As another year closes down and goes into the record books, here is my list of my ten favorite Florida football games of all time:
1. FLORIDA 52, Florida State 20 (1996): This was Florida’s first national championship so naturally, it’s going to top the list. The final margin of this game in the Sugar Bowl surprised a lot of people, but several former Gators from that team insist the Gators would have won by a similar margin in Tallahassee back in November (FSU won, 21-17) if the Gators had gone into that game with anything but a patchwork offensive line. I think the Gators might have won, but I remain convinced that the blowout had everything to do with Steve Spurrier altering the offense so that Danny Wuerffel could operate out of the shotgun. Those extra split seconds the shotgun gave Wuerffel kept him out of the clutches of FSU’s fearsome pass rushers (Peter Boulware, Reinard Wilson and Andre Wadsworth). Wuerffel threw for 306 yards and touchdowns, all to Ike Hilliard. The shocker was the running game. Florida ran for 168 yards (Terry Jackson 110, two TDs) while holding FSU to 42 yards. This was total domination.
2. FLORIDA 41, Ohio State 14 (2006): If you had listened to Kirk Herbstreit, then Ohio State should have been given the national championship trophy by acclimation. Herbie didn’t think Florida belonged and spent the month before the game telling anyone who would listen that the Gators just weren’t worthy. The team that wasn’t worthy was Ohio State. The mighty Buckeyes managed a whopping 82 yards against the Florida defense. Heisman winner Troy Smith got sacked three times by Derrick Harvey and twice by Jarvis Moss for 51 yards in losses. Chris Leak played like a Heisman winner, throwing for 213 yards and a touchdown while delivering the national championship he promised when he signed with the Gators back in 2003. As bad as it was, the Buckeyes can be thankful that Meyer was benevolent. He went conservative in the third quarter and shut down the offense to shorten the game and the time until the celebration for a national championship began. Troy Smith finished the game with six (count’em) yards of total offense -- -29 rushing and 35 passing.
3. FLORIDA 24, Oklahoma 14 (2008): Besides being Florida’s third national championship, what made this memorable was the performance of Tim Tebow. A month earlier in New York at the Heisman Trophy presentation, more than one Big 12 Conference writer claimed that Tebow shouldn’t have been on the Heisman podium, that he wouldn’t be any better than the fourth or fifth best quarterback in that league and it would show at the national championship game. Sam Bradford won the Heisman and his point a minute Oklahoma offense managed only 14 points against the Gators. In the fourth quarter, as he had done a month earlier in the SEC Championship Game, Tebow literally willed the Gators to win, directing the Gators on drives of 68 yards (ended with a Jon Phillips field goal) and 76 yards (touchdown pass to David Nelson) in the fourth quarter. Bradford threw for 256 yards and two touchdowns. Tebow threw for 231 yards and two touchdowns and he ran for 109 more. After the game I saw one of the writers from the Big 12. I just smiled and asked, “You sure about fourth?” He had nothing to say.
4. FLORIDA 59, Houston 35 (1969): On the third play of the game, Carlos Alvarez blew by Houston All-American cornerback Johnny Peacock down the west sideline of Florida field. Because the Gators had shifted the tight end to the left side while flanking Alvarez out five yards further than usual, there was no safety help and Peacock was a lost ball in the tall weeds. John Reaves had perfect protection as he launched perhaps the most famous pass in Florida football history. THE PASS covered 70 yards and was the first of Reaves’ five touchdown passes on the day as the Gators blew out a Houston team that was predicted by at least one magazine as the preseason pick to win the national championship. The Gators used the momentum of this game to go 9-1-1, best record in school history at the time. This was the final season for Coach Ray Graves, who was forced out by school president Dr. Stephen C. O’Connell, who made a deal in August to hire Doug Dickey away from Tennessee when the season ended. Ironically, the Gators beat Tennessee, 14-13, in the Gator Bowl, Graves’ last game as the UF head coach and Dickey’s last game at Tennessee.
5. FLORIDA 31, Alabama 20 (2008): Alabama came into the 2008 SEC Championship Game ranked #1 nationally and favored to take down the Gators. This was one of those our way vs. their way games and both Bama fans and Florida fans thought we had the better way. Alabama seized the momentum in the third quarter behind a crushing running game led by Glen Coffee and Mark Ingram to take a 20-17 lead, but the fourth quarter belonged to Tim Tebow. Playing without Percy Harvin, who suffered a high ankle sprain the week before against Florida State, Tebow compensated by spreading the ball around. In the decisive fourth quarter, Tebow was 5-5 throwing the ball for 72 yards. He finished the game with 62 rushing yards and 213 passing yards for three touchdowns.
6. FLORIDA 50, Oklahoma State 7 (1990): In the minutes before this game kicked off in 1990, I couldn’t remember a game when a Florida Field crowd was more on edge than this. Having suffered through the Amedee-ville Horror (the Florida offense of 1988 directed by Lynn Amedee) and the ingenuity of Whitey Jordan in 1989 (Emmitt left, Emmitt right, Emmitt up the middle and we can’t forget we’re obligated to throw a at least one pass every 10 plays), Florida fans really didn’t know what to expect. Like how good could Florida’s offense be with an eighth string quarterback (That was where Matthews was on the depth chart in 1989) running the show? It didn’t take long to find out. The opening drive covered 70 yards and took only five plays. Matthews threw 26 yards to Ernie Mills on the first play, Tre Everett for 17 on the second and 22 to Mills on the third. Dexter McNabb scored the touchdown on the fifth play. Matthews threw for 332 yards in his first start. He went on to win SEC Player of the Year and the Gators won nine games. If not for NCAA probation from the Galen Hall era, UF would have won the SEC and played in the Sugar Bowl.
7. FLORIDA 27, Georgia 0 (1984): The play that everyone remembers is the 96-yard Kerwin Bell to Ricky Nattiel touchdown pass but this 1984 game that broke a 6-game Georgia win streak was one big play after another. Roger Sibbald threw a pass on a fake punt to Brett Weichmann to set up a Bobby Raymond field goal and Patrick Miller knocked a Georgia punt returner into next week, forcing a fumble that led to a Bell to Lorenzo Hampton touchdown pass. The Gators led 17-0 in the third quarter when the Bulldogs pounded the ball down the field for a first down at the UF two, but that’s as close as they got to the end zone. On four consecutive plays, the Gators stuffed the Bulldogs. When the Gators trotted on the field, head coach Galen Hall called for Nattiel to run a streak route. Bell hit Nattiel in stride at the 50 and there was no catching him. Within five minutes there weren’t more than 5,000 Georgia fans left in the old Gator Bowl.
8. FLORIDA 14, FSU 9 (1991): This was perhaps the hardest hitting defensive game ever played in The Swamp. FSU had lost to Miami in the first Wide Right Bowl the week before but the Seminoles were still in the national championship hunt. With Shane Matthews quarterbacking the Gators and Casey Weldon leading FSU, everyone expected a shootout but this turned into a bloodbath dominated by defenses loaded with future NFL pros. Florida led 7-3 in the third quarter and had the ball second and 10 at the UF 29. On a designed roll out protection broke down forcing Matthews to run for his life. Chased by two Seminoles and with another closing in for a hard chin to chin hit, Matthews threw what looked like a jump ball just past midfield. Terrell Buckley fell down, Harrison Houston made the catch and sprinted to the end zone. From that point on, the game was in the hands of Florida’s fierce front four headed by Brad Culpeper and Tony McCoy. When the dust settled on this one, the Gators had the win and FSU was officially out of the national championship hunt.
9. FLORIDA 49, GEORGIA 10 (2008): The year before, Georgia’s bench emptied and the entire team rushed the field after scoring a first quarter touchdown. It was a classless move that wasn’t lost on Urban Meyer who without tipping his hand reminded people that paybacks are hell over the next 12 months. On Georgia’s second offensive play of the game, Knowshon Moreno met Mr. Spikes and got decleated. Florida led 14-3 at the half, then blew it open with a 21-0 third quarter. Tim Tebow ran for three touchdowns and threw for two more (44 yards to Louis Murphy and 25 to Percy Harvin). Urban saved his payback for the game’s final minute when he used all three of his time outs. Each time the TV cameras focused on Mark Richt, looking up to the scoreboard. It was a subtle reminder to Richt that the storming the field incident would never be forgotten.
10. FLORIDA 18, Georgia Tech 17 (1960): This was my first Florida football game. I was nine years old and went to the game with my dad and grandfather. This was a matchup between Georgia Tech legend Bobby Dodd and Florida’s first year head coach, Ray Graves, Dodd’s former defensive coordinator and the inventor of the 4-3 defense. Late in the fourth quarter, the Gators trailed, 17-10 when they put together an 85-yard scoring drive that included a 32-yard pass from Bobby Dodd Jr. (son of the GaTech coach) to Don Deal on third and 28. With fourth and goal at the Tech three with 32 seconds left, the Gators ran an option play at the goal line with Larry Libertore pitching to Lindy Infante, who barely got into the end zone. Instead of going for the tie, Graves elected to go for two. The two-point play had the same look as the touchdown, but instead of pitching, Libertore pulled up and threw to fullback Jon MacBeth to give the Gators an 18-17 lead and the win.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
What are your top Florida games of all time? And what are your worst?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
The original version of “I’d Rather Go Blind” was written for Etta James, who released it in 1968. The song became an instant blues classic and has been re-recorded by the likes of Clarence Carter, Rod Stewart, B.B. King, Little Milton and Joe Bonamassa among others. This is a version of the song performed at the White House in 2012 by Allman Brothers guitarists Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks, sung by Trucks’ wife Susan Tedeschi. I’ve heard a lot of version of this song, but this is my favorite.