Florida fans outnumbered in New Orleans


People walk down Bourbon Street in the French Quarter in New Orleans on New Year's Eve.

Doug Finger/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Friday, January 1, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, December 31, 2009 at 10:44 p.m.

NEW ORLEANS - The Cincinnati fans were everywhere in the French Quarter on Thursday.

At 3:45 p.m., the biggest swarm of Bearcats - most wearing their black and red gear - overflowed a city-block-size park next to the Jackson Brewery shops.

"Wow! This is impressive," pep rally emcee Dan Hoard said gloatingly from a large stage. "Cincinnati has taken over New Orleans. I think you should know the UF pep rally took place in a phone booth earlier today - that's how many fans they had."

The University of Cincinnati is out of tickets, he said.

"I understand the University of Florida has got about 3,000 they're trying to get rid of. How about those Gator fans!"

The whole situation was unacceptable to Jay Schneider, sporting a UF 2008 national championship jacket, at the edge of the crowd. He had extra tickets to the Sugar Bowl to give away that others turned down, he said.

In previous years, many people couldn't buy a ticket to a UF bowl game.

"This year you can't give them away," he said. "It's terrible."

"We lose the first game in 23 games," Schneider said, referring to the Southeastern Conference Championship Game, "and our fans won't stay loyal. ... Not only are we expected to have the best coaches, the best athletes, but, being expected to win, we should have the best fans in the world."

Schneider said he is a longtime booster "and will be here win or lose - and that's what the rest of the fans forgot."

Not all of them, of course.

At 1:45 p.m., a few hundred UF fans were at a more low-key pep rally - with less bragging, more music and no snide comments about weepy quarterbacks or unenthusiastic supporters.

In interviews during the cool, sunny New Year's Eve - overlooking the Mississippi or standing in front Decatur Street shops - UF fans marveled at the predominance of Bearcats, acknowledged their disappointment after the SEC Championship Game, talked about their admiration for quarterback Tim Tebow and professed their steadfast commitment to the team.

"I think it's just the point that we still support the Gators, even though they didn't make it to the national championship," said UF junior Emily Mandeville. "We're still Gators at heart."

"We made the trip here because we want to continue to support the team," said Buddy Hooten, a 1968 UF grad living in Jacksonville. "I just think this game is an important statement with all the confusion going on with the coaching situation. ... I come from the decade when 7-4 and going to the Tangerine Bowl was something."

Now, Hooten said, "I think we've become, as fans, a little bit spoiled."

Kristi Mize and her 13-year-old son, Brandon, had come in from Waco, Texas, for the game. It was a birthday gift for the boy, who admires Tebow.

"I just kind of watched him on TV," Brandon said, "and I like Tim Tebow. He's a good Christian guy."

French Quarter shops seemed to be selling more Bearcat gear than Gator stuff.

It was a little early to say how sales would end up, said Malik Asif, manager of It's All About You. "Still, it looks like Cincinnati everywhere - black and red, black and red."

"They are really excited," said Prerma Prajapati, a clerk at New Orleans Cooking and Spices on Decatur Street. "We haven't seen much of the Gator fans, but we've seen lots and lots of the Cincinnati fans."

Kim Giberti of Gainesville was outside Jackson Brewery with several members of her family, including her 12-year-old son, Jordan.

"I'm proud to be a Gator, win or lose," she said. "Even if this is the last of the Golden Age for Florida, it won't be! It'll be OK. We'll rise to the top quickly again."

"Once I grow old," said Jordan, thoughtfully, reflecting on the importance of this year's Sugar Bowl, "I guess I can say I came to Tim Tebow's last game. It could be one of the best football teams that ever was. Two SEC titles and two national championships in four years - that's really good."

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