Gator fever rocked the house as the University of Florida welcomed its football heroes home.
More than 12,000 fans went wild at the O'Dome on Tuesday in a salute to the team that captured its second national championship one night earlier, as UF became the only school to hold national titles in football and men's basketball at the same time.
Officials ushered the football players before adoring fans during halftime at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center, where the other champs continued their winning ways on the basketball court.
Amid thundering applause from a crowd that chanted his name, football coach Urban Meyer thanked the team and fans for making the Gators the "best team in Florida football history."
Players Ray McDonald, Dallas Baker, Percy Harvin, Tim Tebow and Reggie Nelson addressed the crowd. Quarterback Chris Leak missed the celebration, which lasted about five minutes, because he was scheduled to appear on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno.
"I knew you had our backs," defensive end McDonald said. "We love you, Gator Nation."
Baker, a senior wide receiver from New Smyrna Beach, at times waved The Sears Trophy in the air and joked that he would like to stay with the team until he was 30.
And he paid homage to his compatriots on the basketball team. "You gave us the motivation" to do this, he said of Monday night's 41-14 victory over Ohio State.
The shimmering sea of orange and blue above him ate it up. Fans stomped. They chanted. Their boys were home.
Although the swift appearance caught many by surprise, watching the history-making team come home was still a mind-blowing event, Jacksonville alum Von Bailey, 38, said.
"This is huge," said Bailey, formerly of Orlando.
On Tuesday, thousands turned out to watch the men's basketball. Tickets for the regular-season matchup between the second-ranked Gators and unranked Arkansas Razorbacks already were sold out before Monday's football game.
University officials did not make it any easier for those gaga for Gators to see them. The team was not available to the public or the media.
Players arrived in Gainesville from Arizona shortly after 6 p.m. and were ushered to campus.
Fearing crushing crowds at Gainesville Regional Airport, officials warned fans to stay clear, and most did.
"If the public had been allowed in here, there would be no room to stand," said Barbara Potter, an airport worker.
The university will host a pep rally for fans at noon Saturday at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on campus. Gates will open at 10:30 a.m. The event will be broadcast live on Sun Sports.
The tight security didn't sway fans from trying to sneak a glimpse of the heroes wherever they could.
The Johnsons of Orange Park let their boys cut class to try to stake out the team. Dylan, 12, hoped to snag an autograph on the Reggie Nelson jersey he got for Christmas. "I'm so excited," he said.
Earlier Tuesday, Gov. Charlie Crist congratulated Meyer. "It's a great day for the Gators, a great day for Florida and a great day for coach Meyer and your wonderful quarterback," Crist said in a phone call.
A mob of fans crushed midtown streets immediately after the victory but caused little damage, although a streaker from Longwood was hit and injured by a car.
On Tuesday, it seemed most of Gainesville happily awoke with a hangover. Hotel clerks, shopkeepers and waitresses and patrons alike looked a bit rough around the edges on University Avenue and Archer Road. Businesses posted congratulatory messages on marquees and hung their facades with balloons. The broken glass, plastic cups and toilet paper that littered University Avenue, the main drag bordering campus, didn't dim the enthusiasm.
Orlando natives Tisha Walker, 23, and her friend Greg Connell, 25, sat at a street-side cafe table at The Swamp hoping to catch sight of the team's motorcade.
With the University of Florida's dual successes, the only question left on fans' minds is which sport is next.
"We're on fire -- which one now?" Walker said.
George Skene of the Sentinel staff contributed to this report. Information from The Associated Press also was used. Erika Hobbs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 407-420-6226.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun