House of Horrors
Stephen C. O'Connell Center
The Stephen C. O'Connell Center (nicknamed "The O'Dome") in Gainesville, Florida is by no means the largest college basketball arena, but it has a well-earned reputation as a hostile enviroment for visitors. The so-called "Rowdy Reptiles" (University of Florida students who populate the south sideline's lower section) have long attracted the attention of national media figures, leading one major outlet to place the moniker of "House of Horrors" upon the structure. Here's just a few reasons why.
Rowdy Reptiles: Half Orange, Half Blue
- The O'Connell Center has an announced capacity of 12,000, but this has been exceeded repeatedly. The December 2006 game versus Ohio State, for example, saw a record 12,621 fans pour into the O'Dome. When prominent opponents come to Gainesville, namely Tennessee or Kentucky, snagging a ticket can become almost impossible.
- The lower south sideline holds the students known as the "Rowdy Reptiles," who get into every game for free and regularly camp outside the arena to be awarded the best seats during premier match-ups. The orange-and-blue shakers given to each student prior to the game fly up into the air whenever the road team has possession, and no Rowdy Reptile ever sits down during a game. The distance between the student section and the court creates a deafening situation for any visiting player who must inbound the ball from the south sideline. The students, as one would expect, participate wholeheartedly in in-game traditions. Some of these include bowing to Gators who have just made a three, singing along to "Call Me Al," chanting the name of the Gator center who participates in the opening tip-off, performing a Gator chomp when a Gator free throw is made, and more.
- During nationally-televised rivalry games, every seat in the arena is draped with orange and blue shirts. One half of the fans receive orange "Rowdy Reptile" shirts, and one half receive blue ones, but all oblige to wear them for their team. The result is a very intimidating show of coordination.
- The chants echoing the footsteps of visiting players ("Left, Right, SIT DOWN!") who have fouled out of a game and must return to the bench is commonplace. Additionally, the full-voiced chants of "airball" which ensue whenever an opposing player fails to hit the rim continue every time that player touches the ball (unless they make a shot afterwards). It is hard to leave amidst a Gator victory without hearing "It's great, to be, a Florida Gator," and you can be sure that the other team hears it all the way home.
- LED scorer's tables light up both sidelines with high-definition statistics and crowd directions, and four high-definition video boards populate the corners of the arena. The video boards show real-time statistics and give crowd directions while also showing a live, broadcast-style look at the game at hand and showing any replays that may have been missed.
- The lighting in the arena is manipulated in pre-game introductions, causing the visitors to be called out under full lighting with little ceremony. The lights are shut off, and the Gators are then introduced one-by-one in a spotlight with their names and faces flashing on the video boards and their song of choice blaring through the arena's speakers. Hype never looked so good.
- The announcer inside the arena is known for his long, drawn-out phrases like "twooooooooo shots" when referring to a Gator player shooting two free throws and "Heeeeeeeere come the Gators" when the team steps foot on the court. Home fans love it, and visiting fans soon find themselves saying it along with him.
- The multiple-purpose nature of the O'Connell Center causes the lower level of seating to be foldable risers which can be temporarily pushed back to make way for indoor track or gymnastic meets. These risers are therefore very easy to shake, and fans often rapidly stomp their feet on them during crucial defensive sets for the Gators, creating a loud rumble that can make an opposing point guard's job very difficult to perform.
- The Florida Gators won back-to-back national championships in men's basketball in 2006 and 2007, and the orange banners which commemorate this hang from the rafters. As if it's not intimidating enough for visitors to look upon the success which the home team is prone to enjoying, the court has a secret of its own. After Florida won its first championship in 2006, the school bought the court used at the Final Four in the RCA Dome in Indianapolis, Indiana, laying it down in the O'Dome and unveiling it during the national championship celebration. The school then announced that the court would have its Final Four logos sanded away and replaced with a Gator-themed paint scheme, allowing Florida to play its home games on a championship court. The Gators repeated as national champions that year (2007), and the same magical hardwood remains in place today.
If You're Not a Gator, You Must Be Gator Bait
Whatever it may be attributed to, here's how the Gators fare at home (as of 1-30-2010):
- Record under Billy Donovan (13+ seasons): 193-33 (.854)
- Non-conference (non-SEC) under Donovan: 108-7 (.939)
- All-time record: 332-99 (.770)
- Won 24 straight games from March 1, 2006 to Nov. 20, 2007
- Won 40 non-conference games in a row from Nov. 16, 1998 to Dec. 10, 2003