER COHN/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Wednesday, January 10, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 10, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

Less than 24 hours after scoring touchdown after touchdown in its 41-14 BCS National Championship Game victory against Ohio State in Glendale, Ariz., the Florida football team touched down in Gainesville and headed straight to a celebration in the O'Connell Center.

There, as the Sears Trophy was rolled onto the court, they were introduced during halftime at the Gators' nationally televised basketball game against Arkansas and were greeted with cheers from the capacity crowd in attendance.

Before head coach Urban Meyer said a few words to the audience, senior receiver Dallas Baker picked up the crystal trophy and held it up, eliciting a roar that lasted a good 30 seconds.

"This is just an awesome feeling that I can't explain with words," said senior fullback Billy Latsko, a Gainesville native and Buchholz alum. "I grew up here and watched the 1996 team win it all. I always wanted to be a part of something like that."

Latsko said he held the Sears Trophy following Monday night's game and hugged it again in the O'Connell Center.

It's something that will never get old.

"This is an unbelievable feeling we'll all cherish the rest of our lives," Latsko said with a wide grin.

Latsko didn't address the crowd, but Meyer, Baker, senior defensive lineman Ray McDonald, freshman quarterback Tim Tebow and (after some nudging by Meyer and fans) junior safety Reggie Nelson did.

Tebow said this could be the first of a number of successes in upcoming seasons of Gator football.

"This has been a magical season," said Tebow, whose team will have a noon celebration open to the public Saturday at Florida Field. "We thank you for your support, but remember there's still a lot to come. The future looks bright."

Baker was quick to praise his hoops predecessors.

"We give all the respect to our basketball team," he said. "(By winning the NCAA tournament) our basketball gave us the motivation to do this."

And when the basketball team ran back onto the court to warm up for the second half, players were greeted with hugs from their football counterparts.

"The champs!" excited forward Joakim Noah said to a group of football players. "The champs!"

Contact John Patton at 374-5074 or pattonj@gvillesun.com.

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