The fans with the best view at Florida Field aren't the big-money donors, the Bull Gators, but the members of the seven-man sideline crew that assists the game officials. The crew works the first-down chains, the down marker, the 25-second clock, the penalty log (notating the player, penalty and time of the game when the penalty occurred) and the clip that keeps the position of the chain accurate. They're all current or former high school officials, college football fans in general and Gators fans in particular. "When you're between the 30-yard lines, you've got the visiting team's coach right next to you," says 25-second-clock operator Wayne Edwards, 61, a bank vice president and 21-year veteran of the crew. "I'm on the line of scrimmage every play. I'd rather be on the field than sit in the stands. I go to Florida's away games and I'm miserable sitting in my seat."
All seven gang members live in Jacksonville, so they also work the Gator Bowl and home games of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Three of them have had knee replacements. Four of them were already on hand when Florida hired Steve Spurrier as coach in 1990. The crew leader, 74-year-old Carlisle Jones, was working the sidelines before Spurrier won the Heisman Trophy at Florida in 1966. Jones, who retired from his own industrial fencing company eight years ago, handles the first-down box, as the down marker is known to sideline crews.
The crew—which also includes Billy Carrol, 64 (home side first-down marker); Wayne Clifton, 53 (home side line-of-scrimmage marker); Duncan Crawford, 62 (pole at one end of chain); Jerry Johnson, 63 (pole at other end of chain); Bill Steele, 52 (alternate) and Dewey Williamson, 61 (records penalties and places the clip)—gets an intimate look at coaches. Jones, for instance, stood 15 feet from Ohio State's legendary Woody Hayes when Hayes threw a punch at Clem-son noseguard Charlie Bauman in the 1978 Gator Bowl. Hayes was fired the next day. " Hayes couldn't control his temper during the game," Jones says. "I haven't seen a calm coach in 50 years."
Each crew member has been knocked flat by a player and learned his lesson. "You don't watch the ballcarrier," Johnson says. "He's not the guy who'll hurt you. It's all those guys chasing him, especially if he goes out-of-bounds. They'll be trying to avoid him to keep from getting a personal-foul penalty."
When the Florida gang began working Jaguars home games, in 1995, its debut didn't go without a hitch: No one told the crew that NFL halftimes are eight minutes shorter than college halftimes. "We were sitting in our dressing room, eating hot dogs," Johnson says. "They made an announcement: 'Would the chain crew please report to the field?' They showed us on TV, running back out."
Crew members make $85 each for a Jaguars game. At Florida the compensation is two game tickets apiece, an occasional hat and shirt from the SEC office and a total of three parking spaces in the tunnel beneath the stadium. Without question, they prefer the college game. "It's the difference between a love affair and a job," Johnson says,