(This story was published in 2005).
By: Todd Heustess
(Editor's note: College football writer Todd Heustess will make tailgate pilgrimages to at least five college football games this season and write about his experiences. He would love to be joined by other Outsports readers. His trips are sponsored by Be Gay Tours.)
I woke up Sunday morning in the Orlando hotel to a very faint, high-pitched ringing in my ears. As I wondering if this was some new type of hangover torment facing me as I plod towards 40, I began to realize that the ringing was not alcohol induced but instead a Swamp Hangover (my term), a byproduct of the unbelievable noise that engulfed me as I stood in the student section at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium (known to college football fans as “The Swamp”) for last Saturday’s titanic SEC contest between bitter rivals Florida and Tennessee.
For 3 ½ hours Saturday night, I stood in the North end zone of the Swamp with thousands of wildly enthusiastic (and hot!) UF students as Florida beat UT, 16-7, in a thrilling, defensive (surprisingly, at least to me) struggle in the first big game for new coach Urban Meyer. The unending cacophony of pure noise left me hoarse and my ears ringing but undeniably happy because I was lucky enough to be a part of an incredible college football atmosphere in what has to be the loudest stadium on the planet.
Seriously, how do the Gators ever lose a game there? When you enter the stadium the first thing you notice is that you have to walk down to the field, way down. Then you wonder how on earth 90,000 fans will fit in there because it looks like the stadium should hold 70,000 to 75,000. Well, 90,000 + fans were there on Saturday night and they cheered their team on boisterously the whole game creating a wall of noise that was numbing, deafening, and electric. It was so loud that I couldn’t hear the UT band play “Rocky Top” any of the 1,034 times they played it during the game. And it was sweltering, rip-off-your shirt hot in the stadium on this September night, and luckily many of the UF students did just that. It was the perfect game experience to follow a memorable first-time tailgate in Gainesville.
Gainesville is about five hours from Miami, a little less than two hours from Orlando, in the middle of the state. Gainesville itself is a surprisingly decent size city of 100,000 that is home to the nearly 50,000 students at UF. I was joined on this tailgate excursion by Gabe, a UF grad from Miami and Jim, a FSU grad from Orlando, both Outsports readers. In Gainesville, our hosts were Nate Pearman and Brian Davis, both member of the very active Pride Student Union (PSU) at UF. Nate and Brian took us over the “student ghetto” near the stadium were a crosssection of UF students, gay and straight, mingled, drank, watched other games and got ready for the game. Nate, who’s the Director of Campus Relations and an Exec Board Member, told me that this intermingling of gay and straight students was not unusual at UF and that PSU has many on-campus events and even participates in the homecoming parade.
It took a while to find a place to park because there is no parking in Gainesville apparently. Any open space within two miles of the stadium is fair game for parking and once we figured this out, we were fine. We parked in the front yard of an enterprising first-year law student, Cameron, who provided coolers full of beer, access to his house (including the restroom) and grilled meats for our $20 parking fee. It was full-service, one-stop parking and tailgating, something I noticed was happening all around the campus.
When we finally reached Brian’s apartment deep in the heart of the student ghetto, we were greeted by the sight of 10-12 shirtless college guys wearing bright orange knee-high soccer socks standing in front of the apartment building watching TV and drinking. I of course was curious as to why these shirtless studs were wearing orange knee-high socks, so being the good journalist I started talking to them. Turns out these guys were members of the “Super Gators” a group of 20 or so guys who paint their faces, wear blue capes along with the aforementioned orange socks.
They walk to the stadium leading cheers and sit together in the stadium. Juan, a 20-year-old junior from Miami, told me that they are all friends recruited by other friends. When I asked him why they went to the games in costume and shirtless, he laughed and said it’s because Gainesville is hot and they’re hot. I told Juan I was writing about the tailgate scene at UF for a gay sports site and he got excited, saying that I had to take pictures of them getting ready and then take more pictures of them when they were ready to do their walk to the stadium. When I asked him if he and his buddies minded that these pictures would on a gay site, he said they didn’t and that he liked the idea of gay guys thinking he and his buddies were good-looking. I asked him why they chose Brian’s apartment to change in, he asked me, “Why not? No one cares if they’re gay. That’s only a big deal to people your age.”
So after helping the Super Gators get ready for their march to the stadium and fixing a few more drinks with the Outsports crew, we marched to the stadium watching the Super Gators rev the crowd up into a frenzy. At the stadium I couldn’t sit with the Super Gators (stupid, fascist UF Campus police and their rules) but I was sitting next to members of the swim team who go to the game in body paint, rugby helmets, and Speedos. In fact all around the stadium were shirtless Abercrombie, college boys who looked like they stepped out of a Falcon video. Needless to say I enjoyed my first game in Gainesville and I think it ranks quite high in terms of tailgating experiences and atmosphere. Now if I can just convince the Super Gators to let me be their agent, I’ll be even happier.