Team in Transit

From truck stops to tailgates   //   the story behind moving an SEC football team

The Superfan: Stumpy Harris

Ask Gordon Harris how he earned his nickname and he will tell two stories.

Stumpy HarrisIn the first, he is the victim of a bungee jump gone wrong, with a cord that was too long.

In the second, he is a ninth grader at the former Lake Shore Junior High School in Jacksonville, playing football with varsity seniors for the first time. His teammates say he is as hard to move as a tree, so his coach coins the name “Stumpy.” The name spreads among his peers, and it sticks.

It sticks for nearly 60 years.

At five feet, three and a half inches, “Stumpy” Harris says his nickname suits him well.

“Your parents name you when they don’t know who you are, but your friends name you once they know you.”

The 73-year-old Orlando lawyer and University of Florida alumnus still considers “Stumpy” a term of endearment. Now, it is a name engraved on campus landmarks, distinguishing Harris as one of the most significant fans and donors for the UF football team.

His Time

A first-generation college student, Harris worked to support himself. He battled through foreign language classes, decided against a profession in chemical engineering and joined Kappa Alpha Order Fraternity. In 1961, he graduated with memories and his first degree from UF.

“I have nothing but smiles when I look back on my college experience,” Harris said. “By today’s standards, they were outrageous times.”

He took a two-year hiatus to save earnings before returning to UF. When he wasn’t tossing The Florida Times-Union into yards each morning for extra money, he was teaching high school geometry and algebra. Eventually, his knack for talking and persuasion led Harris to focus on a law career. As he looked to return to school, he knew he would not enroll anywhere but UF. In 1963, he became a student in the UF Levin College of Law, from which he graduated third in his class two years later.

In the immediate years, Harris could only contribute time to his alma mater. He bounced from meeting to meeting, serving on the Florida Blue Key Honorary Tapping Committee, on the Gator Boosters Board of Directors and as national alumni association president in 1981.

But as his children began to grow up, his priorities changed. He became “selfish” of his time, he said. Football season, or the “high social season” as he prefers to call it, was not the same.

“I wanted to be in the parking lot hanging out with my friends, not dressed up in a tie and coat and going to some meeting.”

March of 1988 marked the beginning of Harris’ personal fairytale. He outlawed alcohol from his diet, developed new life philosophies and watched his Orlando law practice start to thrive. He became known for his generosity, driven by the belief that his kindness would associate him with quality people, and those quality people would cause good things to happen. By that time he had also adopted the attitude that he would show loyalty by paying back the university.


His Money

Harris decided UF was the logical place for his charity, and soon after, the athletic weight rooms received a makeover. Then came the addition of the Bull Gator Statue outside the Heavener Football Complex, and the donations for the football practice field.

Most recently he served as an important member of the Ben Hill Griffin Skybox Expansion Project. However, he is most proud of his support of athletic scholarships because his personal experience taught him the value of education.

His contributions have earned him recognition as one of five known Legacy Directors, the Gator Boosters’ highest distinction for those who have given more than $3 million to UF athletics. Harris said he has lost track of how much he has donated.

“It’s a reciprocal relationship we have with each other. I continue to receive and continue to give,” Harris said.

“This isn’t all about me. The university wasn’t lucky to have me, I was lucky to have it.”

Harris now spends his 56th season as a UF football ticketholder in Suite 609 of the stadium. In embroidered Gator pants and his “sharp” game day shoes, his outfit mimics his festive, 30-person skybox.

He spends every home game with his wife, friends, 7-year-old son and two grown children – the same children who also attended UF, and know the stadium like the back of their hands from countless hours spent there in earlier days.

For Harris, the entire process has been evolutionary.

He still drives to Gainesville before home games, but sometimes has the opportunity to fly with the team to away games. Instead of watching the Homecoming Parade in the crowd, he and his UF-themed 1932 Ford now star in the procession.

That’s much more his style anyway, he says.

Someone once told Harris his Orlando law practice attracts clients because they believe he will invest the same passion in their cases that he has invested in UF. His dedication is no secret.

But he also gives no false humility; Harris knows he is not an anonymous person.

“I understand and appreciate those people, but that is not my style.

[Giving] doesn’t make me any smarter, and it doesn’t make me any better. It doesn’t do anything but give me pleasure.”

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