ARLINGTON, TEXAS -- Somebody needs to get Dave Horton a ticket to tonight’s game.
Horton is from Birmingham, Ala. He never attended Florida Gulf Coast University. He showed up Friday afternoon at Sherlock’s Baker St. Pub & Grill, near Cowboys Stadium, on his own.
And he has “Dunk City” painted on his face, in green and blue and white from ear to ear.
“I said when they got seeded in the bracket, I’ll see them when they get to Dallas,” said Horton, 26, who lived in Fort Myers for four years. “I just wanted to mix it up a little bit and support this team.”
Inside the pub, about a mile north from the site of FGCU’s Sweet 16 game tonight, fans and school officials gathered for an early celebration of the underdog Eagles, whose NCAA Tournament run has become a national sensation. The party, put on by the school’s alumni association, drew a couple hundred people in the hours before the Eagles’ clash with Florida.
The event was the latest to stoke the spirit of FGCU fanatics. T-shirts and beads and other paraphernalia circulated through the bar, as chants of “F-G” were followed by a chorus of “C-U.” University dignitaries, including President Wilson Bradshaw, toured the room. When an ESPN poll showed 78 percent of the country wants FGCU to beat the Gators, a roar went up.
Old friends and longtime fans reminisced about the early days of the school and its athletic program. The Sweet 16 was a chance for friends Andrew Miller, 32, and Garrett Heine, 32, to connect after graduating nearly a decade ago. The two met at freshman orientation and worked together on student government, becoming so close that Heine served as Miller’s best man at his wedding.
Their work on campus in the school’s early years makes this tournament run all the sweeter, Heine said.
“We’d have events on campus and nobody would come out,” Heine said. “Now, it’s bigger than the game. They came Fort Myers and the landscape of FGCU.”
For education professor Tom Roberts, in the middle of the crowded bar. the Sweet 16 is the pinnacle of his 11 years as a season-ticket holder, and a long way from the Eagles’ first game in TECO Arena, now known as Germain Arena.
“No one imagined we’d be so successful so quickly,” Roberts said. “I’m a big fan — win, lose, or draw tonight.”
Guv in Big D: One perk of being governor: never having a bad seat in the house. Florida Gov. Rick Scott took in Friday’s game from the third row behind the bench with FGCU President Bradshaw.
While Scott sat at the front of the FGCU section, he’s kept his allegiance under wraps. A Twitter post from Scott carried both #GoEagles and #GoGators hashtags, and his blue-hued button-up didn’t resemble team colors of either school.
Big League support: The most famous FGCU athlete – before the past few weeks, at least – posted a message of support for the Eagles before they faced Florida in Friday’s Sweet 16 game.
In a video message on Facebook, White Sox pitcher Chris Sale cheered on his alma mater. Sale filmed his message from a dugout in Milwaukee’s Miller Park, where the White Sox played an exhibition game against the Brewers on Friday.
“Let’s go FGCU. Let’s show the Florida Gators what Dunk City is all about,” Sale said in the seven-second clip.
Sale was the NCAA Pitcher of the Year for FGCU in 2010. The White Sox drafted him 13th overall that year. Sale went 17-8 as a starter for Chicago last year and was rewarded with a five year, $32 million contract in the offseason.