Gators excited to play in packed stadiums again

For years, the Swamp being packed with more than 90,000 orange-and-blue-clad fans on Saturdays in the fall was a given.

However, as the quality of play on the field deteriorated, the price of tickets shot up and the student body became increasingly nonchalant about football, attendance became a bit of an embarrassing topic for Gators fans. The tweets about the large pockets of empty seats and the late-arriving student section became almost as much of a tradition as the chomp and “We Are The Boys.”

Nobody should ever complain about the attendance again.

Due to COVID-19 protocols, the Gators played their home games in front of no more than 17,000 fans last season. Some road games had even fewer fans than that, including an empty Vanderbilt Stadium.

On Sept. 4, the Gators will run onto the field for their opener against Florida Atlantic with no crowd restrictions in place. The Swamp will finally be back, and it will be an emotional moment for all involved.

“It wasn’t the same, honestly, being out there,” defensive lineman Zachary Carter said. “You’re used to seeing thousands and thousands of [fans] packed, and it’s just like 20,000 people out there. So, I know Gator Nation was hurting last year. I know they all wanted to be there. I’m just really excited to get out there in front of them, man. We love the fans. They make a huge difference when we’re out there. So, I’m looking forward to that, definitely.

“I think about it every day. It’s really the best feeling ever running out that tunnel and running in the Swamp. I’m really excited.”

Coach Dan Mullen said that watching events such as the Stanley Cup Finals and the College World Series on television this summer made him realize just how much he missed the roar of a sellout crowd.

“That energy in the stadium, those are things that we really missed, and I can’t wait for opening night in the Swamp to feel that energy and excitement of our fans and everybody coming out to see us come play again,” he said.

The Florida Atlantic game figures to draw a much larger crowd and be much more memorable than a game against an inferior opponent otherwise would.

“It’s definitely exciting to be back in full capacity, to see the 90,000 in the Swamp,” linebacker Ventrell Miller said. “When those guys [are] in the Swamp, it’s just electric, so we’re ready to get that atmosphere back in the Swamp.”

As special as that night will be, things will get even better two weeks later. Alabama will visit the Swamp for the first time since 2011 in a rematch of last year’s classic SEC Championship Game.

If you’re going to that game, plan on your ears ringing for a week afterward from all of the noise.

“I think it’s going to be an exciting day,” Mullen said. “It’s going to be a great atmosphere. It’s going to be a fun game to be a part of, and, as you said, for 10 years we haven’t seen it.”

We haven’t seen a sold-out football stadium in nearly two years. That’s about to change.

Ethan was born in Gainesville and has lived in the Starke, Florida, area his entire life. He played basketball for five years and knew he wanted to be a sportswriter when he was in middle school. He’s attended countless Gators athletic events since his early childhood, with baseball being his favorite sport to attend. He’s a proud 2019 graduate of the University of Florida and a 2017 graduate of Santa Fe College. He interned with the University Athletic Association’s communications department for 1 ½ years as a student and has spent the last two football seasons writing for InsideTheGators.com. He is a long-suffering fan of the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Tampa Bay Rays. You can follow him on Twitter @ehughes97.