The University of Florida’s football program has a storied history dating back to 1906 when the university first established its varsity football team. Since then, the Florida Gators have made their mark in the world of college football. Over the years, the team has participated in more than 40 bowl games, claimed three national championships (in 1996, 2006, and 2008), and secured eight Southeastern Conference (SEC) championships (in 1991, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2006, and 2008). Additionally, the Gators have produced three Heisman Trophy winners, over 90 first-team All-Americans, and 50 NFL first-round draft picks.
The football program at Florida has seen the leadership of 25 head coaches throughout its history, including three who were inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. Pee Wee Forsythe served as the first head coach, and the current head coach is Billy Napier.
Florida’s football program has had a journey through various conferences over the years. It began as an independent team in 1906 and then joined the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association in 1912. In 1922, the Gators became part of the Southern Conference before helping establish the Southeastern Conference (SEC) in 1932.
The SEC has been Florida’s home conference since then, and the team competes in the SEC Eastern Division, a divisional structure introduced in 1992.
The Florida Gators have claimed national championships five times, with three officially recognized national titles in 1996, 2006, and 2008. In these championship years, the Gators finished the season ranked No. 1 in both the final AP and Coaches polls. Additionally, the program has been named national champion by NCAA-designated “major selectors” in two more years, 1984 and 1985.
Within the SEC, Florida has secured eight officially recognized football championships. The first championship was won in 1984, but it was later vacated due to NCAA infractions. Despite obstacles, the Gators earned their first official SEC football championship in 1991.
Since the divisional split in the SEC in 1992, Florida has appeared in the SEC Championship Game more than any other SEC school. With the recent expansion of the SEC to 16 teams, divisions will be eliminated in 2024.
The Florida Gators have a fierce rivalry with the Georgia Bulldogs. The annual Florida–Georgia game, often referred to as the “World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party,” is held in Jacksonville, Florida, and has significant implications for the SEC East. The rivalry with Tennessee is another historic one. Since 1992, Florida and Tennessee have met annually, often with conference and national title implications. The Gators dominated with an 11-game winning streak from 2005 to 2015.
The Florida State Seminoles have been a consistent in-state rival for the Gators since 1958. The annual Florida–Florida State game is a highlight of each season and has often had national championship implications. Additionally, the Florida–LSU rivalry has garnered attention in recent years, with both teams being highly ranked and closely matched. This rivalry has seen its share of close games and big moments.
Auburn has historically been an evenly-matched SEC opponent for Florida, with games often carrying conference and national title implications. Miami, another in-state rival, was once an annual opponent, but the rivalry has dampened due to scheduling changes
Awards & Accolades
The Florida Gators football program has a rich history of individual award winners and College Football Hall of Fame inductees. Some of the notable awards and accolades received by Gators players and coaches include:
Heisman Trophy Winners: Since the 2000s, the Florida Gators football program has seen several of its players earn prestigious accolades. This includes Heisman Trophy winners such as Tim Tebow (2007) and Maxwell Award recipients Danny Wuerffel (2007, 2008) and Tim Tebow (2007, 2008). Tim Tebow also claimed the Davey O’Brien Award in 2007. The Gators’ tradition of excellence extends to the Ray Guy Award, awarded to Chas Henry in 2010. Additionally, Aaron Hernandez (2009) and Kyle Pitts (2020) were recognized with the John Mackey Award, which celebrates outstanding tight ends in college football. Finally, Tim Tebow’s achievements include the Wuerffel Trophy (2008) and the Manning Award (2008), highlighting his exceptional performance both on and off the field. These accomplishments showcase the continued success of Florida Gators football players in the 21st century.
All-Americans: Since the program’s inception in 1906, the University of Florida has produced numerous All-Americans. This includes 32 consensus All-Americans, six of whom were unanimous selections. The first Florida first-team All-American was Dale Van Sickel in 1928, and the first consensus All-American was Steve Spurrier in 1966.
College Football Hall of Fame Members: Thirteen individuals associated with the University of Florida have been inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. This includes four head coaches and ten players. Notable Hall of Fame inductees associated with the Gators program include Steve Spurrier, Doug Dickey, and Danny Wuerffel.
Steve Spurrier holds the distinction of being inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame both as a player (for his Heisman-winning career at Florida) and as a coach (for his achievements at Duke, Florida, and South Carolina). Doug Dickey, who was also a quarterback for Florida, was inducted for his coaching accomplishments with both the Tennessee Volunteers and the Gators.
SEC Legends: Since 1994, the Southeastern Conference (SEC) has honored one former football player from each member school as an “SEC Legend.” Several Gators, including Carlos Alvarez, Jack Youngblood, Steve Spurrier, and Danny Wuerffel, have been recognized as SEC Legends, highlighting their contributions to the university and the conference.
In the early days of the program, Florida’s football and baseball teams played their home games at The Ballpark, a basic municipal facility in Gainesville. However, in 1911, the university purchased bleachers from the city and relocated them to University Athletic Field, a newly cleared area on the west side of the campus. This field was later named Fleming Field in 1915.
The turning point in Florida’s football history came in 1930 when Florida Field, with a seating capacity of 20,000, opened its gates. Over the years, Florida Field underwent several expansions, increasing its capacity to about 90,000 spectators, making it the largest stadium in the state. In 1989, the stadium was renamed “Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium” to honor UF benefactor Ben Hill Griffin. In 2016, the field itself was renamed “Steve Spurrier-Florida Field” in honor of the legendary Gator player and coach, Steve Spurrier, who also coined the stadium’s nickname, “The Swamp,” in 1992.
Uniforms and Style
Florida’s traditional home uniform consists of blue jerseys and white pants, while the away uniform typically features white jerseys with various combinations of blue, orange, or white pants. However, there have been exceptions, such as the orange home jerseys worn from 1979 to 1989.
The choice of uniform combinations often varied during the tenure of former coach Jim McElwain, with players deciding which uniforms to wear for each game. This tradition has continued with a wide array of combinations. Occasionally, Florida has introduced alternative uniforms, including the distinctive “swamp green” uniforms worn in a game against Texas A&M in October 2017, celebrating the 25th anniversary of the “Swamp” nickname for Florida Field.
The helmets have also seen various designs over the years, with colors alternating between orange, white, and blue, and logos ranging from the “Gators” script font to the interlocking “UF” and player numbers. Throwback helmets, including white helmets with a script “Gators” logo, have been introduced for special occasions.
Gator Spirit and Tradition
At the University of Florida, tradition runs deep. The “Gator Nation” is a term used to describe the collective spirit and pride of Florida Gators fans, alumni, and supporters, both within and beyond the state of Florida. Their official mascot is Albert the Alligator, and his female counterpart Alberta. Fans join in the excitement with the famous Gator Chomp, mirroring alligator jaws in celebration. The Gator Band, playing iconic tunes like “The Orange and Blue” and “We Are the Boys from Old Florida,” fuels the game day spirit. And let’s not forget the Pride of the Sunshine, the Gator Marching Band, adding to the electric atmosphere whenever they take to the field.
These traditions, along with the rich history and passionate fan base, define the vibrant football culture at the University of Florida. It continues to thrive, making the Gators a force to be reckoned with in the world of college football.
Q : When was the University of Florida founded?
A : The University of Florida was founded in 1853.
Q : How many Heisman Trophy winners has the Florida Gators football program produced?
A : The Florida Gators football program has produced three Heisman Trophy winners.
Q : Who is the head coach of the Florida Gators football team as of 2021?
A : As of 2021, the head coach of the Florida Gators football team is Dan Mullen.