I did decide that NFL accomplishments would be strongly considered, as would any other post-playing-career activities that brought recognition or respect to UF. I also decided ten would be a good number to start with. A large enough number to create some debate/discussion. A small enough number to leave some sensational candidates out.
The First Four Are Easy
Getting started was a piece of cake. The University of Florida has a large number of players who have achieved All-American status, but only two who have won the Heisman Trophy. The Gators have sent hundreds to the National Football League, but only two are NFL Hall of Fame caliber.
Steve Spurrier is the guy who gets in before anyone else. His playing career, as great as it was is but a footnote to what his coaching career meant to UF. Indisputably the greatest Gator ever.
Emmitt Smith goes in next. A superstar player on ordinary teams, he kept Florida within hailing distance of excellence all by himself. His pro football career is the greatest enjoyed by any former Gators as he retires as the All-time rushing leader in NFL history with three Super Bowl rings.
Danny Wuerffel is third. While his pro career was minimal, his Gator career was the most significant of all. Wuerffel was a key player in four SEC Titles and of course, the Gators National Championship Team. He shattered all UF passing records and did it with a humility that was refreshingly unique in this era of self-aggrandizement.
Number four, is Jack Youngblood. A little guy when he arrived in Gainesville, Jack grew into a Gator and NFL great. He played in the Super Bowl with a broken leg and was two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
No Problem Picking The Next Three
Wilbur Marshall was the toughest to leave off the "Fab Four" but was an easy choice to add to the list. One of the most explosive players in school history I will never forget his performance against Southern Cal in Gainesville in 1982. A three-time All-Pro, Wilbur was an under-publicized part of the best defense I have ever seen, the 1985 Chicago Bears.
Carlos Alvarez caught 88 passes in 1969, and 36 years no later, no one has come close. Despite the unbelievable passing attacks of the Spurrier era, Alvarez remains Florida's all-time leading receiver in receptions (172) and yards (2,563). He might be the greatest STUDENT-athlete in UF history.
Lomas Brown was simply the best offensive lineman in UF history. Not only that, he was clearly the best man on the best line UF ever put together, The Great Wall of 1984. Then Auburn Coach Pat Dye told me in 1984 Lomas was the best offensive lineman he had ever seen in college football. He was a five-time All-Pro with the Detroit Lions
Now It Gets Dicey
I have three spots left and could easily give spots to:
- QB (Matthews, Bell, Reaves)
- RB (Rhett, John L Williams, Anderson, Taylor)
- WR (Doering, Anthony, Chandler, Collinsworth, J. Jackson, Gaffney)
- OL/DL (McCoy, Culpepper, Carter, Brown, Odom, Pearson)
- LB (Brantley, Little, Green, Kearse, Charlton, Alonzo Johnson)
- DB (Tannen, Weary, Ratliff, Oliver, Jarvis Williams)
- P/K (Chandler, Criswell, Edge, Judd Davis, James, Green)
Choosing from that illustrious group is far from easy. I do believe in tough Call situations, performance in Orange and Blue takes precedence over performance in the NFL. When choosing among Gators, fairly or unfairly I tend to lean towards the guys who won Championships. With that let's finish the initial inductees into the "Wall of Honor".
Last, But Certainly Not Least
These next three guys are in my view three of the ten greatest in Gator football history. To leave many of the others off the list was tough, but it's kinda like Mount Rushmore… you can't carve in every face.
Eighth guy for me is Scott Brantley. The definitive middle linebacker, Brantley is just eight tackles shy of the school record despite missing most of his senior year. He went on to a fine NFL career and has represented UF well in the broadcast booth as well.
Number nine is number nine. Shane Matthews quarterbacked Florida to the first official SEC Title. He made the fun and gun work and went three-and-oh in Jacksonville ending that hex once and for all. He threw for over 9,000 yards and 74 touchdowns. His NFL career has been spotty… but the easy-going dude is still cashing some pretty impressive checks.
The tenth spot in a very close finish among a group of fine running backs is the Gators all-time leader Errict Rhett. E-Rhett also had a lot to do with the Gators success in the early 90's, but gets in for his combination of rushing (4,163 yards) and receiving (1,230 yards). Neal Anderson was flashier and Jon L Williams might have been the most complete back of all, but E-Rhett was an incredibly productive player who gave great effort every day.
Before you start attacking my choices, I only ask you replace someone if you think "your guy" should be in their place. Also, I have limited first hand experience prior to the mid-70's to earlier eras probably got shortchanged in my analysis.
Have fun with it.
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