Does FSU's PowWow outshine Growl?


From left, 2006 PowWow comedian Stephen Colbert, 2007 Growl comedian Frank Caliendo, 2006 Growl comedian Jim Gaffigan and 2007 PowWow comedian Sarah Silverman.

Special to The Sun
Published: Thursday, November 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, November 1, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

The University of Florida is touted as the "nation of champions," but Gator fans may still have some cause to be green with envy where homecoming is concerned.

As UF students gear up for Friday's Gator Growl, billed as "the world's largest student-run pep rally," it's hard to ignore what happened 150 miles northwest of here last week. On Friday, comedian Sarah Silverman - one of today's most cutting edge comics - performed at Florida State University for homecoming festivities. Last year, FSU managed to snag Stephen Colbert, the host of Comedy Central's "Colbert Report."

If you haven't heard of Silverman and Colbert, you're not in college. If you have, you'll know the two comics are about as popular as booze and iPods among college students.

Brittany Stahl, director of homecoming at FSU, said beating out UF is always a goal, and a lot of folks think that's exactly what's happened in recent years. Bringing Colbert and Silverman to PowWow, FSU's homecoming show, was a major coup in the headliner wars, Stahl said.

"I would definitely say there would be a rivalry between Gator Growl and PowWow like anything else between Florida and Florida State," she said. "Personally, I know that when we got Sarah Silverman, I said 'OK, as long as it's better than what's Florida is going to get.' "

This year, Gator Growl will be headlined by up-and-coming comedian Frank Caliendo and Lynyrd Skynyrd, a band that now contains just two original members of the Southern rock hit machine. But Aron Weingard, producer of Gator Growl, said he doesn't feel threatened by any rivals in Tallahassee.

"Catching a hot name here or there doesn't make (FSU) superior," he said. "We certainly have had our fair share."

Weingard points to Growl's storied legacy, which includes past headliners like Robin Williams, Jerry Seinfeld, Bob Hope and Bill Cosby.

While FSU may have landed some strong talent in the past few years, Growl dwarfs PowWow in scale and expense. PowWow ran a budget of $250,000 this year, compared to Gator Growl's $650,000 purse for 2007. Lynyrd Skynyrd alone is getting $150,000 from that pot, and Caliendo will be paid $50,000.

Stahl said Silverman was paid between $70,000 and $80,000.

Growl, held at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, also pulls in a much larger crowd. UF had a crowd of 34,000 last year. PowWow, which is held in FSU's basketball stadium, drew 7,000 people.

There's reason to believe Gator Growl will become an even more elaborate production in years to come. Organizers made a two-year corporate sponsorship deal with Verizon Wireless this year, which is worth $112,000.

Big money aside, Gator Growl is first and foremost a pep rally, just as it has been for 84 years, Weingard said.

But will rallying The Gator Nation be tough after three losses on the football field this season? Weingard doesn't think so.

"It's not too hard to pump everyone up," he said, "and the excitement in the student body and the community is there."

Jack Stripling can be reached at 352-374-5064 or Jack.Stripling@gvillesun.com.

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