Pro + College Football Teams Celebrate Tom Petty Ahead of Late Legend’s Birthday
If you've been to a Florida Gators football game, you're probably aware of the tradition of the crowd singing Tom Petty's "I Won't Back Down" at The Swamp at the end of the third quarter of home games. But this year, the school officially recognized the Gainesville, Florida legend with Tom Petty Day, further extending their association with the late musician and his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band.
In the lead up to Saturday's festivities, the Gators released a hype video for Tom Petty Day. It starts with a video of Petty driving in his car with the comment, "Music isn't really supposed to be perfect. It's all about people relating to each other and doing something that's really from the soul. It must come from the soul." The video contains a mix of Petty footage along with historic highlights from Gators football.
In addition, it was revealed that the Gators would be wearing special stickers on their helmets displaying the Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers logo, the Gators Marching band had prepped a special halftime show and the school was selling special Petty-centric merch to mark the inaugural recognition of Tom Petty Day.
Petty's association with the school dates back even further. In shared video on social media shot in 1985, Petty is seen driving around his home area stating, "Gainesville right in the middle of this town is the University of Florida. By the time I was 15, we'd make a living off these fraternity parties here on this particular street and we learned a lot from the college students."
The tradition really took hold after Petty's death in 2017, with the crowd singing in unison to "I Won't Back Down" in an emotionally cathartic moment as the hometown Gators played LSU (footage can be seen below).
Petty's daughter, Adria, told the Florida Gators website, "My dad was proud to be from a place where the football team was beloved, where people were fanatical about it. It's a religious experience for people in the South, and it's a great place for people to come together and share their love for the team and put whatever other differences they have aside. My dad's concerts were a similar environment. The fact that a large group of people sings his song and that it serves as a rallying cry for the Gators is beautiful. I think he would have loved that. Just loved it. I'm just going to try and not to cry."
The Gators as well as several fans posted footage of Saturday's sing-along to "I Won't Back Down," and it should also be noted that the visiting LSU Tigers band also paid tribute to Petty, though it may not have been appreciated by the home crowd.
That said, the Gators weren't the only ones paying tribute to Tom Petty this weekend, with the Philadelphia Eagles getting in on the salute as well. Much like the Gators, Eagles fans belted out "I Won't Back Down" in honor of the late singer after his death in 2017 (footage can be seen below). Once again, during Sunday Night Football on NBC, the crowd could be heard belting out "I Won't Back Down" as they headed to the last quarter in their matchup against the Dallas Cowboys.
Tom Petty died Oct. 2, 2017, just shy of his 67th birthday on Oct. 20. "I Won't Back Down" was the lead single off his 1989 solo album, Full Moon Fever. It topped the Billboard Mainstream Rock Chart and hit No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100. Revisit the classic track in full below.