Gator Growl

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The same holds true at Florida, except the weekend takes on the feel of a festival -- Mardi Gras meets SEC football.

Tailgaters come out a day early, snatching up the prime parking spots students covet. Ticket scalpers roll out of bed hoping to make a 200 percent profit as freshmen walk excitedly down University Avenue, hoping to snag a ticket to the biggest show in town.

It's a little event called Gator Growl. Billed as the largest student-run pep rally in the nation, the 84th installment pulled out all the stops by featuring comedian/impressionist Frank Caliendo of Frank TV commercial fame and southern rock band Lynyrd Skynrd -- to the delight of Florida fans that list sipping sweet tea while jamming to Sweet Home Alabama as their favorite pastime.

Traditionally, Gator Growl invites two comedians to headline the show. Such as in 2004, when Dane Cook and Blue Collar Comic, Bill Engvall hosted the sold out event.

Gator Growl officials decided to mix things up this year. Choosing to fork over $50,000 to Skynyrd rather than to a second comedian and having Shelley Meyer -- yes, Urban's wife -- host the show, much to the consternation of her husband.

"She loves the University of Florida," Meyer said with a smile. "She loves the students. When I heard that (she was hosting) I said, 'What are you doing?' She said, 'The students asked me. What am I supposed to say, no?' And I said, 'Yeah, say no.'"

Shelley kicked the show off, introducing Caliendo following performances by local musicians and dancers. There was uncertainty among UF students on how Caliendo's shtick would translate from MADtv to the stage. Caliendo quickly won the crowd over with his dead-on impersonations of John Madden and President George W. Bush.

"I love John Madden because he makes me feel smart," Caliendo said of Madden's simplistic analyses. And then, slipping into his Bush impression, he continued: "He makes me feel like a rocket surgeon."

Caliendo also unveiled a much anticipated impersonation of Charles Barkley, which the comedian says he's been working on for several months.

"Everything he says makes him sound like he's hungry," Caliendo said. "That was turuble," Caliendo said sliding into his Barkley voice. "That was just turuble. T-R-B-L, turuble.

Before Shelley Meyer introduced Skynyrd, she introduced the man she called the "hardest working coach in America," Urban Meyer. After losing three of their past four games, Urban Meyer took time out to reassure Gators fans that all was not lost.

"It's time for some Gator football back in the Swamp. It's been 35 days," Meyer said referencing the number of days since Florida has played a home game. "It's been 35 days since we've been back and we miss you. We don't have a large senior class but we have a senior class with a chance to add an '07 to that wall with another SEC championship."

Basketball coach Billy Donovan also made an appearance to introduce his nondescript team that's seeking to fill the rather large void left by Joakim Noah, Al Horford, Corey Brewer and Taurean Green's departures to the NBA.

Donovan appeared to be trying to coax a fan base that has grown fat and happy on championships into supporting an unproven squad.

"I'm excited about these young guys right now," Donovan said. "Obviously, we've got a lot of youthfulness but we've got a lot of talent. We open up this Friday and we're going to need your support out there."

But the crowd did not truly get excited until Lynyrd Skynrd finally took the stage. Fans lifted their cell phones and lighters into the air as Skynyrd struck the first few chords of their hit, Free Bird.

Indeed, Florida students and alumni were freed once again on Homecoming Weekend. The show had a big city bite to match its southern drawl -- or is it a Growl?