A tradition was born at the University of Florida last week — and it was an instant classic.
Add Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” — which will be played following the singing of “We Are the Boys,” between the third and fourth quarters at all future Gator home games — to the Chomp, Mr. Two Bits and Albert and Alberta as game-day staples in The Swamp.
Florida’s tribute to Petty, a Gainesville native who died last week, will continue according to Mike Hill, associate athletic director for external affairs, who participated in the decision on how to honor Petty at last week’s game against LSU — five days after the death of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member in Los Angeles.
“We all felt passionately that we wanted to do something,” Hill said.
When Petty’s song came blaring out of the speakers at the stadium, the reaction was startling even to Florida officials who had expected a warm reception.
Almost immediately, most of the crowd of 88,247 began singing the lyrics, achieving their loudest volume on the chorus.
“We were hoping that the fans would participate by singing but this is my 25th football season with the University of Florida and that was an all-time great moment in The Swamp, for me and others who have been here a long time,” Hill said. “I will never forget that. A moment that was emotional and at the same time very celebratory and uplifting made you proud to be from Gainesville.”
Offensive guard Tyler Jordan was on the bench with his position group at the time (LSU still had the ball when the fourth quarter began) and said the crowd’s sing-along actually took his attention away from line coach Brad Davis, who was scribbling formations on a whiteboard.
“People started singing and I was looking around and kind of forgot [to listen to Davis],” Jordan said. “It was a really cool experience.”
Florida coach Jim McElwain, a self-proclaimed rock and roll buff, called it “special.”
“It was hard not to notice,” McElwain said. “Credit goes to the people who put it together and more than that, the response of the fans.”
The people who put it together were athletic director Scott Stricklin, Hill and the UAA marketing and promotions department, headed by Alicia Longworth.
“Scott Stricklin was the absolute driving force with how we ended up doing it and how we pulled it off,” Hill said.
The first discussions were held on Oct. 3 during a regular meeting of the marketing department, after it was confirmed Petty had died.
Hill said several Petty songs were considered but “I Won’t Back Down,” was an easy choice for several reason: It’s one of Petty’s shortest hit songs, lasting less than three minutes, there are only a few seconds of instrumental music before Petty begins singing, and the lyrics lend themselves to a sports anthem.
Hill said the school has about 3 minutes and 30 seconds between the third and fourth quarters, depending on the broadcast partner. It takes about 1 minute and 20 seconds for the crowd to sing “We are the Boys,” and the time remaining before play resumed enabled UF to play two verses and the chorus twice of Petty’s song.
“There wasn’t a ton of debate,” Hill said. “The lyrics show an attitude, with a message very appropriate to a football game, Tom jumps into signing very quickly and it’s a great sing-along song.”
The playing of the song wasn’t without some controversy. LSU’s band struck up a song it usually plays between the third and fourth quarters when “I Won’t Back Down,” began, prompting boos from the Florida crowd and a subsequent torrent of criticism on social media.
LSU apologized on its band Twitter account after the game.
Hill said visiting bands are given a script for the day to avoid conflicts and the LSU band director was made aware of the Petty tribute.
“We saw the apology and we understand,” Hill said.
Click here to read the article from the Florida Times-Union.
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