A football lover's tour of north Florida football landmarks
By: Joe Kukura
Football fans know north Florida is one of the greatest football hotbeds in the United States. Score extra points with football lovers on your Florida vacation by taking them to the football landmarks of north Florida, a region recognized around the world as a permanent factory of the nation’s very best football schools, players and coaches.
Gainesville, Florida, is one of the country’s most passionate football towns. It is home to the Florida Gators, a perennial powerhouse in college football, and also home to many of the top-ranked high school football programs in the nation. Several NFL standouts like Clinton Portis hail from the area, in addition to all the Florida Gator players who’ve passed through Gainesville — Emmitt Smith, Tim Tebow and Steve Spurrier (yes, the ol’ ball coach was once an ol’ ball player at UF). See what makes Florida a football dynasty by visiting these famous football attractions in Florida.
Ben Hill Griffin Stadium
Popularly known as “The Swamp,” Ben Hill Griffin Stadium is the home of the Florida Gators and is the largest stadium in Florida. Yes, it is larger than the three NFL stadiums in Florida! In fact, the Jacksonville Jaguars played at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium until their own stadium was completed. Ben Hill Griffin Stadium also plays host to the Florida High School Football Championships in certain years.
You don’t need to wait for game day to visit The Swamp. Ben Hill Griffin Stadium is open to the public for free from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day (except Fridays and Saturdays when the Gators are playing a home game). It’s one of the few major facilities in the US that allows such a courtesy. And you can join UF athletes in doing a few rounds of “stadiums” — an extremely demanding exercise that entails jogging up all 180 steps to the top of the stadium. A few dozen people do it every night to enjoy a spectacular view of Gainesville from 14 stories above.
And inside the stadium you can enjoy a spectacular view of the Gators’ eight SEC championship trophies and three national championship trophies, all of which are on display at the Heavener Football Complex.
The Tim Tebow statue
Heck yes they’ve built a statue of Tim Tebow in Florida. Because that’s what they do in Florida when a guy wins two SEC Championships, two National Championships and a Heisman Trophy.
The Tebow statue in Gainesville does not stand alone. Spurrier also has a statute in Gainesville, as does 1996 Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerffel.
The birthplace of Gatorade
The popular sports drink Gatorade was invented at the University of Florida. If you don’t believe me, why do you think they call it Gatorade?
The birthplace of Gatorade is indeed a landmark and has its own historical marker. And every time you see a coach get the “Gatorade shower” after a big win, you’ll have your own personal Gatorade story to tell.
Would you like to eat gator while watching the Florida Gators? If so, check out some of the finer football-themed restaurants in Gainesville, including The Swamp Restaurant, Gator City Sports Grill and the Gator’s Den.
Those who like their Gatorade a little more high-octane have a world-class array of sports bars in Gainesville to choose from. The University of Florida isn’t regularly listed among the nation’s top party schools by accident, you know.
With names like Chomps, Gator Tales and the Rowdy Reptile, you can guess which team the fans are rooting for at Gainesville’s finest sports bars.
Football fans owe it to themselves to make the pilgrimage to America’s football mecca of Gainesville. Just realize that if you’re visiting on a weekend during football season, you’ll want to make your reservations well in advance, because nearly 100,000 other football fans will be eagerly making that trip, too.