Today is the home opener for my beloved University of Florida Gators. Like many rabid college football fans, I consider Saturdays in the fall to be the most wonderful time of the year. I love the excitement, the anticipation, the hype, the hope — both realized and dashed. The exhilarating highs and devastating lows are nothing short of glorious for sports fans everywhere.
College football is steeped in traditions and rituals and we have our share: the pre-game Gator Walk where fans amass hours before kickoff to greet the players as they arrive to the stadium; the trademark “Chomp,” which is perhaps the first and best indicator of the Gator Faithful…(right arm over left, please); the dueling chants of “Orange” and “Blue” as fans in the student and alumni sections take turns bellowing out the team’s colors; the locking of arms while singing and swaying to “We are the Boys of Old Florida” at the end of the third quarter; and the newest tradition: the singalong to “I Won’t Back Down,” which began in 2017 following the death of Gainesville-native and music legend, Tom Petty.
These are tried-and-true elements of game day in The Swamp. They are beloved by students, alumni, and fans, and passed down from generation to generation as a new crop of men, women, boys, and girls are indoctrinated into the fandom known as Gator Nation.
But there is one remarkable tradition, unique to my alma mater, that will be celebrated tonight at Steve Spurrier-Florida Field. The tradition was created by George Edmondson, better known as Mr. Two Bits, who passed away in July at the age of 97. Gator fans mourn his death, but have much to celebrate about his life and his indelible mark on Gator football games.
The tradition began in 1949 when George attended a football game in Gainesville. The beleaguered Gators were having a rough season, and the gridiron action against The Citadel was no exception. Although not a student, nor an alum, George was discouraged by the reaction of the exasperated fan base. They began booing the team —their own team—and George decided to do something about it. At every misstep and blunder, he stood and rallied the fans around him in a popular cheer of the day:
All for the Gators, stand up and holler!
And so it goes, as great traditions often do, that this small gesture ignited a spark— that turned into a flame— that spread like wildfire through the fan base until it became an historic part of Saturdays in the South.
George became an icon. For 60 years, he donned a yellow shirt, orange and blue striped tie, and harnessed the energy of countless fans. He led the cheer and left his mark — in the center of the field during pre-game festivities, and throughout each game as he appeared in various sections of the stadium to rally the crowd with his trademark cheer. Mr. Two Bits was a rockstar and a beloved ambassador for the Gators. He was never paid for his participation, and by all accounts asked nothing for serving six decades as head cheerleader at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
In 2008, Mr. Two Bits retired at the final game of the season, against The Citadel, as fate would have it. The tradition continued with team mascots leading the cheer until 2013, when honorary Mr. Two Bits — comprised of Gator-greats, former players, and notable students — were selected before each game to quiet the crowd, blow the whistle, and lead the chant.
This Gator Girl loves her alma mater, but the lesson of Mr.Two Bits is not merely for football fans hailing from the Sunshine State. It’s a universal example about the power of encouragement and simple acts that motivate and edify.
The words of the cheer are not eloquent, but they contain some profound wisdom. The schoolyard chant has a clinching closing line—
All for the Gators stand up and holler.
Those eight little words say:
I’m for you. I’m with you. I stand with you…
When it’s ugly.
When you’re losing, faltering, and flailing;
I’ll stick with you in all kinds of weather—in sunshine and shade,
I’ve got your back. I’m on your side.
I’ll stand. I’ll shout—in victory or defeat, in triumph and heartache.
I’ll declare my allegiance, my faithfulness.
Those words say, I’m on your team.
And I want you to know it.
We need that kind of encouragement on the football field, but we also need it in classrooms and board rooms. We need it in communities, in our nation, in churches, families, marriages, and friendships.
George Edmondson left a legacy of exhortation. His simple act impacted a team, a university, and a fan base for future generations.
Of all things we can accomplish and amass in this life — accolades, awards, titles, degrees, wealth, and notoriety — being known as a purveyor of encouragement is a worthwhile goal and a worthy contribution to humankind.
Well done, Mr, Two Bits.
Thanks for your life and your example. I’m standing and hollering in your honor.
Photo cred: @Gators Football
photo credit: @GatorsFootball