By Chris Baldwin
Vincent Williams, a 55-year-old truck driver who lives in Gainesville, stood patiently in line waiting to gain entrance to the Gators’ Indoor Practice Facility for the annual Fan Day event on Sunday.
But he also was excited — in particular because of the team’s new head coach, Dan Mullen.
“It’s a new beginning,” he said. “A new coach is an unknown, but he’s coming to a great organization. We are the Gators, so there’s lots to be expected from him, but I’m sure if he puts his heart into it we’ll have a few more championships in the near future.”
“It’s been a while, so it’s time.”
But while many attend the event to meet their favorite players, Williams said he enjoyed the camaraderie.
“For me it’s the people,” he said. “Saying hello to the guy you are standing next to and talking Gator stuff. The players are wonderful, no doubt, but this is us at our best.”
Thousands of excited Gator football fans stood for more than an hour in line, braving heat and rain, to attend Florida Football Fan Day.
The event offered fans the chance to meet and receive autographs from Coach Mullen and UF football team players, while also providing an opportunity to get a look inside the indoor facility, which was built in 2015.
Interested fans also were able to receive information about season tickets and premium seating.
The line to get into the event wrapped around the O’connell Center nearly reaching Gale Lemerand Drive in front of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium an hour before the event began.
At one point, a summer shower fell down upon those in line forcing some to abandon their post to seek shelter in a nearby parking garage. Those who were more prepared brandished umbrellas and held their spots.
The humidity that followed, however, had many sweating as they waited for the line to start moving.
But even such humid conditions couldn’t dampen the level of excitement for fans such as Chris Courtney, 21, who said he loves getting a chance to interact with players.
“I’m very excited to meet the new freshmen coming in — I’ve been following them quite a bit,” he said. “I’m excited to see how the team looks, and to see what the energy is like with the team because it feels like there’s a new energy around it (the program).”
Shortly before 2 p.m., UF staff opened the gates, and fans — led by Gator mascots Albert and Alberta — began pouring into the indoor facility, greeted by cheerleaders on either side who banged their pom-poms or offered a Gator Chomp.
“Go Gators!” shouted one fan in the crowd to cheers from those around him as country music provided by radio station WRUF-FM played overhead.
Many fans promptly made a beeline for tables featuring their desired players, while a clear majority headed for the table featuring Mullen. The line to receive an autograph from the new coach extended from the back wall to the 50 yard line within the first 10 minutes of the gates opening.
Steve McClain, senior associate athletics director, said that players enjoy the connection with their fans because the action in football, unlike a lot of other sports, seems a bit farther away from the fans and the type of equipment is a bit of a barrier between them and their fans.
“So it’s a great opportunity for our fans and our players to connect in a different way,” he said.
Michelle Colorio, of Gainesville, was one of those excited to meet the new coach and get his autograph.
“I want to give him some good energy,” she said. “He’s back, we wanted him and we hope he does well.”
McClain said that Mullen was just as eager to meet fans as they were to meet him.
“He’s all Gator, and he understands the passion and interest from our fans,” he said. “And today is another day to do that. He’s done it since the day he stepped off the plane when we hired him”
Children could be seen frolicking or tossing footballs around in the middle of the artificial field while friends and family posed for photographs around them.
A children’s area also was available for kids to take photos with the beloved Albert and Alberta before getting their face painted or enjoying other fun activities.
Colorio, whose favorite aspect of Fan Day is that it marks the beginning of the season in her mind, stood in line with her daughter Juliana, 10, who said she’s been to every Fan Day since she was born and looks forward to the event each year.
“I like high-fiving the players because their hands are so big,” she said.
Nearly an hour after the event began, a line of fans continued to trickle into the venue, and those just arriving took to the back of the line, which still extended a ways down the sidewalk of the O’Connell Center.
McClain said an estimated 3,000 people attended Sunday’s event, and that it seemed better attended than in previous years.
“Dan’s really energized the entire Gator nation,” he said. “He’s certainly energized the fans and even the players he coaches and the staff. There’s a new energy in the program, and Dan has done a great job of leading that charge.”
How was the scrimmage today!?!?
Who is our starting QB!?!?
Jerry: The scrimmage was closed to the media and the general public. Mullen said in his last meeting with the media that he probably wouldn’t say who the starter is after it.
Arnold. That may be so, but every major Florida recruiting and reporting site is reporting information gained from the scrimmage.
right! you don’t have a ball bow that gives you info??
TampaGator: No, that was so. Closed to the media and general public. The other sites got info from those invited to the event, players’ family, boosters or former players. Without being able to confirm with coaches or players, not something we want to attach a byline to.
The positive karmic forces swirling around Mullen and his team are epic, and the Mighty Gator rises from the depths of the swamp to unleash epic beat downs on our foes. The trumpets have sounded and the host rides forth to shake the foundations of the SEC and send Bama tumbling off the wall to shatter like a pathetic egg against the stones of reality! Saban is done and Smart turn tail and run helping in terror when the third age of the Gator begins!!!!
A little Victorian flair, a touch of Hemingway….but the rest is pure Jaws. Bravo, lad, Bravo!
Jerry. It was fan day and there was no practice or scrimmage. Just players and coaches mixing and having some fun with fans. Geez!!!!!
And the photo caption states that Jaawon Taylor is an outside linebacker. Well, if he is, he is the biggest and slowest outside linebacker to every play the position in college football. He is the starting left tackle for the Florida Gators.
Tampa, the caption says starting OT. I guess they must’ve caught their goof and corrected it thanks to you
Sorry, Taylor is the starting right tackle.
If Mullen has success, brings us back into national relevance and has us competing for championships every year like in the good ol’ days, it would make an interesting SEC Storied documentary. Only in sports do you get these type of full circle success stories a la Steve Spurrier THE Head Ball Coach.
Jaws – you had my chest swelling more with each line of your comment. Thank you for those words of inspiration. I think Coach should have you speak to the team and give you free tickets. Really.
On a warm and muggy September 1st in 1990, we awaited with baited Gator breath the return of Steve Spurrier to Florida Field. It was in those opening 3 plays, three straight passing plays that ended up putting Florida near the 10 yard line of Oklahoma State, that we knew something special had returned to Florida. After that game, we all knew, something special was brewing. A new attitude. A new desire to win. A desire to score points early and often to decimate and discourage your opponent. A high powered offense with a precise passing game and a ground attack that was set up with passing via play action, along with a desire to throw the ball vertically down the field. I wonder, will we see something similar this September 1st?
Great (and accurate) memories Grump! Thanks.
I’m betting that we do, Grump. Thanks for the reminder, absent Urban Meyer.
Does anyone remember the Gainesville sun the start of the 2010 season? The cover said “AIR BRANTLY” if I’m remembering correctly.. Boy they were wrong about that season.. Everyone though he was gonna win it all that year at QB. We have been terrible that year and every year since at QB.. Gosh I hope this is finally the year we get back on an upward track at that position!
Hang in there Mike, we’ll be back to form very soon.