Team traditions: At Florida, the Swamp is the ultimate home field advantage
Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium has a colorful nickname thanks to one of the more colorful coaches in college football history. Steve Spurrier, the Florida native and former Gators QB, took over the coaching reins at his alma mater in 1990. A successful 9-2 debut season kicked off one of the best stretches in Florida history: The Gators reached a bowl for 11 straight seasons and finished in the top 5 in the AP rankings six times. Florida won the national title in 1996 after demolishing Florida State in the Sugar Bowl behind Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Danny Wuerffel.
Under Spurrier, Florida became a powerhouse in the SEC, especially at home. Spurrier’s teams went 68-5 in Gainesville during his Florida tenure, and that figure includes a (comparatively) rocky first few seasons. During a dominant run from 1995 through the 2001 season, which was Spurrier’s last at Florida before departing for an ill-fated stint with the Washington Redskins in the NFL, the Gators lost just two games at home. The first was a heartbreaking one-point defeat to No. 21 Alabama on Oct. 2, 1999, and the second a two-point defeat at the hands of No. 5 Tennessee on Dec. 1, 2001.
That 2001 loss would be the last time Spurrier coached the Gators in the stadium known as The Swamp. When Spurrier took over as Gators coach, he had the idea to rebrand the blasé Florida Field with a fiercer nickname. As the story goes, he called sportswriter Mike Bianchi with an idea: Start calling Florida Field “The Swamp” -- a place where only Gators can survive.
According to Bianchi, the UF marketing team was not behind the idea, which probably led Spurrier to take matters into his own hands. Spurrier’s widely attributed quote about The Swamp explained it as follows: “The Swamp is where Gators live. We feel comfortable there, but we hope our opponents feel tentative. A swamp is hot and sticky and can be dangerous.”
The name quickly caught on, bolstered by the Gator’s runaway success in the frequently triple-digit heat. In 1993, Sports Illustrated writer Sally Jenkins called Florida Field a “brackish” place worthy of the “sweaty, disheveled and explosive” Gators, who ran the oft-overheated Spurrier’s Fun ‘n’ Gun offense that left opponents gasping for air and choking in the thick Florida humidity.
By 1994, SI already considered The Swamp one of the harshest environments in college football. Rival Georgia came to Gainesville for a rare Bulldogs-Gators game not played on a neutral field in Jacksonville, the traditional site for “The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.” Georgia quarterback Eric Zeier entered the game as a Heisman candidate but wilted against Florida.
“Zeier's chances for the Heisman Trophy probably died in the humid Gainesville air,” wrote SI’s William F. Reed. “At times he seemed distracted by the noise that makes The Swamp the toughest place in the league to play … ”
After Spurrier washed out in the NFL, he returned to college and the SEC as the head coach at South Carolina. Although he scored a big win over No. 12 Florida in his debut 2005 season, that game took place in Columbia, S.C. His teams have had a much tougher time against the Gators in The Swamp, including a close one-point loss in 2006, a 56-6 beatdown in 2008 and a 44-11 dismantling in 2012.
Spurrier did break through once at The Swamp: a 36-14 win in 2010, thanks to a three-touchdown performance from South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore. The win clinched the SEC East title for Spurrier’s Gamecocks, and after the game, Spurrier could hardly contain his glee.
"Sometimes,” said Spurrier, “The Gamecocks get out alive.”