Steve Spurrier-Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium
"The Swamp"
BenHillGriffinStadium.png
Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, 2015
Former namesFlorida Field (1930–1989)
Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at Florida Field (1989–2016)
Location157 Gale Lemerand Drive, Gainesville, Florida 32611
OperatorUniversity Athletic Association
Capacity88,548 (2003–present)[3]
83,000 (1991–2002)
72,000 (1982–1990)
62,800 (1966–1981)
46,164 (1960–1965)
40,116 (1950–1959)
21,769 (1930–1949)
Record attendance90,916[4]
SurfaceNatural grass (1930–1970)
Astroturf (1971–1989)
Bermuda grass (1990–present)[1]
Construction
Broke groundApril 16, 1930
OpenedNovember 8, 1930; 91 years ago (1930-11-08)
Renovated2003, 2011, 2015, 2017
Expanded1950, 1960, 1966, 1982, 1991, 2003, 2008
Construction cost$118,000 (1930)($1,710,366.79 in 2017 dollars)
ArchitectRudolph Weaver[2]
Tenants
Florida Gators (NCAA) (1930–present)
Tangerine Bowl (NCAA) (1973)
Gator Bowl (NCAA) (1994)

Ben Hill Griffin Stadium (in full Steve Spurrier-Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium),[5] popularly known as "The Swamp", is a football stadium on the campus of the University of Florida in Gainesville and the home field of the Florida Gators football team. It was originally known as Florida Field when it opened as a 22,000 seat facility in 1930, and it has been expanded and renovated many times over the ensuing decades. Most of the university's athletic administrative offices, along with most football-related offices and training areas, have been located in the stadium since the 1960s. Most of the football program's facilities are slated to move to a nearby $60 million building that began construction in 2020.

Ben Hill Griffin Stadium is the largest stadium in Florida, the 12th largest stadium in the United States, and the 18th largest stadium in the world, as measured by its official seating capacity of 88,548 – though, it has often held over 90,000 for Florida's home football games.

Location

Ben Hill Griffin Stadium is located on the northern edge of the University of Florida's Gainesville campus. The stadium and its approach are bordered by West University Avenue to the north, Gale Lemerand Drive to the west, and Stadium Road to the south. To the east is the University of Florida Campus Historic District, which is the oldest portion of the campus and includes the Murphree Area student residence complex, the Florida Gymnasium, and Ustler Hall. Just west of the stadium across Gale Lemerand Drive is the Stephen C. O'Connell Center, which is the home arena for the Florida Gators men's basketball, women's basketball, gymnastics, volleyball, and swimming and diving teams. Beside the O'Connell Center are several football practice fields, an indoor football practice facility, and a new football training and administrative building slated to open in 2022.[6]

One stadium, many names

Steve Spurrier dubbed Florida Field "The Swamp" in 1992
Steve Spurrier dubbed Florida Field "The Swamp" in 1992

The name of the facility was simply "Florida Field" from its opening in 1930 until 1989, when the university renamed the stadium in honor of citrus magnate Ben Hill Griffin, Jr., an alumnus and major benefactor of the university and its sports programs. However, the playing surface remained "Florida Field", and the facility's full name was "Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at Florida Field" from 1990 until 2016.

On September 3, 2016, the playing surface was renamed in honor of former Florida quarterback and head coach Steve Spurrier. As UF athletic director Jeremy Foley explained, "Coach Spurrier did more than win a Heisman Trophy, a national championship, and a bunch of games. Coach Spurrier changed the culture of Florida Athletics."[5] As a result, the facility's official name is now "Steve Spurrier-Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium".[7]

The facility may be best known as simply "The Swamp", a nickname which was coined by Spurrier in 1992. As he explained at the time, "A swamp is where Gators live. We feel comfortable there, but we hope our opponents feel tentative. A swamp is hot and sticky and can be dangerous. We feel like it's an appropriate nickname for our stadium."[8][9] Both the "Swamp" nickname and the "only Gators get out alive" tagline added later by UF's sports marketing department quickly became popular and have been commonly used ever since.

Stadium history

Earlier facilities

See also: Fleming Field (Gainesville) and History of the University of Florida

From the establishment of the University of Florida in Gainesville in 1906 until the 1910-1911 academic year, the school's intercollegiate football team and club-level baseball team played and practiced at a Gainesville municipal park known simply as "The Baseball Park" or "The Ballpark".[10]

The university began developing its first on-campus sports field in 1910, when it purchased and cleared open land just west of the campus. Wooden bleachers were installed and a football gridiron and baseball diamond were laid out by the end of the year, and University Athletic Field made its debut in January 1911 when the Florida Gators baseball team opened the season at the new facility. Florida's football team began play there in 1911, which was also the year that they began using the "Gators" nickname. Larger bleachers were installed in 1915, when the facility was rechristened "Fleming Field" in honor of recently deceased former Florida governor Francis P. Fleming.[11][12]

Fleming Field had primitive amenities and a maximum capacity of about 5000 with standing room. As Florida began scheduling contests against established football programs from across the south, several "home" games per season were held at larger venues across the state, usually Fairfield Stadium in Jacksonville and Plant Field in Tampa.[13]

Planning and construction

Aerial view of Florida Field (center), the Graham Field track (bottom), and the Fleming Field baseball diamond (top), mid-1930s
Aerial view of Florida Field (center), the Graham Field track (bottom), and the Fleming Field baseball diamond (top), mid-1930s

Florida's football program first earned national prominence in the 1920s, prompting incoming university president John J. Tigert to begin a drive to construct a proper on-campus stadium upon his arrival in 1928.[14] With state funding unavailable at the cusp of the Great Depression, the semi-independent University of Florida Athletic Association was organized to raise funds and oversee the project, and Tigert and ten supporters of Florida's athletic program took out personal loans to expedite construction of the $118,000, 22,000-seat football stadium.[15][16]

The Gators practicing under the lights before Florida Field's first night game in 1950
The Gators practicing under the lights before Florida Field's first night game in 1950

Construction began on April 16, 1930 and soon faced serious engineering and geotechnical obstacles related to natural groundwater and drainage. The chosen site was a shallow ravine, with approximately 30 rows of the current seating area below the level of the surrounding land. During preliminary excavation and leveling work, water from a previously unknown underground stream began to pour into the construction site from the north, miring the future playing surface in mud. The problem was resolved with the installation of massive underground culverts that diverted the stream to Graham Pond two blocks south of the stadium site, and ultimately, to Lake Alice in the then-undeveloped southern side of the UF campus.[15]

The groundwater issues delayed completion of the stadium and forced the Gators to play the first several home games of the 1930 season at Fleming Field. A construction team of 80 laborers and mules finally completed Florida Field in time for the November 8, 1930 homecoming game against Alabama, the dominant Southern Conference team of the day.[17][18]

In 1934, Florida Field was dedicated to the memory of Florida servicemen who died in World War I, and a memorial plaque to that effect was installed on the outside wall behind the north end zone.[3]

Expansions

As originally designed, Florida Field had a capacity of 21,769 and consisted of a gently-sloping, U-shaped concrete grandstand encompassing approximately the lower half of the current seating area. The first row of seats is quite close to the sidelines, so when the university decided to add a running track a year after the stadium opened, it was installed perpendicular to the football field beyond the open-ended south endzone. This adjoining track facility, which was used by the Florida Gators track and field program beginning in 1932, had its own set of bleachers and was known as Graham Field.[12][19]

Since then, Florida Field has undergone many renovations and expansions, almost always adding more seats:

Ben Hill Griffin Stadium's luxury boxes, completed in 2003
Ben Hill Griffin Stadium's luxury boxes, completed in 2003

Ben Hill Griffin Stadium's official seating capacity is currently 88,548, although the actual attendance for key games has regularly exceeded 90,000. It is the second largest sports facility in the state of Florida behind only the Daytona International Speedway.[3]

Other major renovations

Before the 2008 season, the Heavener Football Complex opened on the southwest corner of Steve Spurrier-Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. The $28 million addition, which was funded entirely with private donations, is meant to be the "front door" of the football program and houses a museum highlighting Florida Football history along with offices, meeting space, a new weight room, and other facilities for the football program[22][23]

Following the Florida's 2008 BCS Championship season, large Daktronics HD-16 video boards were installed atop the upper deck of both endzones. The screen in the south endzone is 30 by 137 feet (9.1 m × 41.8 m) while the one in the north endzone is 25 by 75 feet (7.6 by 22.9 m). These screens are used to display statistics, replays, advertisements etc.[24]

After the 2011 season, an extensive renovation of the 1950s-era concourse under the west stands improved restrooms, lighting, concessions, and crowd circulation patterns and added flat-screen displays for fan viewing. Also at this time, bronze statues of Florida's three Heisman Trophy winners - Steve Spurrier, Danny Wuerffel, and Tim Tebow - were installed along the outer wall of the west grandstand.[25]

In September 2016, the school's University Athletic Association Board proposed a $100 million facilities upgrade, to include a $60 million stand-alone football facility for players.[26] The stand-alone facility would include an updated locker room, 3-D hologram training environment, strength and conditioning center, hydrotherapy space, team meeting rooms, coaching offices and nutrition bar. The facility will be built by the engineering firm HOK.[27] When the new facility is completed, some of the redundant space in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium will be repurposed for other uses. Before the 2017 season, new LED ribbon video boards were installed to display college football scores, advertisements, messages, and other visual information.

Future renovations

Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin and other athletic officials have discussed "upgrading the overall quality of the fan experience" at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. This would include better technology for fans and the addition of more luxury areas and chair-back seating at the expense of reducing overall stadium capacity by several thousand. The university has not set a timeline for the work, but Stricklin has said that he expects the project to be completed in phases by around 2025.[28][29] As part of these improvements, hundreds of small Wi-Fi routers were installed under stadium benches in 2019 to improve fans' internet connectivity during games.[30]

Playing surface

The playing surface of Florida Field has also changed over the years. It was natural grass until 1971, when Astroturf was installed and nicknamed "Doug's Rug" for then-coach Doug Dickey.[31] The original artificial surface was replaced with an updated version in 1980,[32] and it remained until 1990, when newly hired coach Steve Spurrier insisted it be removed and replaced with natural grass to help prevent player injury.[8] In June 2012, the playing surface was completely removed down to the substrate to install an improved drainage system and in-ground sensors to measure moisture levels and temperature.[33] Since that work was completed, the turf on Florida Field has been a Bermuda grass hybrid developed by UF's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences to better resist drought, disease, and damage.[34] The field is usually overseeded with rye grass late in the football season to compensate for wear and tear.[33]

Panorama of the field
Panorama of the field

Other home fields

Florida has played the vast majority of their home contests at Florida Field since it opened in 1930. The most notable exception is the annual Florida-Georgia game, which has been held in Jacksonville since 1933 with the two teams alternating being the official home team. The only seasons since 1933 in which UF and UGA did not meet in Jacksonville were 1994 and 1995, when the old Gator Bowl was being rebuilt as the venue now known as TIAA Bank Field for the NFL's expansion Jacksonville Jaguars and the contest was held at Florida Field and Georgia's Sanford Stadium, respectively.[35]

In years past, Florida would occasionally schedule a home game in Jacksonville, Tampa, or (less frequently) Miami and Orlando. But besides the annual meeting with Georgia, the Gators have not played a regular season home contest anywhere besides Florida Field since September 1980, when they defeated the California Golden Bears in old Tampa Stadium.[36] Not coincidentally, this game was played the season prior to Florida Field's south endzone expansion, which made it the largest football stadium in Florida.

Home field advantage

A packed Swamp.
A packed Swamp.

The Swamp has acquired a reputation for being a difficult place for opposing teams to play, and has regularly been ranked at or near the top of lists of top home field advantages and/or best game day experiences in college football.[37][38][39][40]

One of the major reasons is the stadium's design. Originally built in a shallow sinkhole, the playing surface is below ground level. Expansions have enclosed the playing area on all sides with steep stands, and the fans are within a few feet of the action. This traps crowd noise inside the stadium, which results in sound levels on the field which have been measured at 115 decibels—just short of the threshold of pain.

The enclosed playing area also enhances the effects of Gainesville's warm and humid fall climate. Game-day temperatures at field level have been known to exceed 100 °F (37 °C), creating a swamp-like atmosphere. (This was the impetus for a University of Florida researcher, Robert Cade, to develop Gatorade as a way to combat dehydration.) Furthermore, during hot and sunny day games, Florida's sideline (on the stadium's west side) is in the shade provided by the press box, while the visiting team's sideline (on the stadium's east side) is exposed to the sun.

A "blue out" for Tennessee.
A "blue out" for Tennessee.

Florida fans are loyal (having sold out every home contest from 1979 until 2011) and loud, thus creating a tremendous home field advantage for the Gators.[41] The size and exuberance of the home crowds, when combined with the stadium's close-in design of the seats, concentrates the fan noise at field level, making the Swamp one of the loudest stadiums in America. In 2019, Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said that the Swamp was louder than LSU’s Tiger Stadium, and amongst the top two loudest stadiums he’s ever been in.[42] On 30 November 2019, in a game vs. Florida State, the decibel level in the swamp exceeded that of CenturyLink Field, home of the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks, which is among the loudest in the NFL.

Combined, these factors create an intimidating environment which can rattle and disrupt opposing teams, making it difficult to hear playcalls and execute assignments. Florida Field has been repeatedly ranked by various publications as being the toughest stadium in which to play for opposing teams.[43][44][45]

Florida's performance at home illustrates this effect. In a 20-year span beginning in 1990 (when the north endzone expansion was completed), Florida posted a 113–13 overall home record, which was the best in the nation during that period.[41] They were particularly dominant under Coach Steve Spurrier. They went undefeated at home from the time Spurrier arrived in 1990 until 1994, and lost only three SEC home games during Spurrier's 12 years in Gainesville.[46]

Top attendance

Rank Date Attendance Opponent Florida result
1 November 28, 2015 90,916 #13 Florida State L, 2–27
2 November 28, 2009 90,907 Florida State W, 37–10
3 September 19, 2009 90,894 Tennessee W, 23–13
4 October 1, 2011 90,888 #3 Alabama L, 10–38
5 September 18, 2021 90,887 #1 Alabama L, 31-29
6 November 13, 2010 90,885 #23 South Carolina L, 14–36
7 September 6, 2008 90,833 Miami W, 26–3
7 October 20, 2012 90,833 #7 South Carolina W, 44–11
9 October 6, 2012 90,824 #4 LSU W, 14–6
10 November 26, 2011 90,798 Florida State L, 7–21
11 September 17, 2011 90,744 Tennessee W, 33–23
12 October 9, 2010 90,721 #12 LSU L, 29–33
13 September 17, 2005 90,716 Tennessee W, 16–7
14 October 5, 2019 90,584 #7 Auburn W, 24–13

Florida Field traditions

Like most historic college football venues, the Swamp has several notable features and is the scene of several unique game day traditions:

Mr. Two Bits
Mr. Two Bits
Fans sing and wave lighted phones during I Won't Back Down
Fans sing and wave lighted phones during I Won't Back Down

Notable events

"Front door of the football program", The Heavener Football Complex
"Front door of the football program", The Heavener Football Complex

The Florida Football team plays only six or seven home games per season. At most other times, Steve Spurrier-Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium is open for students to jog around the concourse, run stadium steps, or just sit in the stands, although the actual playing surface is off limits to prevent turf damage. The university has occasionally held large commencement ceremonies in the stadium instead of having several small ceremonies next door in the O'Connell Center, though the potential for inclement weather usually keeps the graduation events indoors.[57]

Florida Field occasionally hosts special events:

Gator Growl

For 82 years, Florida Field was the home of Gator Growl, a student-produced show and pep rally held the Friday night before the annual homecoming football game that was long billed as the largest student-run pep rally in the world, Originally a simple affair, Gator Growl grew over the years and became a major event by the 1970s. The typical program included the introduction of senior football players by the head coach, live student skits, video skits (often with celebrity cameo appearances), a major musical act, and a headlining comedian. During the event's heyday, headliners included Robin Williams, Dennis Miller, Jerry Seinfeld, Dave Chappelle, Bill Cosby, Billy Crystal, Dane Cook, Paula Poundstone, Wayne Brady, Rodney Dangerfield, George Burns, Bob Hope, and Sister Hazel.[58] However, a combination of high ticket prices and controversial comedic acts caused Gator Growl to fade in popularity among current students and alumni alike, and it was last held in The Swamp in 2013. Since then, it has been held at the nearby Flavet Field bandshell while trying to cater more to current students.[59]

High school football

Steve Spurrier-Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium has hosted the Florida high school football championships on many occasions, which title games for different divisions played over one weekend.[60]

College bowl games

Florida Field has twice served as a temporary home for college bowl games when other Florida stadiums were undergoing renovations. In 1973, Florida Field hosted the Tangerine Bowl, which pitted the hometown Gators against the Miami Redskins while Orlando's Citrus Bowl was being rebuilt. The 1994 Gator Bowl between the Virginia Tech Hokies and Tennessee Volunteers was held in the Swamp while Jacksonville Municipal Stadium was being rebuilt for the National Football League's expansion Jacksonville Jaguars.

Concerts

Florida Field was once a busy concert venue, with artists such as Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Elton John, The Eagles, and Jimmy Buffett among the performers who played at the stadium. However, since Florida Field's last major expansion in 1990, the university has sharply limited the number of shows at the football stadium due to concerns over damage to the turf or the facility. So while the O'Connell Center next door has become a busy concert venue, there have only been two non-Gator Growl concerts in Florida Field since 1990: The Rolling Stones on November 27, 1994 as part of their Voodoo Lounge Tour; and Garth Brooks on April 20, 2019 during his Stadium Tour.[61][62]

Gallery

See also

References

Notes

  1. ^ "IFAS Second Annual Turfgrass Field Day" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on July 26, 2011. Retrieved April 2, 2009.
  2. ^ Antonya English, "100 things about 100 years of Gator football Archived 2016-09-04 at the Wayback Machine", St. Petersburg Times (August 27, 2006). Retrieved September 29, 2011.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Gatorzone.com, Facilities, Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at Florida Field Archived August 10, 2014, at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved April 9, 2010.
  4. ^ Brew, Tom (November 28, 2015). "Florida Gators set Ben Hill Griffin attendance record in showdown with Seminoles". saturdaydownsouth.com. Retrieved November 29, 2015.
  5. ^ a b Spurrier's Name to be Added to Florida Field Retrieved June 9, 2016
  6. ^ Abolverdi, Zach (January 29, 2021). "UF laying foundation for new football facility with baseball stadium complete". Gainesville Sun. Retrieved February 22, 2021.
  7. ^ Low, Chris (September 4, 2016). "Swamp Sweet Swamp: Steve Spurrier is back home at Florida". ESPN. Retrieved September 4, 2016.
  8. ^ a b "Sports: 100 things about 100 years of Gator football". Archived from the original on September 4, 2016.
  9. ^ Harry, Chris. "25 Years Ago: The 'Swamp' is born". floridagators.com.
  10. ^ Carlson, Norm (2007). University of Florida football Vault : The History of the Florida Gators. Atlanta, GA: Whitman Pub. ISBN 978-0794822989. p. 7
  11. ^ Carlson, Norm (September 14, 2009). "Gator talk: History lesson". Gatorzone.com. Archived from the original on April 3, 2015. Retrieved July 19, 2013.
  12. ^ a b Awbrey, Fred (September 8, 2017). "Fleming Field: Gainesville's forgotten sports venue". Gainesville Sun. Retrieved March 12, 2021.
  13. ^ Norm Carlson, University of Florida Football Vault: The History of the Florida Gators, Whitman Publishing, LLC, Atlanta, Georgia, p. 38 (2007).
  14. ^ Julian M. Pleasants, Gator Tales: An Oral History of the University of Florida, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida, pp. 31–32 (2006).
  15. ^ a b Carlson, University of Florida Football Vault, p. 41.
  16. ^ "Tigert understood the significance of sports".
  17. ^ Carlson, University of Florida Football Vault, p. 42.
  18. ^ "University of Florida makes homecoming plans". St. Petersburg Times. November 3, 1930. Retrieved July 11, 2013.
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  20. ^ Carlson, University of Florida Football Vault, p. 78.
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  29. ^ Long, Mark (February 8, 2018). "Florida's long-term facility plan includes Swamp face-lift". Gainesville Sun. Retrieved April 21, 2019.
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  31. ^ "Sarasota Herald-Tribune - Google News Archive Search".
  32. ^ "Gator Astroturf goes on sale". St. Petersburg Times. June 4, 1980. Retrieved July 11, 2013.
  33. ^ a b Taylor, G. Allan (September 2, 2021). "His grass is badass. Talking turf with the guy who obsesses over it at The Swamp". The Athletic. Retrieved September 6, 2021.
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  35. ^ College Football Data Warehouse, Florida-Georgia Archived July 7, 2015, at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved December 16, 2009.
  36. ^ "Florida Gators" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on June 26, 2011. Retrieved September 27, 2010.
  37. ^ "The Nation's Best: Eighth Annual Herbie Awards". August 26, 2008.
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  39. ^ "FindArticles.com - CBSi".
  40. ^ "The Best Atmosphere In College Football Belongs To... :: One thing's for sure, it belongs to the SEC".
  41. ^ a b "Florida Gators". Archived from the original on August 10, 2014. Retrieved July 24, 2007.
  42. ^ "Gus Malzahn says The Swamp was louder than Death Valley". www.saturdaydownsouth.com. Retrieved January 7, 2020.
  43. ^ "Mel Kiper - For scenery, check out Michie Stadium - ESPN.com".
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  51. ^ a b c d e Dooley, Pat (August 9, 2001). "Florida Gator Traditions: Good and Bad". Gainesville Sun. pp. 1C, 6C. Retrieved July 16, 2013.
  52. ^ "Sports: Dad there for Zook era's start". Stpetersburgtimes.com. Archived from the original on September 27, 2011. Retrieved April 8, 2010.
  53. ^ "Mr. Two-Bits gets his due as he looks back". Gainesville.com. Retrieved April 8, 2010.
  54. ^ Andreu, Robbie (October 9, 2017). "Petty song a new Florida Field tradition". The Gainesville Sun. Retrieved January 15, 2018.
  55. ^ Florida Magazine, Fall 2007
  56. ^ Boothe, John (August 17, 2011). "Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at Florida Field: A History". The Independent Florida Alligator. Retrieved July 29, 2020.
  57. ^ Brockway, Kevin (February 6, 2019). "Spring ceremony will remain at The Swamp". Gainesville Sun. Retrieved April 21, 2019.
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  62. ^ Smithson, Daniel (April 21, 2019). "Garth Brooks entertains loyal fans at The Swamp". Gainesville Sun. Retrieved April 21, 2019.

Bibliography