The fans with the best view at Florida Field aren't the
big-money donors, the Bull Gators, but the members of the
seven-man sideline crew that assists the game officials. The
crew works the first-down chains, the down marker, the 25-second
clock, the penalty log (notating the player, penalty and time of
the game when the penalty occurred) and the clip that keeps the
position of the chain accurate. They're all current or former
high school officials, college football fans in general and
Gators fans in particular. "When you're between the 30-yard
lines, you've got the visiting team's coach right next to you,"
says 25-second-clock operator Wayne Edwards, 61, a bank vice
president and 21-year veteran of the crew. "I'm on the line of
scrimmage every play. I'd rather be on the field than sit in the
stands. I go to Florida's away games and I'm miserable sitting
in my seat."
All seven gang members live in Jacksonville, so they also work
the Gator Bowl and home games of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Three
of them have had knee replacements. Four of them were already on
hand when Florida hired Steve Spurrier as coach in 1990. The
crew leader, 74-year-old Carlisle Jones, was working the
sidelines before Spurrier won the Heisman Trophy at Florida in
1966. Jones, who retired from his own industrial fencing company
eight years ago, handles the first-down box, as the down marker
is known to sideline crews.
The crew--which also includes Billy Carrol, 64 (home side
first-down marker); Wayne Clifton, 53 (home side
line-of-scrimmage marker); Duncan Crawford, 62 (pole at one end
of chain); Jerry Johnson, 63 (pole at other end of chain); Bill
Steele, 52 (alternate) and Dewey Williamson, 61 (records
penalties and places the clip)--gets an intimate look at
coaches. Jones, for instance, stood 15 feet from Ohio State's
legendary Woody Hayes when Hayes threw a punch at Clemson
noseguard Charlie Bauman in the 1978 Gator Bowl. Hayes was fired
the next day. "Hayes couldn't control his temper during the
game," Jones says. "I haven't seen a calm coach in 50 years."
Each crew member has been knocked flat by a player and learned
his lesson. "You don't watch the ballcarrier," Johnson says.
"He's not the guy who'll hurt you. It's all those guys chasing
him, especially if he goes out-of-bounds. They'll be trying to
avoid him to keep from getting a personal-foul penalty."
When the Florida gang began working Jaguars home games, in 1995,
its debut didn't go without a hitch: No one told the crew that
NFL halftimes are eight minutes shorter than college halftimes.
"We were sitting in our dressing room, eating hot dogs," Johnson
says. "They made an announcement: 'Would the chain crew please
report to the field?' They showed us on TV, running back out."
Crew members make $85 each for a Jaguars game. At Florida the
compensation is two game tickets apiece, an occasional hat and
shirt from the SEC office and a total of three parking spaces in
the tunnel beneath the stadium. Without question, they prefer
the college game. "It's the difference between a love affair and
a job," Johnson says.