GAINESVILLE — It may be hard for some to believe that a man who never attended the University of Florida could influence its sports culture so deeply. A legacy built over 60 years still lives on today.
But many Gators fans had the chance to witness that greatness first-hand as George Edmondson, a Tampa native, led the Swamp in its pre-kickoff Two Bits cheer every Saturday until the end of the 2008 football season when he officially retired.
The man known as Mr. Two Bits, remains part of the game-day tradition more than two months after his death at age 97, as the Gators honored him Saturday night at their home opener against Tennessee-Martin.
The Two Bits cheer was a family affair as Edmondson’s three grandchildren, Kevin King, Chris King and Robert Edmondson, and five great-grandchildren led Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in the chant Saturday evening. It brought thousands of fans — some wearing yellow T-shirts in Edmondson’s memory — to their feet for one of the school’s most beloved cheers.
“Two bits! Four bits! Six bits! A dollar! All for the Gators, stand up and holler!”
“It was just incredible,” said Chris King, the eldest grandson. “I absolutely loved doing the cheer and I think it’s great that the university continues to do that and carry on his legacy.”
Chris remembered a trip to the grocery store before a family tailgate and his grandad wearing his “Superman uniform.” That was the first time he realized just how big of a deal Edmondson was at the University of Florida.
“Everyone wanted a picture, everyone wanted an autograph,” he said. “He stops, and he’s very courteous, but I also think that was why he walked so fast, so he can actually get something accomplished.
“You would think you were walking around with a rock star, a movie star, like some huge celebrity, which obviously he was a big celebrity, but he was just my grandad. I didn’t know any different.”
Edmondson’s family used the very same orange sign with black lettering Mr. Two Bits wielded for 60 years.
“It means a lot to me with everything going on today,” said Robert Edmondson, the youngest grandson. “Everybody’s honoring everything he did for the Gators and it’s so cool.
Robert, the only family member who has educational ties to UF, hasn’t been on campus since 2012 when he graduated with his master’s degree. But the Florida grad said all of those memories of football games with his grandad and being a student on campus came flooding back Saturday.
“I remember my freshman year the Alligator did an article and it just happened to mention Mr. Two Bits is visiting his freshman engineering grandson Robert Edmondson,” he said, chuckling. “The kids in my calc class went nuts.”
He also remembers his then-75-year-old grandad running all around the stadium when he was just 9 years old, making sure he didn’t miss any part of the student section.
“He’s running around and he’s not even breaking a sweat and I’m behind huffing and puffing,” Robert said.
The evening was fitting for a man as bright as his yellow button-up dress shirt.
“It’s a very wonderful tribute to my husband, George,” said Jane Edmondson. “It’s just very special and it’s so much fun.”
Donning a Mr. Two Bits T-shirt — which the Gators also were selling before the game — with a pinstripe tie enamel pin, Jane said this was her first return to Florida Field without her husband by her side.
“I feel like he’s here anyway,” she said. “It’s absolutely amazing.”
A photo of Edmondson hoisting the Two Bits sign over his head now graces a wall just inside of Gate 1, providing the perfect photo opp for fans. The mural is the newest permanent fixture to the stadium.
“He’s always out there on that field,” Kevin King said. “If you’re on Florida Field, he’s there. He touched everybody.”
Kevin said when the family passed the mural heading to the field for the Two Bits cheer, he was touched by all of the fans stopping to take pictures.
“I’m like ‘wow,’” Kevin said. “We thought it was cool, we’re family, but to go back down there and I took a picture of people taking pictures. I thought that was pretty cool.”
The football program also showed its support on the field with necktie stickers on the back-left side of every player’s helmet.
Jane was very happy to see her grandsons lead the chant Saturday night.
“I told those boys to practice,” she said. “They’ve all been looking at videos and the little kids, they’ve all practiced, too.”
Her husband of 44 years invited Jane to a game a few years after he started the iconic chant. He never really told her what his role was and she didn’t even know the magnitude of his presence in the Swamp, but she tagged along all the same.
“I didn’t realize what he did,” she said, “and it wasn’t as big as it got.”
The chant lived on past Edmonson’s retirement. Mascots Albert and Alberta led it for a few years before the university started inviting former Gator athletes to take part.
“I hope (his legacy is) a positive thing like it is now,” she said. “He gave people so much joy and I think that’s it, it was fun for everyone.”