Remembering Mr. Two Bits RIP: "The Spirit of The Swamp"

He stood up and he hollered. For six decades he kept coming back and hollering. And his two bits worth became nearly 60 years and he became the glue that held The Gator Nation together in all kinds of weather. The perfect icon of The Ultimate Fan. And now, perhaps after his years of endurance, “The Spirit of The Swamp.”

In 1949 he accepted an invitation from a friend and George Edmondson came to Florida Field before it had all those other names. Appalled to hear fans booing their own players, he decided to do something to change their attitude. When they booed, he cheered. Mr. Two Bits, a World War II pilot, became a life force for Gator Nation back when it was only a colony. He inspired many generations of fans, players, coaches — even the University of Florida itself — since first coming to a Gator football game as Florida’s most famous walk-on in history. Mr. Two Bits wasn’t even a UF graduate, but nobody cared because of his incredible work ethic, commitment and passion. Edmondson officially retired as the Gators’ most famous cheerleader after the 2008 season.

Although 97, inactive for several years due to illness, when he died in early July, Edmondson was still highly revered and beloved. “So sad to hear about Mr. Two Bits passing away,” Dan Mullen tweeted. “Traditions are what makes college football so special, and George Edmondson started one of the greatest. With memories we will always cherish, he will be dearly missed by all Gators.” Steve Spurrier knew Mr. Two Bits pretty well. And although “we didn’t really hang out” in the same circles, the HBC regards him highly and greatly appreciates his legacy. He was a super loyal guy and helped Gator football at lot in his day,” said Spurrier, who looked up one day in the stands and saw this guy with a yellow shirt, orange and blue tie, khaki pants, saddle oxford shoes, a “Two Bits” sign and a whistle. Many wept in the Gator Nation. Former Gator band member Jane Linderman, a devout fan who lives in Alaska, felt a deep sense of loss. “Mr. Two Bits passing has me crying,” she wrote. “I have lost a friend. I never met him in person, he was always bounding up or down the stadium steps too fast. What contagious enthusiasm George had.” It just feels like he’s always been there for the Gator Nation. That’s why it’s tough to believe that Edmondson retired from his epic role all the way back in 2008.

As the cliche goes, “Often imitated, never duplicated.” When Jeremy Foley

decided to honor George by inviting a “celebrity” Mr. Two Bits to perform in his honor, it made us realize just how much the real Mr. Two Bits had been taken for granted. “For generations of Florida football fans, doing the Two Bits cheer led by George was part of the fabric of their day cheering on the Gators,” said Foley, athletic director emeritus at Florida. “All of Gator Nation will remember George for his enthusiasm, dedication and love for Florida and how he willingly shared that love.” Only time will be able us to measure the contributions that George Edmonson made. But perhaps in death (July 2, 2019) he will more famous than in life. His routine has been mimicked by scores of famous players, athletes and alumni at games in The Swamp. Running back Errict Rhett was the first. Heisman hero Danny Wuerffel and teammate Chris Doering were among those chosen to imitate the Edmondson routine. “There’s no question, you always knew who he was,” Wuerffel said. “Every now and then you’d hear a certain part of the stands erupt and you just assumed it was Mr. Two Bits. The thing that’s hit me is just the whole life cycle from where this started to where it is. “His story is a lesson of perseverance and faithfulness. This is someone who had an idea to lead some cheers -- was never commissioned or asked to do it. He did his small part, did it very faithfully for many years, and it grew and grew. And now, to be recognized by Florida and for it grow to the point where it’s a staple cheer for different celebrity folks, I just think it’s inspiring for all of us.” As an example of the reverence he commanded, each of those chosen to become the celebrity Mr. Two Bits said they felt heavy pressure.

Chris Doering was so intent on making his moves authentic that he did film study to make sure his routine as close to the original as possible. He told the Tampa Bay Times: “I remember seeing him as this larger-than-life kind of character as a young kid. You’re in awe, pointing at him like he’s this superhero figure.” Even the HBC put a little extra in it. “I did Mr. Two Bits for the UMass game,” recalled Spurrier. “I guess the opener of the 2016 season. I tried to give it a good little jump for ‘Two Bits, Four Bits, Six Bits, a Dollar.’ And what was ironic is that I did something that no one’s ever done before. It wasn’t long after Usain Bolt had just won the Olympics — about a month or two ago — and he does this thing like shooting the arrow in the sky. And so I did that right after the ‘Two Bits.’ “Later on I became the coach of the Orlando Apollos and that was sort of asked about that by our staff. “So it was a little ironic. But yet, so many people have done ‘Mr. Two Bits’ and it’s an honor for everyone to go out and do it. I know Cris Collinsworth (former Gator wide receiver) was in town doing it last year. I believe the best swimmer in the world, Caleb Drexel, was out there. So it’s it’s an honor to do that at least once.” Asked if, like Doering, he felt pressure doing the routine, Spurrier said: “Well, you don’t want to mess it up too much. But you know they don’t put a microphone on you so you just do your thing. Every person can do something a little different. And I think most people try to do that.” It was noted by Scott Carter of “His final game cheering was against his alma mater, The Citadel, the program against whom he originated the ‘Two Bits’ chant back in 1949.” Perfect symmetry by the man in the yellow shirt, orange and blue tie, khakis and saddle oxford. ( Here are some other thoughts about how Mr. Two Bits was remembered by some:

"A icon and friend to many thousands of true and loyal Gator fans over the years. He possessed more energy and a zeal for life than any person I knew and was a testament to spirit and a never give up attitude. I will always recall his wide eyed Gator grin and positive persona that offered a strong shake of the hand and a GO GATORS on any occasion! Thanks Two Bits for being a part of my and so many Gator Lives!” — Steve Crider Boulder, Colo. “The Gator Nation has always meant so much to us, and George and I have loved being a part of it. We were both made honorary alumni of the university, and it has always meant so much to us.” — Jane Edmondson, George’s widow. “George Edmondson truly brought joy and excitement to generations of Gators. To this day, no football game at the University of Florida is complete without his familiar cheer ringing throughout the stadium. The way he lived his life is a testament to the power of loyalty, dedication, team work and not giving up when the chips are down, and that is a wonderful legacy.” — Dr. W. Kent Fuchs, UF President. “George’s passion and love for the Gators produced one of college football’s enduring traditions. The fact that Mr. Two Bits continues to this day speaks to the magnitude of his legacy at Florida. His loyalty and long-standing commitment to the Gators is a fantastic example of the passion that makes college athletics so great.” — Florida Athletic Director Scott Stricklin “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 ... I remember feeling anxious to make sure I had it as close to what (Edmondson) would have worn.” — Chris Doering (to the Tampa Bay Times.) “Edmondson, who resided in Tampa and sold insurance, did not even attend UF, but he was a diehard Gator football fan dating to the post-World War II era. He began his turn as Mr. Two Bits during the 1949 season opener against The Citadel. He would continue the routine until retiring in 2008 — three years after the school named Edmondson an honorary alumnus.” — Edgar Thompson, Orlando Sentinel “ … a true Southern gentlemen, a WWII Navy pilot and one of the kindest souls I ever knew.” — Mike Hill, UNC Charlotte, Formerly UF Associate Athletics Director “I have many fond memories of Mr. Two Bits …his 85th Birthday Celebration at Busch Gardens in 2007. I think the secret of his longevity may have been his affinity for adult beverages.” —Tom Klinker, Leesburg

“We sat in Section 59 from 1982-2014, and while he did not always make it to the South End Zone upper level, we thought we were the loudest group as the rest of the stadium would join along.” — Tony Agolini “I feel honored that some of these celebrities would portray me out there on the field before the game.” — George Edmondson, in 2013

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