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Gator aids Fans in Gainesville live for the team

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Until I bought a new one about a month ago, my car was covered in Florida Gators stickers.

Three bumper stickers and six decals.

But it would have been underdressePhoto:3267524,left;d in Gainesville, Fla., home of the University of Florida, where I’m considering studying.



With their bid secured for today’s Final Four of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament in Atlanta, Ga., the Gators are inescapable in their hometown; in the airport, hanging over the top of the exit, is a blue-and-orange banner that reads “Welcome to Gator Country.” Leaving Gainesville, the flight attendant ends her welcome-aboard speech with “Go Gators.”

In the town itself, signs of support, team decals and Gators license plates are everywhere.




Anyone wearing colors other than blue and orange stands out.

“It’s just crazy,” Gators star forward Joakim Noah said Wednesday as he was walked on campus after class.

Noah could hardly make it 50 feet without being stopped by a well-wisher. One girl, after meeting Noah, felt as if she “just met a celebrity.”

“We get a lot of love out here,” Noah continued. “But right now, it’s all about focusing. It can be a circus every day; we just gotta focus and do what we gotta do.”

Much of that love comes from the University of Florida students, who increase the Gainesville population from 100,000 to about 150,000 when school is in session.

Without the Gators, the school would be “nothing,” said Earl, a UF junior from Tampa, Fla.

Although no official holidays were offered by the university due to the Gators’ success, Earl said absent students wouldn’t be punished.

“One of my classes is already canceled for Monday and Friday,” he said Wednesday, inside the Gator Sportshop next to the university’s football stadium.

If the Gators beat UCLA in tonight’s 5:47 p.m. semifinal (televised on CBS), they’ll take on either Ohio State or Georgetown for the championship Monday in Atlanta.

Last year, after the Gators beat UCLA in the championship game, the campus turned into one massive party that revealed the unity of the students.

“Everyone was running around saying, ‘Go Gators,’ to people they didn’t even know,” said Genesis Harrod, a Florida junior from Orlando.

The phrase “Go Gators” is a greeting in Gainesville, where people brag about having seen or met the latest Gators star.

On Gainesville radio, most ad breaks have at least one appearance by Florida basketball coach Billy Donovan; billboards across town picture former Gators quarterback Danny Wuerffel, who won the 1996 Heisman Trophy and led Florida to its first national championship the same year.

Waiting for their flights at the Gainesville airport, some lucky Floridians – and a few from out of state – were treated to a surprise Thursday morning, as the entire men’s basketball team strolled through the airport on its way to board its jet to Atlanta.

As each player entered the gate, he was greeted with applause from a roomful of fans.

One Gator summarized Gainesville as he walked through the exit.

“That’s a lot of clapping.”

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To contact Sports Writer Jeff Miller, e-mail jeffm@theunion.com or call 477-4247.


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