One of your favorite cheers for school you might remember as “Two bits, four bits, six bits, a dollar, all for our team stand up and holler.” A lot of people aren’t sure why this is a cheer or what a ‘bit’ even is. Many may know though that “two bits” is a quarter– but why?
Turns out the phrase has its roots in the Spanish conquest of the Americas and the river of silver that flowed from the mines of Potosí to the royal coffers in Madrid.
In 1497, their Most Catholic Majesties Ferdinand and Isabella introduced a new coin into the global economy as part of a general currency reform. The peso (meaning “weight”) was a heavy silver coin that was worth eight reales. In Spanish it became known as a peso de ocho; in English it was a “piece of eight”.
The peso became a global currency: it was relatively pure silver, it was uniform in size and weight, and it had one special characteristic: it could be divided like a pie into eight reales. In English, those reales became known as “bits”. Two bits were a quarter of a peso. After the new American Congress based the weight of the American dollar on the peso in 1792, “two bits” also referred to a quarter of a dollar.
The well known cheer though originates with George Edmondson Jr. or “Mr. Two Bits”. After serving as a Navy fighter pilot during World War II, Edmondson settled in Tampa, Florida and worked in the insurance business. The Two Bits tradition began spontaneously in 1949, when Edmondson was attending the opening game of Florida’s football season against The Citadel, a school that he briefly attended before enlisting in the United States Navy during World War II.
The Gators had lost five of their last six games the previous year and were not expected to do any better. When the fans booed the players and the coach even before the opening kickoff, Edmondson decided to boost their morale by leading them in a cheer about adding up bits. The Gators won the game, and fans were so enthusiastic about Edmondson’s cheer that he returned the next Saturday to lead it again. Eventually, he began leaving his seat to wander throughout the stands of Florida Field, leading fans in different sections in the cheer.
Edmondson continued this pattern for the rest of the 1949 season and after, leading the Two Bits cheer at almost every Gator home game and selected road and bowl games over the next several decades. Beginning In the 1970s, he was invited to lead the entire stadium in the cheer from the field before each home game.
Edmondson was never paid for his services, and even after he was asked to lead his cheer from the field, he insisted on paying for his season tickets like any other fan. In the early 1980s, Tampa Bay Buccaneers owner Hugh Culverhouse offered to pay Edmondson “real well” to lead the Two Bits cheer at his hometown Bucs games. Edmondson declined the offer, saying, “What I do for the Gators is from the heart, not from the pocketbook.”
Edmondson announced his retirement from cheerleading at the end of the 1998 football season, and received a game ball from then-coach Steve Spurrier. However, he continued to occasionally lead the Two Bits cheer from his seat in the stands, and was eventually talked into once again leading the cheer from the field before each home game. He retired for good at the end of the 2008 season, and the university held another ceremony prior to the last home game against The Citadel, the same team the Gators were playing when Edmondson began the tradition 60 seasons earlier. Edmondson has not performed the cheer since his second retirement, saying at the time that “at 86 years of age, I’ve got to slow down. Nothing is forever.”
Edmondson and his wife, Jane, attended a few Gator home games in the season after his retirement, but now watch on TV from their home in Tampa. They sponsor the Mr. Two Bits Scholarship Fund, which benefits a University of Florida cheerleader every year.
Though Edmondson was never a University of Florida student, the university named him an honorary alumnus of the school in 2005, and he has claimed it as his new alma mater. He was inducted into the University of Florida Athletic Hall of Fame as an “honorary letter winner” in 1992.