The first-ever "Rally in The Swamp" only lasted about 45 minutes on Sunday evening in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, but that was all that was needed to get Florida students fired up for football season. The Gator Band, cheerleaders, mascots, and Dazzlers were all in attendance, as were a few thousand people — more than I was expecting, in all honesty — in the stands.
Jeff Cardozo served as the emcee, teaching newbies some of the gameday traditions along with the cheer squad. The traditional pregame entrance video was played (it gave me chills and it wasn't even Saturday), before every single Florida student-athlete ran out of the tunnel. That was pretty cool to see, and it truly made me realize the sheer size of our athletics program.
Will Muschamp said a few words and then handed the mic over to linebacker Mike Taylor. Direct quote from Taylor: "We ready to turn up for y'all on Saturday!" That easily drew the loudest cheer of the evening. Athletic director/fearless leader Jeremy Foley spoke to the crowd as well, giving thanks for the support and praise for the hard work of all the student-athletes. The band finished off the night with the alma mater as fans strolled out or hung around to chat with friends.
It was short, and sweet, and needed. It's no secret that student support isn't exactly at an all-time high after last season; however, I could tell people want a reason to get excited. The Rally in The Swamp provided at least a temporary remedy for that. It was encouraging to see a lot of freshmen there, too — and I could tell how many were there because of their lack of a pause at the "We'll all stick togetherrrrr" part of "We are the Boys." (They'll learn.)
The UAA had been pushing this event hard on social media for a while, and it seemed like it paid off. I've seen a few naysayers on Twitter calling this pep rally and other efforts to increase overall student attendance "pathetic" and "desperate." As someone who is close to Florida athletic department (Lucas is the president of the Men's Basketball Rowdies — Andy), hearing those things disappoints me.
I know the "In All Kinds of Weather" motto as been used a lot recently by the Florida faithful, but I don't think it can be re-hashed enough. The student-athletes appreciate fan support more than most people realize. That is why the primary goal of the athletic association is to get students in the stands. Foley and his team go to great lengths to create awesome gameday atmospheres for those on the field and in the stands. They won't accept mediocrity, and the Gator Nation should be nothing but grateful for that — not incriminatory.
But I digress: I don't want this to be a rant. I will leave you with this: Foley stated confidently on Sunday evening, "If you support these student-athletes, they will not disappoint you." And he's been proven right on that count time and again.
Get in the stands, Gator fans.