Orange and Blue game draws sizable crowd and large number of former Gators players

Ainslie Lee
The Gainesville Sun
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Thursday night's Orange and Blue football game drew a crowd of approximately 45,000 fans at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium

"It was electric out there," first-year coach Billy Napier said. "I think it was even better than I expected to be honest with you. I’m very thankful for the support."

It was Florida's first public Orange and Blue game since 2019, and general admission was free. The game had been scheduled for Saturday, April 16, but was moved in March to the prime-time Thursday slot. 

Men’s basketball head coach Todd Golden, just hired last month, and women’s basketball coach Kelly Rae Finley served as the celebrity head coaches for the game. 

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Previously, former head coach Dan Mullen said he would "fudge" spring attendance numbers to jab at opponents. In 2019, Mullen told reporters attendance was 39,476

At the time, it had been 39 years and 476 games since the Georgia Bulldogs had won a national championship. That, of course, is no longer the case as the Bulldogs captured their third national title last season. 

Fans celebrate as the Gator Blue team beat Orange 34-0 in the annual Orange and Blue spring game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on April 14, 2022.

Charity tailgate draws crowd of former UF players

Longtime Gators sports columnist Pat Dooley, now retired from the Gainesville Sun, said that Thursday night's showing of former players was the most he'd ever seen at a Florida spring game. And he wasn't exaggerating. 

Though the Orange and Blue game doesn't matter in the win-loss column, former Gators were eager to get back to The Swamp to get their first glimpse of Napier's brand of football. 

The fact that they came together for a good cause was just icing on the cake. 

Just outside of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, former UF All-American punter Johnny Townsend hosted the Johnny Townsend Foundation Spring Tailgate, benefiting pediatric oncology programs at UF Health Shands Children's Hospital. 

An estimated 60-plus former players stopped by the tailgate. Corporate sponsors also filed into the private event, which featured Gators memorabilia for auction. 

Auction items included footballs signed by past Heisman winners from former Gators Steve Spurrier and Danny Wuerffel's personal collection, a dining package to Spurrier's Gridiron Grille, and other items. Spurrier attended as well. 

Among those in attendance were former players from a wide range of decades. 

Willie Jackson and Leonard George, who were the first Black players to suit up in the Orange and Blue were present. Kyle Trask and Jeremiah Moon, who earned "former player" status just last year, were also on site for Thursday's event. 

The Johnny Townsend Foundation is set to break ground on a $50,000 renovation to the UF Health Children's Healing Garden this season. 

WWE's Titus O'Neil fires up The Swamp

Florida Gators great Titus O'Neil gets the crowd hyped up before the annual Orange and Blue spring game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville Fla. April 14, 2022.

Prior to the spring game kicking off, former Gators defensive end Titus O'Neil of the WWI took to midfield to pump up The Swamp crowd and formally offer his welcome to Napier. 

O'Neil, who played for Spurrier from 1997-2000, went on to have a brief arena football career before having a near 10-year professional wrestling career. 

A native of Live Oak, O'Neil has become a frequent flier through Gators football events. 

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