Mr. Two Bits ready to watch Gators from his Tampa home

10:17 AM, Dec 3, 2009   |    comments
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  • "Mr. Two Bits" George Edmondson.
  • Mr. Two Bits in his South Tampa home.
  • Mr. Two Bits is shown on the cover of a gameday program from 1998.
  • "Mr. Two Bits" George Edmondson looks at some of the memorabilia in his South Tampa home.
    

Tampa, Florida -- Mr. Two Bits, officially the biggest fan of the Florida Gators football team and famous for 60 years of leading his signature cheer, is getting ready to watch the SEC Championship Game from his South Tampa home.

"Two bits! Four bits! Six bits! A dollar! All for the Gators, stand up and holler!"

The cheer first rang out at Florida Field 60 years ago.

George Edmondson -- who never went to the University of Florida -- was with a friend at a football game in Gainesville. He was appalled that Gator fans were booing their own team.

"Don't boo. Just don't boo the other guy," the 87-year old said, summing up his philosophy on football and life.

So that day, he led a cheer that everybody used to use back in high school. To say it caught on -- is an understatement.

"I'd get a hundred people, 300 people, 500 people," he said. Within a few seasons, whole sections of the stadium were joining in the "two bits" cheer. Students named him Mr. Two Bits, and he's played that role -- and led that cheer -- since 1949.

"All this is accumulation of 60 years of Florida football," he said, sweeping his arm past walls packed with orange and blue awards, keepsakes, and photos. His memories are on display in a former bedroom in the South Tampa home he shares with his wife -- who, by the way, went to FSU.

Don't worry. She quickly converted to the Gator Nation.

"Florida Gator football, to this household, is a way of life," he explained.

Edmondson has seen and met plenty of great Gator players over the years. That list includes Tim Tebow, who has just a few memorable moments left in a Gator uniform.

"He is absolutely fabulous," he said of Tebow, the third Gator Heisman trophy winner Edmondson has watched play. "And we've had an opportunity to meet him." "[Tebow] did ask me -- he says, 'What's the most memorable game you've ever attended?'"

The answer? The Gators were tied with Auburn in 1966, when a quarterback named Steve Spurrier came onto the field. "Never kicked in his life! Went out and kicked the field goal to win the ballgame. That was -- that was real thrilling," Edmondson said.

If this year's SEC Championship Game in Atlanta has similar heroics, Edmondson won't see them in person. After traveling to several SEC title games in the past, as well as the Gators' two national championship games in the past three years, George and Jane Edmondson are taking a break to watch this one at home.

Mr. Two Bits' tickets (which he pays for himself -- no freebies from the university) will go to his grandchildren, who often wear their own versions of Edmondson's trademark yellow shirt with an orange and blue striped tie.

For decades, minutes before kickoff, Edmondson would blow his whistle at the center of Florida Field to quiet the crowd. He'd hold up a cardboard sign emblazoned with a blue and orange "2-BITS". Up to ninety thousand people would cut off their conversations and hold their breath.

With broad sweeps of his arms and leaping lunges, he'd give the fans visual cues so every shout came in precise unison. Thousands of voices created a frenzied wall of sound that swept toward the center of The Swamp.

"Two bits! Four bits! Six bits! A dollar! All for the Gators, stand up and holler!" Fans stood. And boy did they holler.

A simple rhyme about adding up quarters (a "bit" is 12 1/2 cents) meant gameday had arrived.

Edmondson would also pop up in various spots in the stands as the game progressed, leading his cheer at just the right moment. Between play on the field, a PA announcer booming, and potentially two bands blaring, "If you think about it... there's very little time left to lead a cheer," he said. "And I've found that the best time is after an incomplete pass."

While he still watches every Gator home game from the stands, after 60 years of sign-waving and whistle-blowing, Edmondson retired from cheering following last season.

"I miss it like Bobby Bowden's gonna miss his coaching," Edmondson chuckled.

He expects fans to continue giving his cheer, but "I don't think there will ever be another 'Mr. Two Bits'," he said.

Why? He says his work here is done. Florida's fans have gone from down in the dumps to unconditional love. And Mr. Two-Bits has led the way.

"They're out there leading people that are already enthusiastic. I started when we were at the bottom," he laughed. "It's been a good ride."

Connect with 10 Connects multi-media journalist Grayson Kamm on Twitter as @graysonkamm, on his Facebook page, by e-mail at this link, or on AOL Instant Messenger as screen name GraysonConnects.

Grayson Kamm, 10 Connects

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