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Gator Nation Hero: George Steinbrenner

You will have to indulge me. As a Yankee fan and Gator, I have to write about this today.

One of my first memories of attending Gator games was the Miami game in 2002. After College Gameday ended their taping, I walked towards the O'Connell Center. Lined up along the sidewalk was the Bull Gator parking spots. One of them was reserved for George Steinbrenner. 

For me, this connected the two loves of my life; the New York Yankees and the Florida Gators. At 18, you are looking for any sign that a decision you made was the right one. Finding out Steinbrenner was a Bull Gator only confirmed for me that I was supposed to be at Florida.

I was in the Charlotte airport today when I found out Steinbrenner had died. As a Yankee fan, I got upset, surprisingly so. It might also be that for me Steinbrenner represented my Grandfather's generation, who passed away last year and was also a Yankee fan. (My Grandpa loved Billy Martin, which is why I chose this picture.) They were too young for the Greatest Generation and too old to be Baby Boomers. They were tough men who slogged through Korea, the Cold War and were ready to knock out anyone who challenged them. They were rough around the edges, which is why Tom Brokaw has never written a book about those men. But they were Good Men, especially to those who were family.

If you want to tell me how Steinbrenner was a horrible person, that's fine. You can't run the richest franchise in American sports and be loved by everyone or always be right. But know this; Steinbrenner was a huge supporter of Tampa and the University of Florida. 

Steinbrenner created the Gold Shield Foundation that gave scholarships to the children of Tampa Bay cops and firefighters killed in the line of duty. He funded Hillsborough County middle school sports. (My sister will be a freshman next year at Steinbrenner High School, too.) He was a good tipper and donated police cars and fire trucks to Hillsborough County and Tampa. Steinbrenner told people he lived in Tampa, not New York. He also fought for a Tampa ownership group to get an expansion team. When the St. Pete ownership group became the only legit bid for Baseball, Steinbrenner secured the votes to get the Devil Rays. He was also a booster of USF sports, when it was no better than a community college, not a rising research institution. If there was a kid or a church in need of donations, Steinbrenner was quick to send a check.

As The Gainesville Sun wonderfully reported, Steinbrenner gave to more than just sports at UF. The Steinbrenner Band Building will be a constant memorial to Steinbrenner. He owned a racing stable in Ocala and owned Tampa Bay Downs, which explains why he donated to the College of Veterinary Medicine's equine research. Steinbrenner donated the money to build lights at McKethan Stadium in 1977, at a time when the Yanks would play the Gators at UF on the way to New York from Spring Training. (A tradition brought back when the Yanks played at Virginia Tech following the 2007 shootings on campus.) He was a Bull Gator, the ultimate in Gator Fandom.

No matter what you think of the man as an owner, remember he supported your school and your team.