For most Florida Gators fans a night game in the Swamp is a euphoric experience, enough to send chills down the spine and make your hair stand on end. Who would’ve ever thought that feeling would come on a Friday night? The setting remained the same, but the day and time changed for the 2016 Orange and Blue Debut spring game.
Head football coach Jim McElwain announced months ago that the spring game would be moved from its usual Saturday afternoon time back to Friday night.
If you were to ask any Florida fan about past spring games, they would all describe them the same way: Hot.
Not just noon game in September hot, but a much thicker heat; one that grabs on to you and won’t let you go, the humidity leaving your clothes sticking to your body with no relief in site. The 7PM starting time came to the rescue this year, and the weather was a perfect 77 degrees at kickoff.
The atmosphere surrounding the game was unlike any spring game in the past. Tents, grills and televisions were set up around campus as if it were a regular season contest. The anticipation leading up to kick off was running at a high level, as there were many questions that would hopefully be answered on the gridiron shortly.
A healthy crowd of 46,000 Gator fans flooded the swamp with anticipation to see the product that second year head coach Jim McElwain had been crafting during spring practice, and when the Gators took the field, the fans erupted. A sense of relief was felt as the bright lights shined on Florida Field, quenching the thirst of thousands of die-hard Gator football fans.
Florida’s quarterback woes are well documented, but Gators’ quarterback Luke Del Rio put a few of those worries to rest as he completed his first pass to wide-receiver C.J. Worton for a 46-yard gain. The crowd went wild and breathed a sigh of relief.
“I didn’t expect a crowd like that,” Del Rio said after the game on Friday. “It was a lot of fun to play in front of them.”
No one was expecting the crowd to be as engaged and attentive as it was; a nice surprise from previous spring game experiences.
“It was fun, and the guys enjoyed it,” said McElwain, “You could see they played with a little juice. And that was good.”
Much of that juice that McElwain described was off of the leg of new Gator kicker Eddy Pineiro. When Pineiro struck his first field goal attempt, The Swamp went silent with anticipation. The kick pierced the uprights and had plenty of distance to spare. High-fiving Gator fans, and a sense of hope followed the kick, probably the most celebrated spring game kick in history.
“It felt good,” Pineiro said of his first action in front of the Florida Gators faithful. “It was exactly what I dreamed of.”
The spring game provided much needed answers for Gator fans everywhere, but left them with one more burning question.
How many days until kickoff?