GAINESVILLE – The late Tom Petty was an incredible musician who scored major hits throughout his career and performed with legendary artists such as Bob Dylan and George Harrison. He was also born in Gainesville, and called Florida home.
In recognition of his legacy, The University of Florida Athletic Association plans to inaugurate and celebrate the first annual Tom Petty Day on Saturday, Oct. 15 in conjunction with the Gators football game against Louisiana State University (LSU). As part of that, the University will officially award Petty — who died in 2017 at age 66 — an honorary Doctor of Music in May 2023.
What is Happening on Tom Petty Day?
Tom Petty Day is being coordinated with the Tom Petty Estate. Plans include launching a capsule collection that celebrates the late singer, while highlighting his connection to the university and his hometown.
In addition, “The Tom Petty Estate is donating its full proceeds from the sales of Tom Petty Day X Florida Collection merchandise to give back to underserved communities in Gainesville,” the University of Florida Athletics Association noted in a news release. “Kids Count and Family Promise will be the recipients this year. Kids Count supports education and early childhood interventions with an emphasis on literacy, while Family Promise works to bring families out of homelessness by providing housing and employment resources.”
What Are Tom Petty’s Connections to Florida?
Adria Petty praised the University for establishing this event in honor of her father.
“It is so incredible for everyone in the family that UF is honoring our dad in his hometown this way,” she noted. “He loved the Gators and he loved Gainesville, he always talked jokingly about a doctorate from UF and he would have been totally blown away by all this. It is an added gift that we can give something back and provide much-needed resources to underserved communities in Gainesville. It is near and dear to our entire Petty family. Annakim and I have a mother, father, grandparents and an uncle and aunt who have lived here a long time. It’s unbelievable that now 90+ thousand people sing our dad’s song here at home games.”
A native of Gainesville, Tom Petty grew up there and worked as a groundskeeper at the university before launching his music career.
“He often played at Gainesville area venues before moving to Los Angeles to launch his legendary musical career with The Heartbreakers, many of whom were also local to Gainesville,” the University noted. “As a tribute to the singer and local icon following his death in 2017, the university played Petty’s ‘I Won’t Back Down,’ one of the late artist’s biggest hits, in a game against the LSU Tigers in which 90,000 fans joined in a chill-inducing sing along that rang loudly through Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Since then, the song has been played between the third and fourth quarters of home football games and has become one of the favorite traditions amongst Florida fans.”
Scott Stricklin, athletic director for the Florida Gators, said Tom Petty’s legacy is tied to his early years.
“Tom Petty and his music has become ingrained in the game day experience at The Swamp and serves as a community building rally cry for Gator fans,” Stricklin said “We are excited to work with the Petty family to commemorate a Gainesville son through our upcoming game day celebration and this unique merchandise collection, and we know our fan base will proudly honor his connection to the university.”
Are There Tom Petty Items for Sale Now?
Next Friday and Saturday, there will also be an air-stream pop-up shop in conjunction with Tom Petty Day at the Swamp for the LSU match-up, featuring high-end t-shirts by fashion licensee Original Retro Brand and gift items such as drink ware, key chains and more from licensees WinCraft and LOGO Brands.
The University Athletic Association’s strategic purpose is to provide a championship experience on and off the field for student-athletes and the Gator Nation. The Gator athletic program supports 21 teams and more than 500 student-athletes, providing them with the opportunity to compete at the highest levels of collegiate athletics.
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Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright, and author of the book “Bloody Rabbit”. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com.