Florida fans ready to welcome Missouri to the Southeastern Conference

Friday, November 2, 2012 | 7:43 p.m. CDT
University of Florida students and alumni prepare Friday in Gainesville, Fla., for the Saturday game against Missouri.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — There were no "Welcome Missouri" T-shirts in the University of Florida bookstore Friday.

But, on the south end of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, also known as "the Swamp," a sign read "Welcome Missouri fans. Enter here or through Gate 16."

It seemed placed there for functional purpose rather than a friendly gesture. But that didn't mean people in Gainesville would not be receptive to Missouri fans during the weekend. The Gators host the Tigers at 11 a.m. Saturday. The game will be televised on ESPN2.

"We'll welcome them, but Missouri deserves to be pushed around," said Vivan Nguyen, a University of Florida ambassador.

She and Carolyn Payne stood at the steps of the southwest gate of the stadium after giving tours of campus, wearing blue Gator shirts. They expect Florida fans to be friendly with visitors from Missouri.

On the Florida campus, it was quiet, as one might expect for a college campus on a Friday morning.

But Nguyen and Payne felt it was quieter than usual. It was 60 degrees and sunny, so there was no reason to stay inside. Perhaps the school's morale for football took a hit when Florida lost their first game of the season last week against Georgia.

It also might be a lack of familiarity of the opponent in town.

"It's a little different because we haven't played (Missouri) here," Payne said. "There isn't any history between us."

Regardless, Nguyen and Payne expect a return to normal Saturday. Payne's eyes lit up as she described what games are like. She reminisced cherished moments from her experiences watching the Gators.

She remembers witnessing a man from her section single-handedly start "the wave" that traveled around the whole stadium. Nguyen thought it quite an accomplishment in the stadium that held an average crowd of 90,511 last season for home games.

"That's something he'll remember for the rest of his life," she said.

Nguyen and Payne cherish the atmosphere in the Swamp when the team runs out of the tunnel and "real footage of alligators" is shown on the big screen.

They also love it when the fans sing "We are the Boys from Old Florida."At the end of the third quarter during games, Gators fans sway back and forth while singing the song. The lyrics "In all kinds of weather, we'll all stick together," resonate for Nguyen.

Missouri fans love their Tigers in all kinds of weather — except rain, and maybe cold.

Despite the loss, Nguyen says, she loves the team. Her parents both went to Flordia, so she has been a fan for a long time. And one loss is no reason to give up on the Gators, who surprised members of their own fan base by starting the season 7-0.

Nguyen was standing just under a metal plaque on the stadium wall made of red brick. It was engraved with the speech Tim Tebow gave following a loss to Ole Miss in 2008. He went on to lead the Gators to a national championship that year.

Nguyen and Payne aren't really expecting this Florida team to do the same, but they are OK with that.

Students have a close connection with the football team. The stadium is right on campus. Just a two-lane road separates it from the school's engineering building. On Friday, the stadium was closed in preparation for the game, but normally, it is open daily from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. for anyone to come in.

"It is really cool because you can go in there and work out, run the steps, or just sit down and study," Nguyen said.

Many students also wore blue and orange around campus. The school colors stand out because they are so different from everything else in sight. A bright blue backpack grabs the eye in front of trees covered with brown Spanish Moss.

Nguyen and Payne wear their colors proudly. They look forward to getting chills on Saturday at the game. Cold weather won't be the reason for the chills. It will be the loudness of the stadium full of blue and orange.

The weather forecast for Saturday shows more sun and a high of 82 degrees in Gainesville. It doesn't matter, though. The Gators will show up in all kinds of weather.

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