Best seat in the Swamp? It's not on 50-yard line but six floors up
Published: Friday, August 30, 2013 at 4:46 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, August 30, 2013 at 4:46 p.m.
It's not on the 50-yard line. Far from it.
It is located almost all the way at the south end of the skyboxes. Looking straight down, you are staring at the end zone.
But it might just be the best seat at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
"It's a great, great seat," said Stumpy Harris, the 75-year-old Orlando lawyer who pays $90,000 a year for the suite on the sixth floor of the stadium.
It's a must-see for those who can get up to the sixth floor and it's even used by coaches of other sports at Florida as a recruiting tool.
"I was up there working on something one day when they brought some swimming recruits into the box," Harris said. "They like to show it off as an example of the kind of support you get at Florida."
There are two reasons Harris' box stands out among the rows of suites on the sixth and seventh floor of the stadium.
The first reason is its size. While most of the standard suites seat 20 fans, Harris' seats 30. When the stadium was expanded prior to the 2003 season and the new suites were constructed, Harris knew where he wanted to be.
There are three suites that are located where the skyboxes "bend." Two of them are on the seventh floor and the other on the sixth. The president's box, which also is a larger suite, is situated opposite Harris' on the sixth floor, also at the point where the skyboxes bend.
Because of his significant contributions to UF and the athletic program, Harris received the first pick of the skyboxes.
"It didn't take me very long to make up my mind," he said. "It turned out to be a good decision."
The suite includes an area in which his guests can sit on plush couches and watch a large television set. It is one of four TVs in the suite. The University Athletic Association supplies one for each box.
"One or two of them are usually on some other games," Harris said.
The second reason his suite stands out is that Harris has made it a shrine to all things Gator.
"I was serious about decorating," Harris said.
It hits a visitor as you walk into the box with three alligator heads staring down from above the door, one for each national championship won by the football team. Inside, a mural that Harris commissioned was painted in 2004 across the wall showing a Gator in a swamp.
While most of the skyboxes have a picture or a jersey framed on the walls, Harris has an actual, 12-foot splayed alligator skin hanging on his south wall.
"There was a lady who lent me one for my hunting trailer (south of Orlando)," he said. "Out of the blue after six years, she wanted it back. So I got the name of the person who did it for her and got one for myself.
"The facilities people were involved in how it was hung. We consulted them."
Throughout the suite, there are all kinds of memorabilia hanging from the walls. Harris, who graduated from UF in 1961 and from Florida law school in '65, keeps signed helmets and footballs locked away in cabinets in the suite during the offseason but pulls them out for display on opening day.
Among the items on the walls are pictures of the stadium's progress through the years, a framed game jersey worn by Tim Tebow in the 2006 Alabama game, framed newspaper articles about Harris' tailgating prowess, a signed Billy Donovan photo and a framed honorary letter that was awarded to Harris.
"One of the first things I'll do (today) is revisit everything," Harris said. "I'll check to see if anything needs to be updated or added."
Not that there is a lot of room on the walls.
"We have a lot of people who come by," Harris said. "My wife, Ruthie, is more of a people fan than a football fan, so she goes from box to box talking to people.
"We have two rules for our guests. You have to be wearing Gator colors, and you can't save a seat. If you get up and someone wants to sit in your seat, they can. I have a preferred seat, but if someone is sitting in it, I sit somewhere else. It makes the guest feel more comfortable."
Contact Pat Dooley at 374-5053 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Dooley at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.