College Football: Florida returns to rousing welcome

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Associated Press

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The Florida Gators returned home to a rousing reception Tuesday night, eager to show off their national championship trophy and celebrate with fans and fellow students.

The entire team — minus quarterback Chris Leak, who was appearing “The Tonight Show” with Jay Leno — filed into the school’s basketball arena to thunderous applause during halftime of Florida’s game against Arkansas.

Dressed in black warmup suits, and accompanied by coach Urban Meyer, players stood behind the large trophy they brought home from Monday night’s 41-14 victory over Ohio State and posed for pictures. They waved wildly to the crowd of more than 11,000.

Several players, including senior receiver Dallas Baker, spoke briefly and thanked fans for their unwavering support. They also paid homage to the school’s national championship basketball team.

“They gave us motivation,” Baker said.

“I want you to understand what you have,” Meyer added. “For the first time, a school has the No. 1 football team and the No. 1 basketball team in the same year.”

Thousands of Florida students attended class Tuesday wearing orange Gators T-shirts and prepared to welcome the national champions, but they will have to wait four more days to celebrate with the team at a pep rally.

UF officials urged fans to stay away from the team’s arrival at the airport at 6:15 p.m. Only passengers and people with business at the airport were allowed to enter the passenger terminal area.

Earlier Tuesday, Gov. Charlie Crist congratulated Meyer and called Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland to collect on a friendly wager.

“Congratulations, buddy. Outstanding!” Crist said in a phone call to Meyer.