VARSITY TEAMS: 20
INTRAMURAL SPORTS: 19
FAMOUS ALUMNI: TRACY CAULKINS, EMMITT SMITH, STEVE SPURRIER
EXTRA CREDIT FOR: INVENTION OF GATORADE BY A FLORIDA PROF
The student section at Florida's Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, better known as the Swamp, long ago adopted as its motto "We're the worst." Cmedian Jeff Foxworthy recently recalled his 1990 stand-up act at a sold-out Swamp as a terrifying moment. "One of the students who put on the show said before I went, 'Oh, yeah, we've had everybody,' " said Foxworthy of his performance at the Gator Growl, the homecoming week Fla-lapalooza billed as the world's largest student-run pep rally. " 'We had Bob Hope. We booed him off the stage. We booed the Smothers Brothers off the stage. We made Paula Poundstone cry.' " ( Foxworthy was lucky; he was cheered.)
Put an opposing football team on the field and the Swamp becomes what the Atlanta Journal-Constitution once called "the loudest, most obnoxious and notorious piece of real estate in all of college football." You might expect such fervor at a school that, besides being the national champion in football, is one of two universities—UCLA is the other—that has placed in the Top 10 in the NCAA all-sports rankings each year since 1984. Of the 20 varsity sports the Gators play, only the men's basketball team had a losing record in 1995-96, and at week's end 17 of the teams were above .500 this year. Florida is also the best women's sports school in the country (page 84).
Even the intramural teams compete for national championships. In late December, two afternoons before the tackle-football Gators claimed the national title with a 35-29 Sugar Bowl thrashing of Florida State, two teams from Florida finished second and third in the flag-football nationals in New Orleans. "Our fraternity is based on Hag football," says John Dawson, president of the Florida chapter of Pi Lambda Phi, the third-place finisher in New Orleans. "Has been for almost 50 years."
It was 48 years ago that Pi Lambda Phi and Tau Epsilon Phi, Florida's two largest Jewish fraternities, first staged the annual Nose Bowl, so named by the participants for the generous proboscises found on some team members. Today, pledges from the two houses practice for the game DA hours a day, six days a week. As many as 900 alumni from the frats flock to the event, which is shown on cable TV as far away as South Florida.
The rest of the campus takes only a slightly more restrained approach to sports. Roughly 85% of Florida's 29,637 undergraduates participate in intramurals. To keep up with the demand the school built a second. $6.6 million student rec center in 1995 to go with the $3.6 million center it unveiled less than three years earlier. Students who like the outdoors go to Lake Wauburg, a short drive from campus, to water-ski, canoe and sail.
But Florida would not be Florida without its crazed fans. To wit: Bradford Yates. Since 1992 he and his trademark from-the-opening-whistle-to-the-final-horn rant have not missed a Lady Gators home basketball game. Yates, who didn't even attend Florida, wraps tape around his hands before games so his incessant clapping won't cause them to bleed. "He's a sold-out arena all by himself," says coach Carol Ross.
On the morning of Nov. 15, 1995, Yates's house near campus caught fire. As the inferno raged, he couldn't help thinking of the women's hoops game that evening. "I hadn't missed one since 1992," he says. Happily, the fire was doused in time for Yates to make tip-off. What would he have done had the conflagration occurred closser to game time? "Boy," says Yates, sounding genuinely stumped, "Hmmm. Jeez. That's a tough one."