There’s always one moment before a Florida Gators football game, when in a crowd of near 90,000 people, you can hear a pin drop. Total silence as every eye in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium focuses on one seersucker-clad individual standing at midfield.
Fans hold their breath and stance, waiting on their cue from the one picked to lead them before that particular game. For the special person dubbed “Mr. Two Bits” for the day, that moment could be nerve wracking, mesmerizing or elating.
The tradition started by George Edmondson Jr. back in 1949 has been carried on since his retirement in 2008. For the last two seasons now, past Gator greats have been invited back to perform the pregame tradition and one game each season allows a student to take the field with a whistle.
That student for the 2015 season is Michael Cizek who has been tapped as this weeks Honorary Mr. Two Bits after winning the second annual video contest to find the best student representative for the pregame cheer.
Cizek, a sophomore at the University of Florida, will have that opportunity on Saturday before the Gators take on East Carolina and he’s ready to help create a moment that Gator fans have come to love.
“You know going into the Swamp on a game day is really kind of a magical experience and you get to be apart of that magic,” explains Cizek, “but when you get to become Mr. Two Bits I feel like you get to help make that magic for everyone.”
One person in the stands, there to see the cheer more than the game is John Hayes.
A 1963 alumnus of the University of Florida College of Journalism, Hayes raised his family to be staunch Gators fans. That included his grandson, Michael.
Michael, growing up in Jupiter, Florida until 2005, learned the Two Bits cheer from his grandfather and a toy, which he still loves seeing to this day.
“My grandfather, he taught it to us at a pretty young age,” recalls Cizek.
“He had, he still has this Gator animatronic thing and if you push the button it’ll do the two bits cheer and I thought that was pretty cool.”
A Long Road Home
Hayes and his wife worked to pass their love of the Gators on to their grandkids and would buy them the attire and teach them the cheers like Two Bits. But after attending one game versus Tennessee at the age of seven, Michael and his family moved away from Florida and the Gators-clear to the other side of the country.
Since 2005 Cizek has grown up in Everett, Washington, a town about 25 miles north of Seattle. That area of the country is an interesting conundrum, with the Seattle Seahawks boasting a world record setting football crowd, while thriving in a city of people who seem to pride themselves on being the farthest thing from football fans. Growing up in that culture, Cizek attempted to keep a pulse on Florida sports from afar; enough to wear the shirts his grandparents bought him.
“I’ve been kind of disconnected from the Gator nation,” Cizek admits.
“I haven’t had the opportunity to attend any events, really be on campus, so I watched when they went to the Final Four with basketball and sort of kept up with football through the Tebow years but for the most part it was in a very much disconnected kind of way.”
After making the trek back across country though to be a student at Florida, Michael found a new home in the Swamp where he is thriving as a Gator.
Now the Chief of Staff for the student government vice president, Cizek is tasked with planning events around campus and growing the Florida Gators pride. He spent his freshman year as a member of the “Pride of the Sunshine” marching band where he got to take the field to perform for fans. And now that he’s getting ready to take the field again in a revered role, he feels truly apart of something that has always seemed to be his legacy.
“Being a part of such a long standing tradition really just solidifies within me that I really am a Gator, and that I really can bleed orange and blue through and through.”
A year ago at this time Michael didn’t even think of this opportunity as a possibility. While sitting in the stands with the Gator band, he saw Joshua Comiter, the 2014 Honorary Mr. Two Bits student winner, perform the pregame ritual and knew then that one day he wanted to be in his place.
“I remember specifically Josh last year doing the student Two Bits and thinking ‘Wow that’s really cool that a student can do that. Maybe some day for me.’
I didn’t even know it was an option that the students could go down on the field and really become part of the tradition here at UF.”
It’s more than the cheer though that Cizek won’t take lightly. It’s also the privilege to be allowed to go where not many are allowed to go.
A Part of History
Despite spending the better part of the last ten years on a Pacific coastline, Cizek has quickly taken on the passion for the Florida Gators. He speaks of magical moments, and solidifying his place within the Gator Nation. But it’s when he speaks of the field that you can really hear how strongly he takes this opportunity.
“Going on the field is a never a small deal whether its on game day or just random occasions for a photo op but going down specifically on a game day, I think it’s going to just be so exciting to be in the center of that arena, of just orange and blue surrounding you everywhere…It’s just unfathomable how big it is…If you get in front of a crowd of a 100 or 90,000 you’re going to get the same feeling. Right now, at least, I’m more excited than I am nervous.”
And he’s ready. He’s moved quickly down the checklist to prepare for Saturday.
He’s gotten the outfit together. Yellow shirt, seersucker pants, orange and blue striped tie and whistle.
“Oh they’re all ready. Clean and ready to be worn. I had to piece them together from friends, so calling up friends, ‘Hey do you have a shirt? Oh you do awesome, can I borrow it?’ So they didn’t know what they were getting into when they lent me their clothes. [I’m] holding them hostage.”
He’s been practicing, taking into account the original George Edmondson technique along with those of the more recent Honorary Mr. Two Bits.
“So I’ve watched George Edmondson. The plan now is to watch other people that have done it and synthesize, pull the best parts from each one and hopefully synthesize that on the field this Saturday.”
And he’s called his grandfather, who bought a ticket to Saturday’s game after hearing the news.
“Oh he was so excited. Every since I was a little boy, whenever anything good would happen, when I would call him on the phone, he’d say ‘Congratulations’ and I’d say ‘Oh no you can do better than that’ and he’d say ‘Alright well congratttulations’ and I’d go ‘One more time, better’ and then he’d go ‘Congrattttttttulations’ and he did that after I told him and he’s so excited. He’s going to be here this Saturday to watch… He’s gonna crash in my room, it’s gonna be great.”
The whole weekend is in fact bound to special for the two, but there will be one moment that will rise above others. As Michael Cizek trots out to midfield and his grandfather’s eyes are on him; as from his home in Tampa, George Edmondson’s eyes are on him, and as 90,000 other fans turn their eyes on him, waiting for their cue. During that one silent moment Michael Cizek will take a look around, and fully realize his place in Florida Gators football history.
Everybody quiet down. Mr. Two Bits is ready to begin.