As football season gets underway, we catch up with two area fans who go above and beyond for the teams they love
They root for different teams.
One is an alumnus, and the other is not.
But what these local men have in common is that the UCF Knights and the Florida Gators could not ask for two more diehard fans.
How devoted is Brian Stanley to the Knights? The Altamonte Springs resident, known as Knight Fan Stan, has not missed a home football game since Bright House Networks Stadium opened on campus in 2007, even while he was enduring chemotherapy to fight off colon cancer. Brian had become a fixture at the games with the go-Knight signs he makes at his own print shop in Casselberry. But when he got sick last year, those close to him said it might be a good idea to take the season off.
Brian, 54, would have none of it. The chemo had turned his face red and messed up his taste buds, but it did not keep him away from the season’s home opener.
“On game day, it was like, I can do this,” says Brian. “It gave me the momentum to go forward. I had a purpose.”
Brian, who was recently declared cancer-free, is a New Jersey native and father of two. He’s not a UCF alum but has been following the Knights since moving to Central Florida in the early 1970s.
University of Florida followers know superfan John Byrnes for his AmbuGator, an ambulance that has been converted into the ultimate tailgating party vehicle.
The UF grad has tailgated at his alma mater’s football games since 1982, starting out with nothing more than a cooler in the trunk of his car. About six-and-a-half years ago, with a growing contingency of fellow fans, “We decided to go the next step,” John says.
A surgical physician assistant who lives in Longwood, John went online and found an ambulance for sale that had belonged to a fire department in Virginia. Someone in Nashville, Tennessee, had already purchased it, but John struck a deal with the buyer and soon had his party on wheels.
The AmbuGator, as John christened it, has a blue and orange interior, satellite TV, and an attached grill. It earned John the title of Tailgating King from a popular tailgating website in 2013.
“I just love college football,” says John, 61. “It’s more engaging and more emotional. It doesn’t feel like a business, like pro sports.”
While consistent bowl invitees, the current Gators are not the national title contenders they were during the 1990s and 2000s. Similarly, UCF has stumbled a bit since hitting new heights with former coach George O’Leary. But true fans don’t let their passion wane during a rough patch.
“I don’t like to lose,” says Knight Fan Stan. “But I can’t control the outcome of a game. You’re going to have your ups and downs. It’s easy to be an Alabama fan.”
Fighting cancer has given Brian some perspective on what is really important in life, he says.
“Last year there were a lot of sad faces in the crowd, but not me,” says Brian. “It’s fun watching the team rebuild and see how your recruits are going to pan out.”
John is similarly sanguine about the Gators’ slide from the glory years.
“As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten more mature [about losing streaks]. They play the best they can,” he says.
With football season nearly underway at press time, both men were gearing up.
Brian is known for his slogans, such as “Every day is a great day to be a UCF Knight,” and he likes to come up with a new one every year. He also has a new reason to cheer the Knights: His daughter plans to attend UCF.
During the off-season, John keeps his AmbuGator at a storage lot in Altamonte Springs. But come fall, it will be stationed in his driveway. John has made many improvements to his tailgating vehicle over the years, but says he can’t think of much more that needs to be added.
“We’re at a good place,” he says. “It’s not a motorhome. But it gets the job done.”
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