tampabay.com

He plans to stand up and holler

Aside from a four-day course for insurance agents in 1950, he never set foot in a University of Florida classroom. Yet George Edward Edmondson Jr., 84, remains the most popular - if not oldest - cheerleader in school history.

By JOEY KNIGHT
Published January 8, 2007


Aside from a four-day course for insurance agents in 1950, he never set foot in a University of Florida classroom. Yet George Edward Edmondson Jr., 84, remains the most popular - if not oldest - cheerleader in school history. Days before setting off for Glendale, Ariz., for the BCS championship game, the South Tampa resident known to orange and blue legions as Mr. Two-Bits chatted about - among other things - the origin of his schmaltzy cheer and how he times it.

You're a Navy veteran who attended the Citadel for a brief period, but never went to Florida. How then was Mr. Two-Bits conceived?

A friend of mine had some season tickets, and I had just moved back to Tampa. And he said, "Would you like to go to a football game?" I said, "Yeah." It was my wife at that time and he and his wife. That was in September of 1949. Oddly enough, we played the Citadel. ... That's when I heard all this booing. At the beginning of the game when the announcer said, "Heeere come the Gators," and they run out on the field, everybody's booing. Here's Coach Woodruff and coach Bear Wolf, and then they boo the coach. It was sad. I thought it was terrible.

I can tell where this is going.

I was very surprised. I told one of them, "What is everybody booing for?" Of course, the Gators were terrible, footballwise. I said: "They're just kids out there, they're doing the best they can, we ought to cheer for them. Every time they make a mistake, we're going to stand up and cheer for them." So I get eight or 10 people, a few in front, a few in the back, and on the count of three we do the Two-Bits cheer. Everybody knew it from high school; it's not in their repertoire anymore. The only place it's alive is in Gainesville, with the Gators.

You cue your cheer by blowing a whistle to get the crowd's attention. But didn't you once use a bugle?

It's on the wall in there. I took the bugle and people would look around, and I'd hold up the Two-Bits sign and lead the cheer. But the bugle down through the years got a little cumbersome to carry around. So I started with the whistle. I've been very lucky all these years not to get (a penalty) because that's bad news. I try to stay away from the first 15 or 20 rows down toward the field. When I blow my whistle I usually blow it back toward the stands.

You have this down to a science.

I don't usually cheer when our team has the ball and when we're winning. I was using what I thought was my energy to build up some enthusiasm when we were behind. ... It's gotten to be a routine. And, of course, moving around the stands, I'll come to a section of people who are like, "Oh, right here, Mr. Two-Bits. Right now, right here." Well, there's a P.A. announcement going on, or the band's playing, the other team's band's playing, or there's a play going on. So my time to lead a cheer is a narrow window. The best time is on an incomplete pass.

How many games have you missed?

I've missed three home games in 58 years. The first two were way back. I had business trips; I had to go to New York one time and Chicago one time. The other game, it was an LSU home game, I was ill. ... I had my wife call up there and say I couldn't be there. The word got out, and the P.A. announcer said, "Mr. Two-Bits isn't here today, he's sick." Oh, my Lord, I got telephone calls, cards, letters. And then I would see people later after I had gotten well, and they'd say, "How's your broken leg, George?" or "I see you've gotten over your heart attack."

Didn't you briefly retire as Mr. Two-Bits last decade?

Yes, I did. We played South Carolina in '98. That was 50 years, and I figured that was enough time. I told my wife: "You know, I've got to quit. I'm not going to do like (Joe) Paterno and Bobby Bowden; I'm going to quit while I'm ahead." So I did, and they had a big to-do in the stadium. Spurrier had me down on the field and presented me with the game ball, which was just great. But before the next season people were saying, "George, I understand you've quit." I would say, "Well ..." and they would be like: "We don't want you to quit. Keep going. Keep going as long as you're healthy." Anyway, I started back the next September and I've been doing it ever since.

But you don't still lead the cheer for every section, do you?

Yes I do, a little bit. Not as much as I used to, but of course I've gotten a little older, and I don't want to push myself. I've got to be realistic. I'm planning right now to go back next year.

So how did you score tickets to the national championship game?

People have asked me down through the years, "Does the university supply you with tickets?" No, they do not. I buy my season tickets; I donate to the Gator Boosters just like everybody else to get the priority to get tickets. The more you give, the better chance you have to get tickets.

Joey Knight can be reached at (813) 226-3350.