For young and old, Gators traditions endure

A family poses for a photo with the Albert and Alberta statue before the game against Bowling Green on Saturday, Sept. 1, 2012 in Gainesville, Fla.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Saturday, September 1, 2012 at 6:21 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, September 1, 2012 at 6:21 p.m.

College football is all about tradition, and for Lou Bassett and Robbie Rodriguez Thomas, tradition started decades ago where a top bleacher at Florida Field backed up to an area for handicapped fans.

Bassett broke her back in a diving accident while a student in the early '80s and sat in the handicapped section while Thomas and her late husband sat in the bleacher just below.

They met and formed a friendship that has lasted through births and deaths, a friendship that once again brought them together for Saturday's UF football season opener.

"My disability brought us together," said Bassett, of Bartow. "At one point I was so hot I would ask (Thomas) to spray me down."

Thomas recalled that she was impressed with the nice-looking guys Bassett would bring to the games.

"It was like, where does she get these men?" Thomas said. "It was precious."

A few yards away under the oaks in front of Sledd Hall, new traditions were being made Saturday by a bunch of freshmen tossing beanbags into a goal.

This was their first football game -- something that helped draw them to UF.

"It's just exciting," said Lucas Bernardo of Edgewater. "Football -- all sports -- had to do with me coming here. You want to be a winner."

Leon Jones and his daughter Pam Fleming of Fernandina Beach are old enough to have endured the days when UF football was not a winner.

Jones said his first Gator game was a long, long time ago -- UF played Air Force in Tampa, and the Air Force had a train from Jacksonville to Tampa and back to get fans to the game.

The two have been coming to games through the good times -- national championships -- and the bad -- including seasons when UF won just a few games a year.

"Once a Gator, always a Gator," Jones said. "We are not fair weather fans."

Another game-day tradition is shopping for Gator clothing and accessories.

The Florida Bookstore on University Avenue was packed -- surprising to manager Taryn Emswiler based on the less-than-packed crowd Friday night.

Last year's first-game big seller was a T-shirt that poked fun at the booster scandal that the University of Miami football team is still going through.

This year, Emswiler said, Florida State University is the target with T-shirts disparaging FSU that feature mock sayings from the Most Interesting Man in the World of the Dos Equis beer commercials.

"It wasn't busy last night, which was surprising, but it's packed now," Emswiler said. "People are excited."

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