Thoughts of the day: December 25, 2013

A few thoughts to jump start your Christmas morning.

Do you remember that moment when you knew in your heart of hearts that the only team that would ever matter to you was the Florida Gators? Do you remember that moment when you understood that teams could come and go but the Gators were part of the air that you breathe and the blood that flowed through your veins? Do you remember the moment when you came to the conclusion that only one team was capable of breaking your heart but no matter how many times the Gators broke your heart you would be back for more?

My moment was December 25, 1964. I can say with all honesty that I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t a Gator, but it wasn’t until that day that it became crystal clear to me this was not some here today and gone tomorrow obsession. On that day I knew I would never outgrow my love for the Gators.

Just a couple of months earlier, my near perfect world had been shattered into a thousand pieces by the Altamil Corporation, which bought my dad’s company and exiled us from Gainesville to McComb, Mississippi. Now, I made a lot of wonderful friends in McComb and it’s where I got my start as a sports writer working for Charlie Dunagin and Charlie Gordon at the Enterprise-Journal, but it was truly an exile because I was separated from the Gators. There was a 50,000 watt radio station in the Florida Panhandle whose signal reached McComb on clear days so I was able to follow the Gators on the radio, but it wasn’t the same as being there.

Before we were sent packing to live among heathens whose loyalties were Ole Miss, Mississippi State, LSU and Alabama, nobody had it better than I. I was an eighth-grader at Westwood Junior High. I played football for Red Dulaney and the year before we were Alachua County champions. I had the run of the Florida campus and downtown and any time I was thirsty I could stop in at Wise’s Drug Store, get a cherry Coke and they would put it on my grandfather’s tab. We lived a two-minute walk from Gainesville High School. Coach Jim Niblack knew me by name and let me shag footballs for the kickers. Two UF students who went to church with us at Parkview Baptist took me to all the Gator basketball games.

I had a thriving business on football Saturdays. I sold Cokes at Florida field and a group of Jacksonville lawyers were my “clients.” They arrived 90 minutes before the game and sat over in section 35 of the west stands. They needed the Cokes to mix with their bourbon and by the time the game began, they had gone through enough trays that I could find a spot and watch the Gators. I pocketed around $6-8 and that was a rather hefty sum for a 13-year-old in those days.

All that came to an end when my family was exiled to Mississippi. We moved in late October. I did get to see the Gators beat LSU, 20-6, in Baton Rouge, a game that had originally been scheduled for October 3 but was postponed by Hurricane Carla. That night in Tiger Stadium I watched Steve Spurrier beat LSU for the first time. He finished his college career 3-0 against LSU. My dad’s boss was an LSU grad. His wife had a standing bet with me all three years – if the Gators won she had to pin a Florida pennant to her front door for a week. If LSU won, I had to do the same thing to our door. No LSU pennant ever darkened our door.

On Christmas Eve, my mom and dad and I got in the car and made the 564-mile trip from McComb to Gainesville. This was pre-interstate and we drove all night, arriving at my grandparent’s home at 313 NW 11th Street just after dawn. My sister, who was a freshman at Florida and living at my grandparents’ home, was the first one out the door to greet us followed by my grandparents. I must have hugged the three of them for 15 minutes.

I slept awhile and woke to the smell of bacon. Nobody has ever done bacon like my grandmother. I can close my eyes and still smell it.  After breakfast we opened our gifts — my sister gave me a pair of very cool white Levis, something no one in McComb had — and when we were finished, my grandfather walked over with one more package and explained that this one must have been hidden away behind the tree somewhere. I ripped it open and found a white University of Florida football jersey with the orange and blue UCLA stripes on the shoulders and #11 on the front and back. Spurrier’s number!

What a gift!

I put on the jersey and wanted to walk over to the UF campus, just three blocks away. I headed west on Third Avenue and turned left at Louie’s Seafood. At the corner of 13th and University was the SAE house. The lion had a fresh coat of paint poured on it. When I was a seventh grader at Westwood legend had it that Coleman Stipanovich had once poured a can of paint on the lion. Coleman was one of my heroes after that.

I stopped walking and ran down University Avenue, turned left at the handball courts and made my way to the north end zone of Florida Field. It was locked, but I remembered how they rarely locked the gate down at the southeast end zone so I ran down there and sure enough, it was open.

I ran out on the field and for the next 20-30 minutes I morphed into Steve Spurrier. I called plays. I threw passes. I ran for touchdowns. I punted twice. The Gators beat Alabama something like 30-0 and Texas was even worse. Florida beat Southern Cal to win the national championship in football that day as I made play after play. I was Spurrier and Spurrier was unstoppable.

Having won the national championship and the Heisman Trophy all in less than 30 minutes, I stood at midfield and heard the imaginary roar of 55,000 Gator fans (that’s all the stadium held in those days).  I stood there, my heart pounding and my imagination winding its way back to reality. It was at that moment I knew that I could never be anything but a Gator. Suddenly, I knew that no other team under any circumstance could ever take the place of the Florida Gators.

I walked back to my grandparents’ home slowly. I wanted to savor the experience. University Avenue was like a ghost town. The only person I saw was Dirty Dan the Bicycle Man whose shop was where The Swamp Restaurant stands today. Dirty Dan always had greasy hands, dirty fingernails and a vise-like grip on his handshake. He treated everyone like a long lost brother or sister and he never turned away someone who needed a bike fixed or didn’t have enough money. There were stories that he paid the tuition for hundreds of students during his lifetime but you would never know it because he never bragged about anything because he was too busy trying to help people. When he died, it was rumored that he left an enormous sum of money to charity.

When I got back to 313 NW 11th Street, the first person I saw was my grandfather. I hugged him a long, long time and thanked him for my greatest Christmas present ever. I wore that jersey for two more years until it fell apart and couldn’t be worn again but its memory, just like that day, has never departed.

That was 49 years ago but I remember it like it was yesterday because it was the day that I knew I was a Gator lifer. Here I am 49 years later and I write about the Gators, the only team that has ever mattered, the only team that will ever matter.

That was my best Christmas memory. Thanks for allowing me to share it with you.

From all of us at Gator Country, have a most Merry Christmas and may this be the most blessed New Year ever.




This is the greatest Christmas song ever sung by the guy who wrote it, the Velvet Fog — Mel Torme.


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Franz Beard
Back in January of 1969, the late, great Jack Hairston, then the sports editor of the Jacksonville Journal, called me on the phone one night and asked me if I wanted to work for him. I said yes. The entire interview took 30 seconds. It's my experience that whenever the interview lasts 30 seconds or less, I get the job. In the 48 years that I've been writing and getting paid for it, I've covered Super Bowls, World Series, NCAA basketball championships, BCS championship games, heavyweight title fights and what seems like thousands of college football, baseball and basketball games. I'm a columnist and special assignments editor for Gator Country once again, writing about the only team that ever mattered to me, the Florida Gators.


  1. Great story…very well done. Mine was Oct. 29, 1966….sitting in the north end zone BLEACHERS with two young kids (total ticket cost $1.50)………almost catching Spurriers straight ahead 40 yard field goal to beat Auburn and probably secured his Heisman Trophy. Since then I’ve probably spent $60,000 being a gator……….never regretted it.

  2. Franz…
    Once again, glad that you are back on with Gator Country. Stories like the one above are the reason that I am happy that you are here. Your, “Thoughts Of The Day” articles are the first things I read every day.
    Going back to my 4th Great Grandparents, my ancsstors were all from Louisiana. All of my first cousins, uncles, aunts, etc… are big LSU fans. In fact, of all of my immediate family, they were all born in Louisiana… except myself. Florida born! So, because of that fact, I am quite proud of my Floridian Roots! So, for me, if you are from Tampa… you attended the University of Florida. Back in the late 60’s and 70’s….Tampa was a big, “Gator Town.” So, when I read today’s story, like yourself… it brings a deep feeling of Floridian Pride to one’s heart. Unlike some 400 others, my birthplace was totally unique… and even as a kid in the seventh grade, whenever I went to visit my “Duck Dynasty” realitives in West Monroe, Louisiana… I still wore my Gator gear with pride.
    So, thank you for your boyhood story
    My first visit to Florida Field was as a sixth grader. My older brother was a freshman on the JV team. Never will forget the time that he pointed out to me a player by the name of Steve Spurrier… #11. And from that point, the rest is history.
    Thank You Franz for today’s article. Masterfully done!
    To me, you have taken up the torch left behind by Jack Hairston and Tom McEwen.

  3. Franz, What a tremendous Christmas story! My calculations have you as 1951 and I was 1955. Many similarities. Dirty Dan the bicycle man, the Witch, selling cokes at Gator football and basketball games( watched Super Steve kick the field goal to beat Auburn from the front row with $3.00 dollars and six (6) free cokes/ fat city!), watching the submarine races at Beta Woods from high up in the Oak trees looking down at the parkers make out, realizing as a twelve (12) year old that UPD could do nothing to me and my buds as we toured campus on our bicycles, Pistol Pete close-up, Westwood escapades, Edwards Block Football team, our Basketball Team that won the Championship in little league played at PK Pig Pen Gym, Captain Louis’s Galley’s best hushpuppies in the world, watching the Battle of Bands in the parking lot near Lipham’s when the US Males seized victory by hometowning the Allman Joys (those guys from Daytona were really good), Chandler’s hamburgers and fries….

    I got lifted out of G’Ville too early but I knew where I was going to college. Those early times that you described were the golden dreams that I carry today of a time and place that was magic. Gator by the grace of God forever!