Steinbrenner Significant Supporter of UF

The passing of George Steinbrenner on Tuesday morning did not only take one of the most significant owners in professional sports history. It took away one of the most significant supporters of the University of Florida.

George Steinbrenner and his family have been remarkably generous to the University of Florida. He was among the first "Bull Gators" back in 1980. He put the first lights in at Perry Field and brought the Yankees to Gainesville for exhibition games. More recently the Steinbrenner family was responsible for providing the crucial funding for the Steinbrenner Band Building.

I have two personal on-campus remembrances of George M. Steinbrenner I wish to share with you today and tomorrow.

The first story goes back to the spring of 1981. Steinbrenner and the Yankees had nabbed the top guy in the free agent market, signing former Padres right fielder Dave Winfield. That spring he brought the Yanks to Perry Field to play the Gators.

I had the privilege of doing that game on radio for WRUF just a few weeks from my graduation from UF. I was as excited as a kid in a candy store. Just prior to the game I noticed "The Boss" taking a seat in the ugly green bleachers that was the grandstand at Perry Field in those days. I went out into the stands and introduced myself to Mr. Steinbrenner.

After trying to squeeze in as much of my resume and bio into the short conversation (I did grow up 22 blocks from Yankee Stadium) I asked him if he would come do an inning with me on the radio. I pointed out how cool it would be for my audience and me.

He didn't think it would be all that cool for him.

Even though he didn't join me on the air that day I was still thrilled to meet him. After all the Yankees were my team and he rescued them from the gross incompetence of CBS and made them World Series Champs in 1977 and '78.

Another thing that stands out about that day is watching Winfield launch the longest HR ever hit at Perry Field. The star slugger was simply hitting line drives when some fan hollered out, "hey Dave, show us something." Winfield grinned and blasted a shot to center field that landed on the sidewalk across the street and one-hopped Hume Hall. It was awesome.

Another incident with Winfield occurred during the game when the multi-million dollar investment stumbled on the infamous left field hill. Steinbrenner pronounced after the game the Yanks would not return until/unless the hill was removed.

It was.

Tomorrow, the day "The Boss" slammed a key Gator football rival.

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