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What’s it like to be Florida Gators’ honorary Mr. Two Bits?

Chris Doering and Titus O’Neil were both uncharacteristically nervous about leading the decades-old cheer at The Swamp.
Florida Gators legend Steve Spurrier led the Two bits cheer before the team's 2016 opener against UMass. (TIMES 2016)
Florida Gators legend Steve Spurrier led the Two bits cheer before the team's 2016 opener against UMass. (TIMES 2016)
Published Jul. 5, 2019|Updated Jul. 6, 2019

Of all the times former Florida receiver Chris Doering stepped into Ben Hill Griffin Stadium before kickoff, he remembers being nervous only once:

In 2013, when he was about to lead the Gators’ traditional cheer as the honorary Mr. Two Bits.

“I remember as I was preparing to go out and do that, how hard … my heart was beating, and feeling those butterflies and that anxiety in my stomach,” Doering said.

That’s how much the Two Bits cheer — “Two bits! Four bits! Six bits! A dollar! All for the Gators, stand up and holler!” — means to Doering, who played at Florida from 1992-95, and his alma mater.

Two Bits became a Florida staple 70 years ago because of Tampa’s George Edmondson, the Gators superfan who died Tuesday at 97. Edmondson led the cheer from 1949 — he started it at a game because, he once said, he was upset seeing fans boo the inexperienced players — to his retirement in 2008, when mascots Albert and Alberta took over.

In 2013, Florida began inviting VIPs such as Doering, Errict Rhett and Steve Spurrier to keep the tradition going as guest cheer leaders.

Related: READ MORE: Stand up and holler: Gators’ Mr. Two Bits, a Tampa resident, dies at age 97

When Florida asked Doering to lead the cheer before a game against Vanderbilt, he hunted through a shopping mall to find the perfect yellow shirt and light blue pants to make his outfit look as authentic as Edmondson’s traditional one. Doering even wore his golf spikes because they were the best fit for the look.

“It was a search that entire week,” said Doering, whose 31 career receiving touchdowns are tied for the most in SEC history. “I remember feeling anxious to make sure I had it as close to what (Edmondson) would have worn.”

Doering also studied film to make sure his Two Bits motions were as close to the original as possible. He took the role so seriously because he grew up in Gainesville watching Edmondson run from tunnel to tunnel under the stadium.

“I remember seeing him as this larger-than-life kind of character as a young kid,” said Doering, 46, an SEC Network analyst. “You’re in awe, pointing at him like he’s this superhero figure.”

Related: From the archives: How Mr. Two Bits started the Florida Gators’ tradition

Other honorary Two Bits leaders have added their interpretations.

Spurrier gave the lightning-bolt-like pose made famous by Olympic champion sprinter Usain Bolt during his appearance at the 2016 opener; he called the role “an honor.” After former Florida defensive lineman Titus O’Neil (aka Thaddeus Bullard, 1997-2000) led the cheer before the 2014 Kentucky game, he did what you might expect from a pro wrestling superstar. He ripped open his yellow shirt.

Former Gators defensive lineman and pro wrestling star Titus O'Neil led the Two Bits cheer before the Kentucky game in 2014. (COURTESY: Titus O'Neil)
Former Gators defensive lineman and pro wrestling star Titus O'Neil led the Two Bits cheer before the Kentucky game in 2014. (COURTESY: Titus O'Neil)
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“I had to add a little extra flavor to it,” O’Neil said.

O’Neil also was uncharacteristically anxious about the responsibility. When Florida invited him to do it, he asked whether he needed to drive up from Tampa for a rehearsal.

“I was more nervous about being out there and doing that than I would be in a stadium with 85,000 people at WrestleMania,” O’Neil, 42, said.

The butterflies came because of what Edmondson and the cheer represent.

The words link the past to the present and connect generations of Gators fans. The traditional outfit of yellow button-down shirt and orange and blue tie embody the passion of a man who spent 60 years as a constant cheerleader for a school he didn’t even attend. (He went to the Citadel.)

George Edmondson leads the Two Bits cheer at a Gators game in front of a group that includes Tampa's Titus O'Neil (No. 11). (COURTESY: Titus O'Neil).
George Edmondson leads the Two Bits cheer at a Gators game in front of a group that includes Tampa's Titus O'Neil (No. 11). (COURTESY: Titus O'Neil).

Lead the cheer correctly and the fans will be on their feet for you. Do it an injustice, O’Neil said, and you should expect to get booed off the field.

“You’re being chosen to imitate and hopefully ignite the Gator Nation like a legend,” O’Neil said. “That’s a lot of pressure.”

Tampa Bay Times sports columnist Martin Fennelly contributed to this report. Contact Matt Baker at mbaker@tampabay.com. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.

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