Remembering George Steinbrenner - Part 2

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.

Yesterday I wrote about my first encounter with "The Boss" when he brought the Yankees to Gainesville to play the Gators in the spring of 1981. Today I wanted to share another story about the Gator connection with the legendary figure that is George M. Steinbrenner.

In the fall of 1982 WRUF Radio decided to expand beyond the Gator Radio Network pre-game show and added a one hour pre-game "Tail-Gate" show directly across the street from the West Stands at Florida Field. I had a big part on the program, which was hosted by long-time voice of the Gators Otis Boggs and Gator Network pre-game and post-game host Bob Leach.

It was the last Saturday in October and the World Series between St. Louis and Milwaukee had finished. We were in the midst of the program when I noticed Mr. Steinbrenner walking towards the entry to the press row elevators. I rushed over, reminded him of our great first get together at Perry Field some 18 months earlier and asked him if we could have a short interview on the show.

This time he accepted my invitation, and upon being introduced, launched into a rather scathing critique of the World Series in general and the Milwaukee team in particular. He said words to the effect that the Yanks needed to return to the series the following year because the Brewers embarrassed baseball with their sloppy ill-fitting uniforms and setting a world record for tobacco juice spitting.

But the best was yet to come.

After we thanked him for joining us, Mr. Steinbrenner had a special word or two for the Gators' opponent that day. I am writing this as a quote even through I may get a word or two wrong because it was such a remarkable comment.

"I have a special reason for wanting the Gators to win today. This team has a guy that we (the Yankees) drafted and no matter how hard we tried we couldn't sign him. You can't tell me things are on the up and up at that place when a kid from that background can turn down $150,000."

The opponent was Auburn. The kid was Vincent "Bo" Jackson.

The Yankees didn't return to the World Series that year. In fact the Yanks didn't make it back to the fall classic until 1996. Bo Jackson did pretty well at Auburn and afterwards.

Rest in peace boss, and thanks for the memories.


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