28,000 Gator fans take to the streets
Published: Friday, January 9, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 9, 2009 at 2:12 a.m.
An estimated 28,000 jubilant Gator fans took over W. University Avenue again Thursday night - the second such celebration in about a month.
Gainesville police estimated the crowd to be the largest of the four national championship celebrations that have occurred on University Avenue over the past three years.
After the Florida Gators scored their last touchdown in Thursday night's BCS Championship Game and the defense subsequently forced Oklahoma to turn the ball over on downs, just minutes before midnight fans began racing out of their homes around campus, running in the direction of W. University and then streaming into the streets.
Fireworks were going off behind The Swamp restaurant in the College Park area and across the street near the Murphree area dorms.
It's the kind of celebration that is getting quite familiar to Florida faithful - but likely never will it become old hat. With its victory over Oklahoma on Thursday night, Florida has now won two football national championships and two basketball national championships within a three-year period. In early December, fans also took over W. University celebrating Florida's SEC football championship, which propelled Florida into Thursday night's BCS game.
By 12:30 p.m., the local law enforcement helicopter was overhead shining its spotlight into the crowds, and there had been four people arrested, including one for battery on an officer, Gainesville police said.
Despite efforts to grease utility poles and lamp posts along W. University, fans were climbing the poles and then jumping into the crowds below, police said. Fans were also climbing trees in the area.
Students were being hoisted onto one another's shoulders; one fan waved a large American flag, another waved a big Gator flag.
"This is my welcome home gift," said Jackie Beavers, a celebrating UF student who just returned to Gainesville from studying abroad. "I don't know what I'd have done if we'd lost, because all I've known is winning."
Charles Davis, a UF senior, has been on campus for all four of Florida's recent national championships. "I don't think I can explain how this feels," he said.
Mike Engle, a UF faculty member, was pleased with the celebration. After all, he said, "We've had practice, now we know how to do it."
In fact, Jared Spears, assistant producer for a local business called Gator Vision, said the atmosphere along University Avenue was more fun during Thursday night's celebration than for previous street parties because he thought police had better control over things. Spears said he appreciates "the fact that Gainesville is a small town that can produce talent that can create a night like this."
Earlier Thursday night, as fans throughout Gainesville cheered the start of the game, preparations for a possible outdoor celebration were under way.
Crews checked the street for garbage; police officers on foot, in cars and riding motorcycles scattered down side streets; and workers positioned concrete barriers at key intersections.
Overhead, the law enforcement helicopter flew; on the road, tow truck drivers removed improperly parked cars.
Early in the evening, police reported no problems in the downtown area - except for a few large parties in College Park before halftime.
When the Gators scored a third-quarter touchdown to take the lead, the crowd at Xs, a bar off W. University Avenue, erupted in cheers.
"I hope so," said Crystal Sleeman, 22, a UF graduate student, when asked if the Gators were going to win. "They've got enough support right here. They're the Gators. They can do anything."
Soon after, with the start of the fourth quarter, police blocked off W. University from 13th Street to 22nd Street. All side streets were blocked with hard barricades.
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