Florida's athletic heritage has prominently been displayed throughout the state, conference, nation, and world. How many Florida athletes have participated in the Olympics? In professional sports? How many have gone on to become leaders of business and industry?
From Alligator Alley to Florida Field to the Olympic pool behind the old Yon Hall to Perry Field to the O'Connell Center to The Swamp, Florida teams have represented the university on a national stage and competed for titles.
Let's use one sport as an example and see if you develop some interest. We can start with the sport that pays the bills, football. Several schools have museums or Hall(s) of Fame. The most impressive overall that I have seen is the Paul W. Bryant Museum on the University of Alabama campus in Tuscaloosa. Like many schools around the south that have created their own sports museum, I'll use the Bryant Museum as a model.
Location, location, location
The Bryant Museum is located just a short walk from Bryant-Denny Stadium. We arrived on Friday and scouted the place out as we were preparing for Buddy Martin's SEC Roundtable radio show. We toured the facility and noted a bevy of Florida fans walking through the museum and the Alabama campus.
"Several schools have them (Museum's) in their athletic facilities," said Ken Gaddy, Director of the Paul W. Bryant Museum. "Arkansas and Auburn come to mind. A couple of others have them off away from their campus. LSU's place is maybe a year or so old. Sometimes, you get that many people here for a gameday event, it can be disruptive."
The Florida Football Museum too should be located on campus, near the "The Swamp." Aside from the O'Connell Center and the old Alligator Alley, there are no buildings, just steps from the stadium that could house such an undertaking. Obviously, any existing building would require a major overhaul.
If Alligator Alley won't do, it appears as though we'll have to ask the Bull Gators to secure the property for us. We can always ask the Polk County Gators to get things started with a donation to start construction. If any group can get things started, it's those Polk County boosters.
The biggest negative against the Bryant Museum is that it simply isn't big enough. Alabama has a rich football history, yet there isn't enough room to scrape the surface of the impact that Bryant left on college football in the building that bears (pun intended) his name. The building is only 16,500 square feet with roughly half of that public space exhibit.
"Our saying is it's not what's in the museum, it's what's left out," Gaddy said.
I told Gaddy that I imagined he could tripled that amount of space and he agreed. This would have to be financed through privately through donations from boosters and fans. The only other way would be through creative manipulation, such as Florida State did when the World's Largest Erector Set was transformed at taxpayers' expense into an actual football stadium. Personally, I'd rather Florida left the taxpayers and demonstrated their ability to pay their own way yet again.
The Bryant Museum had a little theatre which while were there had a tape of Bryant addressing the team in the locker room, walking the field before the game, and doing an interview. With all of the agreements in place with a variety of networks and media groups, if Bryant were coaching today access wouldn't be a problem.
There should be plenty of material to require a multi-room theatre. As we comfortably sit into the 80's theatre we see Wilbur Marshall blowing through a Southern Cal offensive tackle and brutalizing a Trojan quarterback. (Sean, how many fingers am I holding up?) Listen to the crowd as Coach Charley Pell takes an electrifying post game trot around Florida Field. The Florida defense refuses to yield in their goal line stand against Georgia in 1984. Moments later Kerwin Bell drops back and hits Ricky Nattiel in stride for a 96-yard touchdown pass. Florida beats Kentucky and celebrates a championship.
Auburn tailback Bo Jackson comes into the game in '85. Hold it, now he's leaving again. What gives? What a catch by James Jones against Miami! That plane actually dipped into the stadium and pulled back up during the '85 Kentucky game. Does his T-shirt say…November Is the Real Test? The Smith Brothers offensive backfield…Lex, Cedric, and Emmitt.
The '60's theatre has highlights of Steve Spurrier is kicking the winning field goal against Auburn. There he is again, this time pointing to Danny Wuerffel after throwing yet another touchdown pass against Florida State in the Sugar Bowl as the speakers churn out "Son of a Preacher Man". There goes Larry Smith on a 94 yard run in the '66 Orange Bowl. The Silver Sixties Gators beating The Bear in Tuscaloosa.
A '70's theatre begins with a look at those speedsters lined up in the bone on Doug's rug. Is that Nat Moore? Wes Chandler makes big play reception after big play reception. Scot Brantley nearly tore that guy's facemask off.
The '90's theatre begins with Lawrence Wright whacking Joey Kent? The '96 team celebrates the national title on a beautiful January afternoon. Danny is holding up the Heisman in New York. Monty Grow didn't get along with the West Virginia players. Look at this loop of tape. The Gators are playing Arkansas in the '80's, Notre Dame in the '90's, and South Carolina in '03 and somebody's Granny coached against the Gators every time.
The Bryant Museum has little room for interactive experiences. Bama fans certainly support their teams, but again, this was probably something that was unforeseen back in the '80's when the plans were on the drawing board.
"We certainly would be larger and we would add some interactive type things," Gaddy said. "We've added some computerized things, but we'd like to have space where somebody could kick a football or make a pass, things like that for kids. Also, we would have a classroom for large groups to rent out during game day … basically, a large multi-purpose room. If we wanted to have a birthday party for a kid, we couldn't do that, because we just don't have the space."
Besides an interactive play area, Florida would want to have a large interactive area for fans and perhaps school groups to reserve rooms for gatherings, parties, and meetings. Perhaps, Gator Clubs might wish to host an annual meeting for their members who could also take the opportunity to interact with university personnel or members of the Gainesville community. For a small company where many of the employees have an interest in sports, their group could gather on the Florida campus.
It would also be beneficial to have some space for electronic media to host shows for big games that will be held on campus. Consider it another great opportunity to showcase Florida athletics before those around the state, south, or nation, while capturing the enthusiasm of the big game environment.
Research and Archives
The Bryant Museum collects artifacts and items from a plethora of sources. Many boosters and fans are among those who send in items the museum might find interesting. Obviously, those items exponentially expand with each passing season.
Florida would find itself in the same situation. The coaches travel to many booster meetings during the spring and early summer, which provides fans with ample time to interact with the staff at some interesting points of destination, such as the Daytona International Speedway and Gators on the Pass in Pinellas County. There have to be some great stories out there.
"We house all of the old game film, newspapers, media guides, game programs, and records," said Gaddy. "Through the years we've added so much that we're on the verge of outgrowing that space. Once you have those types of things, people want to use it. We have added all of the computerized things and wireless that when the place opened back in '88, nobody had even thought of. You have to prepare for the technology side of things."
Florida should seemingly house a sizeable area for research. The media coverage of the Gators is sizeable. Furthermore, they would want to allow fans the opportunity to see old photos and clippings. I don't see why a building with several thousand square feet couldn't be located or built on campus to house those items that will soon be on display or used in rotation.
The Bryant Museum must sell hundreds of those houndstooth hats at their museum. The store isn't very large, but it is an excellent idea and had a steady stream of customers walking through.
Do you think the sale of visors would be brisk at Florida's version? How about a replica #22 that Emmitt wore at Florida? Let's have a rack of those #12 worn by Kerwin, #88 worn by Wilbur, and #55 worn by Scot Brantley. There is a rack of tear away jerseys worn by those '70's Florida players.
Personally, I would think the museum could open bidding for businesses to bid on the store space in the Florida museum. Manage the facility and the items that go into it, while collecting the rent and letting somebody else manage the sales. The university will further collect on sales though the trademark on the Gators logo, etc.
"You can go get ideas from any institution, other museum, or public space," Gaddy stated. "Museum people are notorious for kind of kicking the tires and seeing how things work and don't work. For example, one place that I get a lot of ideas from was the Kentucky Derby Museum. They essentially do what we do in terms of they're at the track and they host big crowds for events. They host a lot of media. Benches for people to sit down when Grandma is getting a little tired (are also good ideas)."
The Bryant Museum charges two dollars for adults and one dollar for children and one for seniors. Gaddy said that typically two or three hundred people come on Friday of a game weekend. He said that the weekend Florida traveled to Alabama was well above normal. One employee thought that the Florida weekend was one of the largest they had experienced, but Gaddy wasn't able to confirm that by the numbers at the time of this interview.
"We work with a lot of other schools --- Auburn, LSU, Arkansas, and Georgia," Gaddy recalled. "Frank Broyles spent a lot of time here working on Arkansas' facility. I've talked with Penn State. Michigan has a facility. One that we've really talked to recently is Grambling. That's an interesting case with Eddie Robinson being there. There's a lot of things that schools can do. Obviously it's a big recruiting tool, not just with athletes, but other students too. It's a great opportunity for the public to interact with the campus. Most university buildings' the public can't go into."
The sad truth is that many of those currently enrolled at the University of Florida don't remember, and even worse --- they don't have a place to re-live those great Gators memories.
Why doesn't the University of Florida have a sports Hall of Fame?
Reserving an area for fans to savor their finest Florida football moments makes common sense. Face it, the mere whisper of the names Steve, Emmitt, Wilbur, Jack, Scot, and Danny bring a sense of pride to those who so proudly wear the Orange and Blue. The great Gators teams of yesterday, today, and tomorrow will only serve to further warrant the opening of such a museum. As a team, they provided some of the greatest moments you shared with your father, mother, grandparents, family, and/or friends. When will Gators fans get a living history lesson in Florida football? Could this be yet another project for the Gator Country faithful to begin?