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Monday, September 26, 2022

Florida Gators superfan group reunites 20 years later

The Super Gators still have a soft spot for Gators football

Sporting orange athletic shorts and beanies, blue knee-length capes, orange-and-blue striped face paint and no shirts, the Super Gators pushed through a crowd of booing University of Tennessee fans in 2004, dodging ice cubes and trash. 

Despite the loss, they kept their heads high with pride for their school. 

At its peak, the Super Gators were made up of 50 UF students who were UF football superfans. They cheered on the Gators at every home game from 2001 to 2007.

At the explosive Utah game Sept. 3, the group reunited for the first time in more than 20 years. For many of them, it was the first time they saw each other since their younger years in the Swamp.

Paul Johnson, a 39-year-old former Super Gator, said the group met in September 2001 when they lived on the same floor of Weaver Hall. The original Super Gators — Steve Gilbert, Dan Murphy, Jen Gustafson, Mike Wallace, Dave Smith and Brian Barnes — each wore a different face paint design, but all matched in their shorts-and-cape outfits. 

“It was a bunch of people that were just over-the-top into it,” said George Lane, a 40-year-old former Super Gator. “This is the group of people I would always marvel. They just took it to the next, next, next level.”

During their sophomore year, the Super Gators invited friends from their hometown of Pensacola to live together in apartments situated behind what used to be a Kash N’ Karry store in Gainesville. When the group threw parties in their apartments, more people kept joining, Johnson said.

When they became large enough to form a block, Johnson said the athletic department looked upon them favorably because they remained sober on game days.

“We were really loud,” Johnson said. “Obnoxious, actually.” 

“But we did find a way for it to be socially acceptable to be loud and obnoxious,” Wallace added.

Any former Super Gator will point out a photo of themselves immortalized on a banner at the North End Zone of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Super Gators were known to show up to games as early as 3 a.m. holding signs to get to the front of the stands and be on camera — they often succeeded, Johnson said.

“We thought it was funny,” he said.

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Lane said that he wasn’t as committed to seeking football-fan fame.

“They took it to that extreme that most people weren’t doing,” Lane said. “They really wanted to go out there 110% on Saturdays and do what they wanted to do.”

For Johnson, the Super Gators were born out of a desire to be on TV.

Both Johnson and Wallace have filled the role as the iconic Albert mascot — Johnson from 2003 to 2007, and Wallace from 2007 to 2008 — which landed them on an ESPN game day commercial. 

“That was the greatest thing I’ve ever done,” Wallace said.

“It’s complete anonymity and an audience that loves you no matter what you do,” Johnson added.

The Super Gators not only attended every home game, but also every away game from 2002 to 2007. Although they were beloved in the Swamp, they often faced backlash from opposing fans, Johnson said.

At a University of Miami game, Barnes said a Miami fan burned him with a cigarette butt. Johnson also recalled another fan breaking a beer bottle and preparing to fight.

“When you’re dressed up in garb, you’re a target for that kind of thing,” Barnes said.

Despite backlash, the Super Gators continued cheering the team to victory. 

During the 2006 home game against University of South Carolina, Johnson said he prayed as the opposition took a field kick in the final seconds of the game, which would have ruined the Gators’ chances of making it to the national championship. When the Gators blocked the kick, the stadium exploded in cheers, Johnson said.

“The Swamp has never been louder than that one moment,” Wallace said.

Johnson called the block his favorite Super Gators memory.

“It really sounded like it had blown up,” Johnson said. “It was amazing. I’ll never forget that.”

Today, Johnson works as a bartender at Disney World in Orlando. He said he tries to come to Gator games often, but that it’s “not nearly enough.” 

Other members moved across the country — one to Boston, one to Los Angeles, one to Birmingham, among other places. The distance makes it hard for the Super Gators to come together, Johnson said.

“It went from being every game to not every game, unfortunately,” Johnson said.

But no matter the space between them, the Super Gators will remain forever connected. 

Contact Alissa at agary@alligator.org. Follow her on Twitter @AlissaGary1.

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Alissa Gary

Alissa Gary is a freshman journalism major who covers student government for The Alligator. You’ll usually find her watching (and talking about) movies, taking care of her plants, or drinking coffee when she’s not reporting.


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