The 1948 season was not a great one for Gator Football. The team went a mediocre 5-5, with every loss coming against a conference opponent.
Fans were so disappointed with the team’s efforts that in the 1949 season opener against the Citadel, boos showered the field as the players and coaching staff took to the field.
George Edmondson lived in the Tampa area, but received a ticket from a friend to attend the game in Gainesville. The Gators were playing the Citadel, the school he used to attend in South Carolina. When Edmondson heard the crowd verbally criticizing the home team, he was surprised.
“George said ‘You know that’s not right,’” George’s wife Jane said of that day. “’They’re just young kids trying to do their best out there. Let’s not boo them, let’s give a cheer every time they do something wrong, let’s cheer for them.’”
Above: Hear this story in our “Untold Florida” podcast, and let us know what questions you have ahead of our next podcast season.
Edmondson stood up and shouted a cheer he knew from high school. It was a common shout that many schools used, and he added a Florida twist to it.
Two bits! Four bits! Six bits! A dollar! All for the Gators, stand up and holler!
The cheer excited the crowd in his section. Florida went on to win the game against the Citadel, 13-0. The team didn’t improve overall, going 4-5-1 in 1949, but a tradition was born that still stands today.
The cheer derives from old terminology when describing the makeup of a dollar. A bit is an eighth of a dollar, as the Spanish used to actually cut coins in eight pieces to make their change.
For Edmondson, it was a way for him to amp up the crowd.
He was born in Atlanta, but his parents moved with him to Tampa when he was a baby. He grew up there, then went to military school back in Georgia. In his second year attending the Citadel, World War Two broke out.
“He had to either join the service of his choice or be drafted, so he joined the Navy,” Jane said.
In the Navy, Jane Edmondson says her husband flew a hellcat, one of the most used aircraft carrier fighters in the war.
Soon after returning, her husband started the Two Bits tradition. He bought season tickets, and waited for the best times to start the cheer.
“He never missed a play,” Jane Edmondson said. “He ran all over the place to get to what place he wanted to be, what section he wanted to go to.”
George Edmondson’s cheers stayed in the stands until the late 1970s, when UF approached him about adding the ritual to the pre-game festivities on the field. Jane Edmondson says she didn’t know her husband was Mr. Two Bits until they went to a game together.
“I just accepted it,” Jane said. “He enjoyed it and the fans seemed to enjoy it… So I kind of grew into it with him, and we enjoyed it quite a bit.”
The cheer wasn’t just exclusive to game days. Mrs. Edmondson says the two would go to campus at the beginning of fall semesters and teach it at orientation so freshmen would be prepared to shout it confidently before the first home game.
Mr. Two Bits retired from doing the cheer after 50 years in the late 1990s.
Then Florida head coach Steve Spurrier contacted him.
“Steve said ‘Well now, George, I know you’ve retired, but we’re gonna need you for, I think the Tennessee game and the FSU game,’” Jane Edmondson said.
Mr. Two Bits led the cheer for another 10 years after that, finally calling it quits following the 2008 season.
Five years later, the University created a celebrity Mr. Two Bits, where prominent UF figures take the field and lead the cheer in Edmondson’s iconic dress – a bright yellow shirt, orange and blue tie, dress pants and a tidy pair of dress shoes.
Spurrier tried it himself in 2016.
“Hopefully it came out OK,” Spurrier said. “I was jumping around not as well as some of these young athletes do it now.”
The head ball coach saw the effects of the Mr. Two Bits cheer as a player and head coach at Florida.
“He’s just a wonderful guy that wanted to get the fans into the ball game,” Spurrier said. “Cheering and yelling a screaming for the Gators, so he’s a legend.”
Other Gator greats also saw Edmondson as an icon for the football program.
Thaddeus Bullard, better known for his stage name Titus O’Neil as a WWE Wrestler, played for the Gator football team from 1997 to 2000. He gives Edmondson credit for performing in front of such a large audience. Bullard was a celebrity Mr. Two Bits in 2013.
“I was nervous,” Bullard said. “Very nervous. I was more nervous about doing that than any professional WWE event ever.”
Former Gator and NFL wide receiver Chris Doering was a celebrity Mr. Two Bits that same year.
“Not a lot of times I remember going out on that field as a player,” Doering said. “I can tell you before I went out there to do that, my heart was beating out of my chest.”
Doering says as a Gainesville native, his lifelong dream was to play for Florida, and watching Mr. Two Bits as a kid helped fuel that goal.
“I think it’s really important that people understand that there’s this thread that kind of connects all the generations of Gator fans,” Doering said. “The Mr. Two Bits cheers is definitely one of those that I’m glad they found a way to continue it.”
There have been more than 30 celebrity Mr. Two Bits since Edmondson retired, and his wife is excited to see the cheer’s continued growth.
“You know it grew from nothing to something big, and it’s just really a very good feeling,” Jane said. “He was very proud, very proud of it.”
Edmondson leaves behind a legacy of positivity and celebration. The university plans to honor him with a mural inside Gate 1 of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.