In Florida's Swamp, Gator Fans Revel in Titles

Many people in Gainesville, Fla., didn't get a lot of sleep last night. They stayed up late watching the University of Florida dismantle top-ranked Ohio State University to win college football's national championship. With the victory, Florida claims another first: It's the first Division I school to be the reigning men's basketball and football champions. From member station WUFT, Kevin Allen reports.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And turning to college sports now. University of Florida fans are the proud owners of some big bragging rights today. The Gators win over Ohio State last night, gave them the college football championship to go with the NCAA basketball championship they won in the spring. That gives the university an unmatched distinction: reigning champs in both major college sports.

From member station WUFT in Gainesville, Kevin Allen reports.

KEVIN ALLEN: The University of Florida bookstore wasted no time marking the Gators' national championship. The first thing this morning: workers set up tables for the t-shirts and memorabilia.

Whether it was the hustle and bustle at the bookstore…

Unidentified Man: Wooh(ph), Gators, number one. Go Gators.

ALLEN: Or the whoops and cheers from the thousands of fans on the streets of Gainesville overnight, what officials like to call the Gator nation is celebrating more than just a football championship. For some, like law student Billy Maximillian(ph), the simple win over Ohio State was reason enough to take it to the streets.

Mr. BILLY MAXIMILLIAN (Law Student, University of Florida): We got class tomorrow. But you know what, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity so we're out here, partying and supporting our team.

ALLEN: But others saw a bit more meaning in UF's second national football championship. Combined with the national basketball title, UF now holds a spotlight no other university can boast. And for students like Robert Crabtree(ph), who lined up to be among the first with a national championship t-shirt, that bragging right matters.

Mr. ROBERT CRABTREE (Student, University of Florida): It makes my senior year much more memorable. It's nice to go with a bang. And this, also on the 100th season of Gator football, and it comes on the heels of our basketball championship.

ALLEN: And for many, it wasn't just the win but how it was achieved. Jeff Gadbois(ph), who brought his family to the street celebration, said the win was something all UF fans could be proud of. He said no one demonstrated that better than senior quarterback Chris Leek, who rebounded from fans' boos early in the year.

Mr. JEFF GADBOIS (Resident; Gainesville, Florida): We're really proud at the Gators. I just think that Chris Leek has been a class act and the whole team has been a class act. They've shown themselves really well, not just as athletes but as, you know, good role models for the kids and everything.

ALLEN: And that's what Florida officials are happy to hear. They tried to position UF as an academic and athletic leader for the past decade. As we boarded the flight back to Gainesville, University president Bernie Machen noted while UF is well regarded by its peers, there is still a part of the general public to get the message too.

Mr. BERNIE MACHEN (President, University of Florida): People are going to say: they won two championships and it takes 1,300 SAT's for people to get in that place. I think that's the kind of new recognition we're going to get.

ALLEN: The morning newspaper put that message more simply: Believe it.

It's a sentiment the fans of orange and blue will be sharing around town for the next few days.

For NPR News, I'm Kevin Allen in Gainesville, Florida.

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