GAINESVILLE, Fla. — George Edmondson was at his Tampa home when the phone rang three weeks ago.
A good friend of Edmondson’s was on the line and had someone with him who wanted to talk to the original Mr. Two Bits.
It was former Gators running back Errict Rhett, who as part of a new tradition at Florida Field, served as the honorary Mr. Two Bits prior to Florida’s victory over Toledo in the season opener Aug. 31.
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Rhett asked Edmondson what he thought of a Gator celebrity playing a role Edmondson made famous starting in 1949.
“That’s great,” Edmondson said this week. “I was pleased to hear about it. They wanted to check with me before they did it and I told them I think that’s a great idea. I feel honored that some of these celebrities would portray me out there on the field before the game.”
The 91-year-old Edmondson officially retired as the Gators’ most famous cheerleader after the 2008 season. He never attended UF but at a Florida-Citadel game in 1949, Edmondson was surprised when he heard the home fans booing the Gators.
He decided to stand up and start his famous cheer, and he kept coming back for the next 60 years.
Edmondson doesn’t get around like he used to. He had hoped to attend Saturday’s game against Tennessee — Florida announced Thursday that former Gators quarterback Danny Wuerffel is serving as Mr. Two Bits — but Edmondson decided he probably should stay home.
“My health has been going downhill steadily and I’m just not able to make the trip,” said Edmondson, whose sense of humor remains sharp. “Each day I wake up and I thank the Lord for another day. Somebody asked me if I’m going out on the field. I have a hard time getting to the grocery story.”
Edmondson’s place in Florida football lore is secure and the Gators’ new Mr. Two Bits tradition received a lot of fan support. Rhett gave a lively performance that was popular on social media, even wearing Edmondson’s trademark yellow dress shirt and orange-and-blue tie.
Wuerffel takes his turn Saturday well aware of Edmondson’s place in Gators history.
“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.”
Edmondson said he doesn’t own a computer and has not followed fan reaction to Florida continuing the Mr. Two Bits tradition.
But friends have called to tell him. And Rhett’s call is one he won’t forget.
If he starts to feel better, he wants to see it in person and cheer along. He has a couple of former Gators he would like to see in the role one day: Steve Spurrier and Cris Collinsworth.
“I hope we can make one game at least. I’m not getting any younger,” he said. “It’s great. That’s all I can say.”