Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at Florida Field (aka 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 100,000 fans per game, it is the 12th largest college football stadium by capacity.
The stadium is on the northern edge of the UF campus, bordered by West University Avenue on the north side, Gale Lemerand Drive (still called North-South Drive by many Gator fans) 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. Across Gale Lemerand (North-South) 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 UF 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 almost every year since the 1930s.
“Florida Field” (as it was first known) was completed in 1930. It was built in a shallow ravine (possibly an old sinkhole) and almost all of the original stands were below ground level. Comprising approximately all of the lower half of today’s east and west stands, the capacity was about 22,000. 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.
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 stadium had grown to be the largest sports facility in the state of Florida. The official current capacity is over 88,000, though the actual average attendance since the last stadium expansion has been over 90,000.
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 natural grass.
In 1989, the stadium was renamed in honor of citrus grower Ben Hill Griffin, Jr., who was a major benefactor of the University of Florida and a member of the Alpha Epsilon chapter of Pi Kappa Phi. The name of the playing surface, however, officially remained Florida Field.
Currently, the stadium may be best known as “The Swamp”. In the early 90s, 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." The name has stuck ever since.
Home Field Advantage
Florida Field has acquired a reputation for being a very difficult place for opposing teams to play. There are several reasons for this.
For one, The Swamp lives up to its nickname. Game-day temperatures at field level have been known to exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37 degrees Celsius) with high humidity. (This was the impetus for a University of Florida researcher to develop Gatorade as a way to combat dehydration.) Teams from cooler climates sometimes wither in the heat, while the Florida players have become accustomed to it due to daily practices.
The heat is compounded by the stadium design. The various expansions over the years have enclosed the playing area on all sides with steep stands, cutting off the breeze and giving the playing surface a closed-in, claustrophobic feel and bringing the fans to within a few feet of the action.
Those fans are probably the main ingredient in the Gators’ home field advantage. Gator fans are loyal, having sold out every home contest since 1989.
They are also loud. The exuberance of the crowd combined with their proximity and the bowled-in shape of the stadium concentrate the noise at field level, making The Swamp one of the loudest stadiums in sports.
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 to play for opposing teams. In EA Sports' college football video game franchise, NCAA Football, The Swamp has been ranked as the #1 toughest place to play in every version in which home field advantage has been included.
The Gators’ stellar performance at home illustrates the effect. Florida enjoyed a 68-5 record in The Swamp under Head Coach Steve Spurrier (1990-2001). Under current coach Urban Meyer, they were 23-2 as of the 4th week of the 2008 season.
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 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.”
- 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.
- 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 passed away in 2002, but an audio recording of his distinctive entrance call has been used on occasion since.
- George Edmondson ("Mr. Two Bits"), wearing his trademark yellow super oxford shirt, blue seersucker trousers, orange-and-blue tie, and black-and-white saddle shoes, travels around the stands 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 continued until his semi-retirement in 1998. However, he can't seem to stay in his seat, as he still makes at least one trip around the Swamp to lead various sections in the cheer during most games.
- 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.
- 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 ringer was removed.
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
- The most regular special event in The Swamp is Gator Growl, a student-produced show and pep rally always held the Friday night before the annual homecoming football game. Originally a simple affair, Gator Growl has grown tremendously over the years. These days, the usual program includes the introduction of the seniors on the football team by the head coach, live skits, video skits (always with celebrity cameo appearances), a musical act, and a headlining comedian. Past headliners include such luminaries as Robin Williams, Dennis Miller, Jerry Seinfeld, Dave Chappelle, Bill Cosby, Billy Crystal, Dane Cook, Paula Poundstone, Wayne Brady, Rodney Dangerfield, George Burns, and Bob Hope.
- Ben Hill Griffin Stadium has hosted the Florida High school football championships many times over the years..
- Florida Field has also served as a temporary home for college bowl games when other Florida stadiums were undergoing renovations. In 1973, Florida Field hosted the Tangerine Bowl, which pitted the hometown Gators against the Miami University Redskins (later RedHawks) while Orlando’s Citrus Bowl was being rebuilt. In 1994, the Gator Bowl between the Virginia Tech Hokies and Tennessee Volunteers was held in The Swamp while Jacksonville’s Gator Bowl was being prepared for the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars.
- 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. The last concert held in The Swamp featured the Rolling Stones in 1994.
- Beginning in 2008, Florida Field was to host Team Florida, a charter member of the All American Football League. This spring football league sought to tap into fan interest in college football by creating tie-ins with local schools. For example, Team Florida's roster includes many former Gators along with players from other in-state schools such as Florida State, Miami, and South Florida. They will be coached by former Florida quarterback Shane Matthews.
- However, the AAFL 2008 season was scrapped due to problems securing financing. Team Florida was scheduled to play three home games in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium and one each in Jacksonville and Tampa. The schedule for 2009 has not yet been set.