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Ben Hill Griffin Stadium
"The Swamp"
Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.jpg
Former names Florida Field (1930-1989)
Location Stadium Road, Gainesville, Florida 32611
Coordinates 29°39′0″N 82°20′55″W / 29.65°N 82.34861°W / 29.65; -82.34861Coordinates: 29°39′0″N 82°20′55″W / 29.65°N 82.34861°W / 29.65; -82.34861
Broke ground 1930
Opened 1930
Owner University of Florida
Operator University of Florida
Surface Natural Grass (Bermuda grass)[1]
Capacity 88,548[2 ]
90,907 (largest crowd) [3]
Tenants
Florida Gators (NCAA) (1930-Present)
Tangerine Bowl (NCAA) (1973)
Gator Bowl (NCAA) (1994)

Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at Florida Field (also known as the Swamp) is the American football stadium for the University of Florida's football team, nicknamed the Gators. The stadium and the university are located in Gainesville, Florida. Regularly holding just over 90,000 fans per game, it is the eleventh largest stadium in college football as measured by its official seating capacity of 88,548.

The stadium is located on the northern edge of the university's campus, bordered by West University Avenue on the north side, Gale Lemerand Drive (previously named North-South Drive) on the west side, and Stadium Road on the south side. On the east side are the Racquet Club fitness center and Florida Gym as well as Murphree Hall, one of the oldest buildings on campus. On the opposite side of Gale Lemerand Drive are the Stephen C. O'Connell Center, home of the UF basketball, gymnastics, and volleyball teams, and the football team's practice facilities. Just beyond is Alfred A. McKethan Stadium, home of the Gators baseball team.

The Florida Gator football team has played all of their home games on Florida Field with very few exceptions since 1930. The most notable example is the annual contest against the Georgia Bulldogs, which has been played in Jacksonville, Florida every year since 1931, except in 1994 and 1995, when the old Gator Bowl Stadium was demolished and rebuilt as Jacksonville Municipal Stadium for the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars.[4] The 1994 Florida-Georgia game was played in Gainesville, and the 1995 contest was played at Sanford Stadium in Athens, Georgia.[4]

Contents

Stadium history

University president John J. Tigert was directly responsible for the construction of the stadium.[5] In the midst of the Great Depression, Tigert borrowed $10,000 to begin construction, and then raised $118,000 to complete the erection of the original 22,800-seat facility.[6] "Florida Field," as it was first known, was completed in 1930.[7] It was built in a shallow ravine (possibly an old sinkhole) and almost all of the original stands were below ground level, and included approximately all of the lower half of today's east and west stands. In 1934, the stadium was rededicated to the memory of Florida servicemen who died in the first World War, and a plaque was placed on the outside wall behind the old north endzone as a memorial.

A view of the Ben Hill Griffin Stadium skyboxes, completed in 2003.

Over the years, Florida Field has undergone many renovations, almost always adding more seats. First the west stands were expanded in 1949, then the east stands were expanded and bleachers added to the south endzone in 1968. With the enclosure of the south endzone in 1982, the north endzone in 1991, and expanded club seats and luxury boxes in 2003, the Swamp had grown to be the largest football stadium in the state of Florida, and the second largest sports facility in the state behind only the Daytona International Speedway. The current official capacity is just over 88,000, though the actual attendance since the last stadium expansion has averaged over 90,000.[2 ]

A view of the South Endzone video board, measuring 137' by 30'
A view of the North Endzone video board along with the two new strip scoreboards (Northwest and Northeast corners) and the LED strip scoreboard in the middle.

The field surface has also changed over the years. In 1971, artificial turf was installed and nicknamed "Doug's Rug" for then-coach Doug Dickey. The artificial surface remained until 1990, when newly hired coach Steve Spurrier insisted it be removed and replaced with the current natural grass surface.[8]

Following the Gators' 2008 BCS Championship, it was announced that new video replay boards would be installed before the start of the 2009 season. The new scoreboards feature all-digital screens with graphics and a high-definition resolution that were installed in both endzones during July of 2009. [9]

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Many names

View from the north endzone

The name of the playing surface has remained "Florida Field" since its original construction. In 1989, the stadium was renamed in honor of citrus magnate Ben Hill Griffin, Jr., who was an alumnus and major benefactor of the University.

In the early 1990's, in describing Florida's home-field advantage, then-coach Steve Spurrier noted that ". . . a swamp is where Gators live. We feel comfortable there, but we hope our opponents feel tentative. A swamp is hot and sticky and can be dangerous. Only Gators get out alive." [8] Ben Hill Griffin Stadium has been commonly known as the Swamp ever since.

Home field advantage

Fans cheer after a win.

The Swamp has acquired a reputation for being a very difficult place for opposing teams to play, and has regularly been ranked at or near the top of lists of top home field advantages and/or best game day experiences in college football[10][11][12][13]

One of the major reasons is the stadium's design. Originally built in a ravine, the playing surface is below ground level. Various expansions over the years have enclosed the playing area on all sides with steep stands, and the fans are within a few feet of the action.

The enclosed playing area also enhances the effects of Gainesville's warm and humid fall climate. Game-day temperatures at field level have been known to exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37 degrees Celsius), creating a swamp-like atmosphere. (This was the impetus for a University of Florida researcher Robert Cade to develop Gatorade as a way to combat dehydration.)

Florida Gator fans are both loyal (having sold out every home contest since 1979) and loud, thus creating a tremendous home field advantage for the Gators. [2 ] The size and exuberance of the home crowds, when combined with the stadium's close-in design of the seats, concentrates the fan noise at field level, making the Swamp one of the loudest stadiums in America. [14]

Combined, these factors create an intimidating environment which can rattle and disrupt opposing teams, making it difficult to hear playcalls and execute assignments. Florida Field has been repeatedly ranked by various publications as being the toughest stadium in which to play for opposing teams.[15] [16] [17]

The Gators' performance at home illustrates this effect. From Spurrier's arrival in 1990 until the end of the 2009 season, Florida posted a 113-13 home record, which is the best in the nation during that time period.[2 ]. The Gators have enjoyed a 34-2 home record since current coach Urban Meyer arrived for the 2005 season.[18]

Florida Field traditions

As with many other college Football venues, the Swamp has many unique features and gameday traditions:

  • Commemorated on the facade of the south endzone are the years of each of the team's Southeastern Conference championships and its 1996, 2006, and 2008 National Championships. Also included are tributes to the school's three Heisman Trophy winners, Steve Spurrier, Danny Wuerffel and Tim Tebow.
  • Located on the north endzone facade, the Ring of Honor commemorates the greatest players and coaches in Gator football history. Current members are Wilber Marshall, Steve Spurrier, Danny Wuerffel, Emmitt Smith, and Jack Youngblood.
  • Painted on the four corners of the stadium are large messages stating "This is... THE SWAMP" (previously read “…FLORIDA FIELD” before the mid-90s), "This is... GATOR COUNTRY", and “Home of the… FLORIDA GATORS.”
Albert and Alberta with the Pride of the Sunshine band pregame in 2005
  • Entertainment on game days includes the "Pride of the Sunshine", the University of Florida's Fightin' Gator Marching Band. The Pride was the first marching band in Florida. For many years, it was known for its very large bass drum, known as the "Biggest Boom in Dixie." The band plays on the field for pregame and halftime and also plays the Gator fight song, "Orange and Blue," after every Gator score.
  • Albert and Alberta, one of the few mascot couples in major college sports.
  • Right before the team enters the field, a short intro is played on the large video screens. A group of (real) alligators are shown gathering in a murky swamp while ominous music plays. Then the camera zooms in to the gaping jaws of a large alligator while a deep voice intones "The Swamp...Only Gators get out alive!" as the football team takes the field and the crowd roars.[1]
  • Jim Finch, the public address announcer at the stadium from 1966 through 2001, was known for his famously long "Heeeeeeeeeeeeeere come the Gators!" call delivered in powerful baritone as the home team ran onto the field before the game, and for his succinct and even-handed style of announcing the plays during the game. Finch died in 2002, but an audio recording of his distinctive entrance call has been used on occasion since.
Mr. Two-Bits
  • George Edmondson ("Mr. Two Bits"), wearing his trademark yellow oxford shirt, blue seersucker trousers, orange-and-blue tie, and black-and-white saddle shoes, traveled around the stands for almost 60 years leading fans in the old "Two Bits" cheer ("Two bits! Four bits! Six bits! A dollar! All for the Gators, stand up and holler!"). Edmondson began the tradition in 1949 and "retired" to become a regular fan after his 50th season in 1998. However, he couldn't stay in his seat and continued to lead the cheer during pre-game festivities and (occasionally) in the stands during games. On November 22, 2008, at the last home game of the season, Mr. Two Bits was again honored with a retirement ceremony. That contest pitted Florida against The Citadel, which happens to be Edmondson's alma mater [19].
  • Fans swing and sway by rows singing "We are the Boys from Old Florida" at the end of the third quarter. (The University of Florida was a men's school from 1905 to 1947.)
  • Gator fans join in on shout-outs and chants such as "ORANGE" (yelled by the East and South stands) and "BLUE" (yelled by the West and North stands). During the pre-game, this cheer is led by Richard Johnston (aka "Mike Man" or "Mr. Orange and Blue"), a former cheerleader and who has been the pre-game emcee since 1984.[20]
  • For many years, the ship's bell of the battleship USS Florida was mounted at the North End Zone wall of the stadium, to be rung by a nearby fan immediately upon the conclusion of a Gator victory. After the North End Zone expansion in 1991, the bell was moved to the North End Zone Concourse for display, but its clapper was removed.
  • When Steve Spurrier became the Gators' head football coach in 1990, he revived the tradition of fans and players together singing the University of Florida Alma Mater after the conclusion of home football games. The Alma Mater was composed by Milton Yeats in 1925.

Other events

Even big-time college football teams play only 6 or 7 home games per season. Ben Hill Griffin Stadium is mainly a place for fitness-motivated students to jog or run stadium steps during the time when no events are scheduled. However, the stadium does occasionally host events other than Florida Gators football.

  • Florida Field was once a busy concert venue. Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Elton John and Jimmy Buffett are among the performers who held concerts at the stadium in the past. However, these events have been much less common recently. The university, wary of damage to the turf or the facility in general, has chosen to focus on keeping the stadium ready for sporting events; concerts are now commonly held in the nearby O'Connell Center arena. The last concert held in The Swamp (besides performances during Gator Growl) featured the Rolling Stones in 1994.[23]

Gallery

See also

References

External links

Preceded by
Fairfield Stadium/
Gator Bowl Stadium
Host of the
Gator Bowl

1994
Succeeded by
Jacksonville Municipal Stadium

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