The stuffy and sweaty Garrett Spitzer looked down to see a small crowd forming below the 20-foot telephone pole he sat on.
Wearing a bright green velour bodysuit, he remembered his Chi Phi Fraternity brothers using a rope to lift the famous 30-pound Gator head up to him so he could wear the suit for the next two hours on the pole.
Spitzer, 58, had a reputation for doing almost anything and said he wore the suit for a charity event for his fraternity in Fall 1979.
It’s been almost 40 years, but Spitzer said he will never forget the time he became Albert.
“I don’t remember seeing a single teacher, but I remember Albert,” Spitzer, a UF alumnus, said.
Gator fans know Albert and Alberta as the university’s beloved mascots, but the pair has a long history of building the Gator brand. Casey Reed, UF’s mascot coordinator, said they are more than just costumes; they are part of UF’s legacy.
“It’s important that everyone knows it’s about them, and it’s what Albert and Alberta can bring to the school,” she said.
Albert and Alberta’s daily schedules revolve around appearances at sporting and charity events, Reed said. Every year they make more than 400 appearances.
“At the end of the day, when I’m no longer here, Albert and Alberta will still be here,” Reed said. “That’s why it’s so important for me that they are the ones that are receiving the recognition.”
Albert is suave, charismatic and ambitious. Alberta is confident, sassy and chic. Reed said her team tries their best to stay true to the mascots’ personality traits even when their appearances change.
Before Albert entered the scene, the university had live alligators in pens outside of Century Tower in the 1950s, said UF historian Carl Van Ness. It wasn’t until 1970 that the university introduced the first costumed Albert, most likely based off a comic strip character of the same name.
Early iterations of Albert made him seem fiercer than his friendly demeanor today, Van Ness said. In 1979, Disney helped produce an animatronic suit with flashing eyes. Now, Albert and Alberta are rounder, softer and more breathable.
By 1986, Alberta was introduced as Albert’s sidekick. Reed said the mascots are just best friends and they have each other in their hearts.
“Albert will always be Alberta’s No. 1, and Alberta will always be Albert’s No. 1,” Reed said.
They have a closet of six outfits for various occasions, such as their pink uniforms for Breast Cancer Awareness Month and their blue gameday attire for Tennessee games.
Reed, who oversees their scheduling, said the people behind the mascots have to go through training and need to be humble because the world won’t know who they are.
It’s a tradition for members of the mascot program to not reveal their identities as Albert and Alberta.
“When you choose to be a part of something like this, you know the tradition and where it’s coming from,” Reed said. “In the sense that it’s bigger than you as an individual.”
As the mascots evolve, Reed said she’s trying to expand Alberta’s presence on campus by including her in men’s sporting events. Reed began this expansion in 2013. Before, Alberta was limited to only women’s sporting events.
“It’s important that Albert goes to women’s volleyball just as much as Alberta goes to men’s basketball,” Reed said.
Now, Reed said Alberta does more appearances than Albert. The duo has gained more national recognition from companies like ESPN and Nissan. Social media is the biggest factor in sharing Albert and Alberta’s brand with a younger generation, she said.
“It really speaks to what you’re doing,” Reed said. “When you see Albert and Alberta, you know it’s the Florida Gators.”