Thousands show up for Fan Day
Published: Saturday, August 17, 2013 at 9:45 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, August 17, 2013 at 9:45 p.m.
Gabrielle Papallo, 10, has been coming to the University of Florida's annual Fan Day for half her life.
When she first came, it was as a family venture. Over the years she has come to look forward to the event because of her love for Gator football — and UF quarterback Jeff Driskel.
She even named her year-old goldfish Driskel.
Maria Papallo, Gabrielle's stepmother, said Driskel has been nice and laughs with them whenever they've had the chance to meet. This time, the Papallos told Driskel about the goldfish.
"He said that he hopes that it (lives) for a long time, and (Gabriella told him) that it has already lasted a year," she said.
The UF Athletic Association held Fan Day 2013 in the O'Connell Center on Saturday. The three-hour event gave Gator fans a chance to meet UF football, volleyball and soccer players face-to-face to obtain autographs and to share a few words.
It was a sea of orange and blue outside the O'Connell Center just before the doors opened at 2:30 p.m. Some fans had been in line well before then, according to Martin Salamone, assistant athletic director for marketing with the University Athletic Association.
Once inside, fans flocked to the "fan centers," which were located at each gate and provided 2013 team posters and other UF sports literature.
The posters were the only objects that fans were allowed get autographed as part of UF's effort to ensure compliance with the NCAA.
This policy, which Salamone said has been in effect for the 12 years he has worked at UF, was not affected by the recent controversy surrounding Johnny Manziel, the Heisman trophy winner at Texas A&M who has been accused of accepting money for autographing memorabilia. Salamone said he thinks that UF's poster-only policy is sufficient.
"I think Fan Day is truly about kind of honoring and welcoming your fans," he said. "We don't have a lot of opportunities to let 105 student athletes meet and greet people … The big thing for us is (that) we want to make sure that our fans have a take-away that they love."
Posters in hand, fans funneled into the arena and got into one of the seven lines set up along the O'Dome's second level — each line directing fans to certain players organized by position. Soon lines completely encircled the arena.
The arena alone didn't provide enough room, as the two most popular lines — for the quarterbacks and the running backs — were positioned in a room near Gate 4. The line for the defensive backs, which also contained UF head coach Will Muschamp, appeared to be the longest.
"I think, you know, the guy is 11-2, and (he's) the head coach," Salamone said. "Usually it's the head coach line and the quarterbacks line (that is the longest). … But, I also think it really depends on the success of the coach, to be honest. I think, (when the team was) 7-6 two years ago — I don't think (Muschamp's) line was the largest."
In addition to the football, volleyball and soccer team and their coaches, the UF cheerleaders, Dazzlers, Gatorettes and UF mascots Albert and Alberta were signing autographs, posing for pictures and performing the Gator Chomp for children and fans.
An estimated 3,500 fans attended the event, which is about a 1,000-person increase over last year's Fan Day, and about 5,000 posters were given out, Salamone said.
Maria Papallo, who said she wishes the event were longer and held more often despite the long lines, said she loves Fan Day because it has brought her family closer together.
"We have made (it) a family activity (to) come to get a poster, get autographs, take pictures and then bring it home and just talk about it," she said.
Salamone said the event is more than just a service to the fans, it's a show of gratitude.
"Today's our day to thank everybody, and our fans are tremendous," he said. "To me, if we can thank these folks for what they do for us, we need to, because I'm not sure how appreciated they know they are."