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Wednesday, April 17, 2024

GameDay returns to Gainesville for the first time post-Tebow

Near the glowing lights at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, far from the tailgaters playing cornhole by Norman Hall and blues music by Library West, Gators fans cheered just before 7 a.m. Saturday.

ESPN’s “College GameDay” started building its set on the north lawn of the stadium Thursday for Saturday’s live broadcast across the United States. Lee Corso, wearing an Albert the Alligator head, and other analysts made their picks against a backdrop of hundreds of Gators fans.

“GameDay,” known for attracting creative sign-makers and attention-grabbers, hadn’t been to Gainesville since 2009, when the Gators hosted Florida State University for Tim Tebow’s last home game.

By Friday afternoon, students were already hanging around the set.

Michael Glazener, a 26-year-old business management senior, brought his 4-foot-3-inch, two-piece cutout of coach Will Muschamp’s head.

Glazener said he brought it to Knoxville when the Gators played the University of Tennessee, one of the Gators’ two away “GameDay” appearances this season.

“A giant Muschamp head kind of stands out over everyone,” Glazener said. “The more sober Tennessee fans thought it was funny, but the drunker ones told me they would break it.”

Hundreds of students and fans packed the grassy corral featured behind the “GameDay” set for its live broadcast from 9 a.m. to noon.

Joshua Pauls, 19-year-old applied physiology and kinesiology sophomore, brought a sign depicting Muschamp riding a flying pterodactyl. He arrived at about 8 p.m. Friday.

“It’s getting nutty out here real fast,” Pauls said. “They don’t understand the magnitude of how much we love this team.”

On the other side of the barricades stood 52-year-old Sandy Dunbar from Tampa.

She wanted to be seen in every shot, so she bought three Gators-themed balloons with long strings.

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She said the fans around her thought the idea was innovative.

“These guys in front of me holding signs were like, ‘Oh, my arms are tired. I wish I had balloons,’” Dunbar said.

When the analysts arrived on the set for the broadcast, “GameDay” host Chris Fowler told the crowd the show had “been to more Florida games for ‘GameDay’ than any other team.”

The Gators have appeared 35 times, beating out Ohio State University with 30 and Oklahoma University at 28, according to ESPN’s website.

Kirk Herbstreit said at a press conference that coming to Gainesville for the show is always memorable.

He said the passion college football fans have for the sport is “unprecedented.”

“Any time you come into the SEC, there’s always a buzz in the air,” he said. “To come back to Gainesville — it’s a great place because they love college football.”

ESPN GameDay anchor Lee Corso dons Albert’s head and grabs an albino alligator as he chooses Florida against South Carolina in the Saturday game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

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