Gator fans share excitement with pre-game parties in Gainesville

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Florida students Carley Glasser and Claire Pulignano waved a large blue tarpaulin with “Go Gators” in orange letters from the front row of the arena where thousands of fans gathered to watch last night’s national championship football game on video screens.

Glasser and Pulignano, screaming and cheering, shouted school chants along with about 11,000 other Gator fans at UF’s basketball arena, the O’Connell Center. They filled the stadium to capacity within minutes to watch the game simulcast live on four large video screens.

Pulignano brought the makeshift banner to protect her and her friends from the rain that drenched them as they waited in line beginning at 10:30 a.m. – about eight hours before doors opened at the arena.

“When the rain stopped, we decided to turn our tarp into a banner,” said Pulignano.

With less than a minute to go in the first half, Gators fans were euphoric, dancing in their seats, in the aisles and on the court. At halftime their team led 34-14 in the BCS Championship game against No. 1 Ohio State in Arizona.

Graduate student Chris Andrus, 24, described his feelings during the first half as “euphoric.”

Florida student Christopher Heagney, 23, said he brought his girlfriend Haesuk La for good luck.

“Every time I bring my girlfriend with me the Gators win,” Heagney said.

Gators fans started celebrating before the game even started.

“This weekend has been crazy. We’ve been going to different house parties and just crashing at friend’s homes,” said Jorge Duran, 25, a 2004 UF alum. He traveled from his home in Miami on Friday and since then has been “partying nonstop.”

Wearing an orange sweat band on his right wrist, Duran started partying with more than 40 friends at a Gainesville home more than five hours before kickoff.

“I’ve been unbelievably excited. I’m a nervous wreck,” he said.

Duran and friends describe their celebration as a “hard-core barbecue.” On the menu is venison chili, two pork shoulders, ham and grilled tenderloin. Oh yeah, don’t forget the open bar and 100-inch projector TV, he said.

“This is one helluva roller-coaster ride,” Duran said.

Florida student Alison Rakes prepared for the game by putting together the right outfit – the same orange and blue jacket, white T-shirt, and beaded bracelet she wore nine months ago when the Gator basketball team won that sport’s national championship.

“I can’t even sleep anymore. It’s all I’ve been talking about this week,” said Rakes, a 21-year-old elementary education major.

The Gainesville Police Department had about 150 patrol officers on duty for last night’s festivities, Sgt. Keith Kameg said.

“We are treating this like a Florida State game,” said Kameg, who said that officers would be on the lookout for fans exhibiting aggressive behavior.

Everyone acted responsibly when UF won the basketball championship in April because officers gave celebrants enough space to vent until they calmed down, he said.

“We want people to yell and then yell some more,” Kameg said. “But we just want fans to be safe.”

UF students took to the streets and cheered through the early morning hours after the basketball championship and officers are prepared to match the students’ energy and patrol until the city’s streets have emptied.