The first time Chris Crary sat in the stands for a Gator football game, he was 3 years old.
After the game, he remembers running around the house, saying “I Gator.”
“That’s when I knew,” he said. “I was going to be a Florida Gator.”
Saturday night, Crary, now 18, leaned over the first row of the student section.
With blue face paint rimming his eyes and mouth and orange streaking down his cheeks, the computer engineering freshman was still in disbelief that he and his friends were standing in the front row for their first game as students.
Crary was one of 90,227 people packed into The Swamp as the Gators ushered in the Jim McElwain era of Florida football with a 61-13 win against New Mexico State University.
While the victory was sweet for McElwain, he said the support from the fans was even sweeter.
“The fans, man, were awesome,” McElwain said. “They were into it. And what I liked, too, is that they were knowledgeable. They knew when to kind of get going.”
McElwain gave the fans good reason to get going.
The Gators’ passing game came to life, with quarterbacks Treon Harris and Will Grier combining for 381 yards and four touchdowns.
Fourteen different players caught passes, a testament that McElwain isn’t afraid to spread the ball around.
The defense limited New Mexico State to just 200 yards of offense — including a 1-yard loss in the second half.
“They energized us from Gator Walk on,” McElwain said of the fans. “That was a great, great crowd.”
It was an almost unprecedented crowd, as well.
In 25 home games during the Will Muschamp era, attendance surpassed 90,000 just 10 times, with each occurrence coming against either Florida State University or a Southeastern Conference opponent.
The last time the Gators reached that mark in a season opener was in 2009, Tim Tebow’s final year on campus.
“Over 90,000 people for their first game of the season, a non-conference game, is huge,” said junior linebacker Alex Anzalone. “There’s nothing like it, that’s for sure.”
Tickets for the game had been sold out since Thursday at 5 p.m., Mark Gajda, an assistant athletics director in ticket sales and operations, wrote in an email.
More than 20,000 of the tickets were claimed by students and their guests, Gajda said.
Students flooded UF Facebook groups in search of tickets for themselves or their friends.
After posting on Facebook, UF psychology senior Carrie Green received a message from someone selling a ticket at 3 p.m. Saturday.
She bought it for $20 at 4:30 p.m., just three hours before kickoff.
The 21-year-old said she had been to every season opener since she moved from Atlanta to Gainesville in 2012.
At her first game as a freshman, Green said she didn’t know anyone. But for her last first game before graduation, she said she went with friends.
“Now it feels like home,” she said.
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