Ten Games That Changed Florida Football History

It's only 121 days (but who's counting?) until the Florida Gators kick off the Urban Meyer era against Wyoming before a sold-out Ben Hill Griffin Stadium crowd in excess of 92,000. This will be year 99 of Florida football and while the promise of the future is great with Meyer as the coach, Gator history is rich in tradition and big games. Here is a look at ten games that changed the face of Florida football.

December 8, 1928: Tennessee 13, Florida 12 --- Florida traveled up to Knoxville to face Col. (he hadn't made General yet) Neyland and the Tennessee Vols. At stake for Florida was an undefeated season for Coach Charles Bachman's Gators. There had been a drought in East Tennessee and mysteriously, there was a prolonged thunderstorm that soaked the Tennessee stadium the night before the game. Amazingly, it didn't rain anywhere else in East Tennessee. The Vols came out on the field with longer cleats that provided better traction for a wet, muddy field. The Gators, with their speed advantage taken away, slipped and slid the whole game. They made it close but couldn't pull out the win. Tennessee was the only team that scored two touchdowns on a Gator defense that allowed only 44 points the entire season. Florida's 8-1 record was the best in school history and Dale Van Sickle was Florida's first All-America football player. Had the Gators won that game against Tennessee, the Gators would have likely played mighty Stanford in the Rose Bowl for the national championship. Florida football history would have been altered forever with a win.

October 1, 1960: Florida 18, Georgia Tech 17 --- Florida's young new coach, Ray Graves, had been Bobby Dodd's defensive coordinator at Georgia Tech for years. His second team quarterback was Bobby Dodd Jr. Georgia Tech came into Gainesville ranked number 10 in the nation to face a Florida team that was 2-0 with a convincing season opening win over Georgia Washington and a 3-0 squeaker over Florida State, a game that featured the nation's two smallest quarterbacks (Larry Libertore at 5-8, 143 and FSU's Eddie Feely, 5-7, 138). Tech was a heavy favorite but the Gators fought gamely. Late in the fourth quarter, the Gators rallied behind Libertore and Dodd Jr. Florida closed the game to 17-16 when Libertore threw a touchdown pass to Jon McBeth, then Graves showed some real moxie. Rather than go for the tie, which would have been a huge moral victory, Graves went for the win. Libertore pitched to Lindy Infante on a sweep for the two-point conversion and the win. It was the first big win of the Ray Graves era and a win that opened the door for Florida football to become something more than a mediocre program that seemed permanently mired at .500.

December 30, 1962: Florida 17, Penn State 7 --- Penn State came into this game ranked tenth in the nation with a 9-1 record, a single loss away from an Orange Bowl date with Alabama that could have resulted in a national championship. The Lions won the Lambert Trophy as the best team in the East. Florida was 6-4 with losses to eighth ranked Georgia Tech and sixth ranked LSU but with a win over 10th ranked Auburn. Penn State was led by Dave Robinson, its great All-American who would go on to an All-Pro career under Vince Lombardi with the Green Bay Packers. Sophomore quarterback Tommy Shannon led Florida on the offensive side of the ball and on defense, Coach Gene Ellenson's troops handcuffed the Penn State offense all day. This was Florida's first significant intersectional win over a ranked opponent and it helped Graves the recruiter land a lanky quarterback from Johnson City, Tennessee who would one day become fairly famous.

October 12, 1963: Florida 10, Alabama 6 --- Alabama was ranked third in the AP poll, second in the UPI poll. Coach Bear Bryant's team was a heavy favorite to hammer the Gators and win the national championship behind quarterback Joe Namath and All-America center/linebacker Lee Roy Jordan. The night before, Coach Gene Ellenson motivated the Gators by telling war stories. Ellenson was a two-time Silver Star winner for heroism in World War II. The Gators laughed and cried that night, but when they went to their rooms no one said a word. In the locker at Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa before the game, again nobody said anything until Jack (Panama Jack) Katz stood up, took his helmet and smashed it through a blackboard and said "Let's go!" Bobby Lyle's opening kickoff was high and to the one yard line where Bama All-American Benny Nelson caught the ball. Two steps later he was decleated by Hagood Clarke at the five. That set the tone for the Gator defense to swarm all over the field and dominate the Tide. Dick Kirk got Florida's only touchdown and Clarke would intercept Namath to seal the victory. When the Gators came back to Gainesville, the team plane had to circle the airport three times while the crowd of 12-15,000 people was moved off the runway. This was the highest ranked team the Gators had ever beaten. Alabama wouldn't lose another game in Tuscaloosa until 1982. The next year Alabama would beat Florida 17-14 en route to a national championship.

October 29, 1966: Florida 30, Auburn 27 --- It was homecoming and Florida was tied with Auburn 27-27. Florida needed a field goal to win but 40 yards was too far for Wayne "Shade Tree" Barfield. Steve Spurrier was Florida's quarterback and punter, but he had never kicked a field goal at Florida. On the sidelines, he somehow convinced Ray Graves that he could do it and Graves figured that Spurrier had the moxie to pull it off. With Larry Rentz holding, Spurrier nailed the 40-yarder to give Florida the win, but more significantly, that was the play that earned Spurrier the Heisman Trophy over Bob Griese of Purdue. Winning the Heisman was more than just an honor for Spurrier. All the money in the world couldn't have bought the kind of publicity that the Heisman Trophy gave the Florida football program. Florida would finish the season 9-2, beating Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl 27-10 in Bobby Dodd's final game as Tech's head coach. Spurrier would go on to be the number one draft pick of the San Francisco 49ers.

September 20, 1969: Florida 59, Houston 34 --- Some polls and forecasters had predicted Houston would win the national championship. The Cougars came to Florida Field expecting to win easily over a Gator team that was dominated by sophomores. On the third play of the game, John Reaves threw a deep ball down the sidelines that Carlos Alvarez caught in stride for a 78-yard touchdown over Houston All-America corner Tom Peacock. Despite five touchdown passes caught by Houston All-America wideout Elmo Wright, the Gators were the big show on this day. Reaves and Alvarez weren't the only ones who were unstoppable. Andy Cheney and Tommy Durrance, two more of the Super Sophs, made their mark. Florida would go on to a 9-1-1 record, the best in school history to this point. This was the final season for Ray Graves. Unknown to the team, UF President Stephen C. O'Connell had told Graves that this would be his last year as UF's head coach in August. O'Connell would allow Graves to stay on as athletic director. O'Connell, then hired --- in August --- Doug Dickey, Tennessee's coach, to become the new Florida football coach starting in 1970. Ironically, Florida would beat Tennessee, 14-13, in the Gator Bowl, Graves' last game as head coach and Dickey's last game as Tennessee's coach. Jack Hairston of the Jacksonville Journal did some exceptional reporting and found out about the O'Connell agreement a day before the Gator Bowl game. It was a dark day in Florida football history. Florida's players wanted Ellenson to be the head coach and had Ellenson gotten the job, most observers believe Florida would have become a dominant team in the 1970s.

November 8, 1975: Georgia 10, Florida 7 --- The Southeastern Conference championship was on the line for the 11th ranked Gators. This was Doug Dickey's most talented team with the fastest backfield in the nation. Jimmy Fisher and Don Gaffney alternated at quarterback in the wishbone with running backs Jimmy DuBose, Earl Carr, Larry Brinson, Willie Wilder and Tony Green. Florida had Wes Chandler and Terry LeCount as wide receivers. It rained that day and rather than take any chances, Dickey went ultra-conservative which played right into the hands of the Georgia defense. Georgia got its only touchdown on an end-around pass play that covered 75 yards. Florida had a chance to win the game late but Dickey wouldn't go for it on fourth and one from about the Georgia 20 with about three minutes to go in the game. Instead, he sent in David Posey to try for a field goal to tie the game but Posey's foot slipped on the slick Gator Bowl turf and the kick missed badly. Georgia ran out the clock. After the game, Dickey would say "to win, you must first avoid losing." It was a statement that would haunt his last three years as the Florida coach. Had Florida won this game, Dickey might have been the coach for a long time. The Florida program spiraled out of control from that game forward until Dickey was fired after the 1978 season.

November 30, 1991: Florida 14, Florida State 9 --- Florida State had been ranked number one in the nation most of the season but had lost to Miami the week before. In one of the greatest defensive games ever played in The Swamp, Florida put a beating on FSU quarterback Casey Weldon. The Gators got the winning touchdown on a Shane Matthews to Harrison Houston pass over Terrell Buckley when Buckley mistimed his jump. Houston came down with the ball and sprinted the final 50 yards to the end zone. Late in the game, the Florida defense came up with one big play after another. Brad Culpepper, Tony McCoy, Kevin Carter, Darren Mickell, Ellis Johnson and Harvey Thomas were relentless with the pass rush that left Weldon black and blue for weeks afterward. A week earlier, the Gators had finished off Kentucky to win their first ever Southeastern Conference championship that counted (Florida won in 1984, 1985 and 1990 but the SEC wouldn't count them since UF was on NCAA probation).

January 2, 1997: Florida 52, Florida State 20 --- Just a month before a beaten up Gator team playing with a patched up offensive line that was without All-American center Jeff Mitchell, lost 24-21, to FSU in Tallahassee. The teams were rematched in the Sugar Bowl and by the end of a wild and wacky day that saw undefeated Arizona State lose to Ohio State in the Rose Bowl, the Seminoles were the nation's last remaining undefeated team. Heisman Trophy winner Danny Weurffel, operating out of the shotgun with Wylie Ritch at center, negated the vaunted FSU pass rush. With time to throw, it was easy pickings for Wuerffel who destroyed the FSU defense. Weurffel threw for 394 yards while Ike Hilliard and Reidel Anthony both caught passes for more than 100 yards and Terry Jackson ran for more than 100. The Gator defense bottled up Warrick Dunn and rarely gave Thad Busby adequate time to throw. Coach Steve Spurrier and the Gators claimed Florida's only national championship.

December 1, 2001: Tennessee 34, Florida 32 --- The only other game the Gators played in this season without tailback Earnest Graham, they lost (to Auburn). Graham's knee was twisted by Darnell Dockett of FSU the week before and he was unable to play. With no running game to slow down their front four, Tennessee kept the pressure on Rex Grossman the entire game. Travis Stephens had a career day running the ball against the Gators which prompted the unpopular Jon Hoke (Florida defensive coordinator) Jon Hoke to remark "we played great defense except for about five plays." Florida had a chance to tie the game with a two-point conversion late in the fourth quarter but Grossman couldn't connect with Jabar Gaffney. Had the Gators won this game, they would have played LSU for the SEC championship. Florida had earlier in the season destroyed the Tigers in Baton Rouge. A win over LSU and the Gators would have played Miami in the Rose Bowl for the national championship. Had Florida won the national championship, some of Spurrier's close friends say that he would have very likely stayed around at least one more year instead of bolting after the Orange Bowl to the NFL and the Washington Redskins.

Honorable mention: 1966 Florida 27, Georgia Tech 10 (Orange Bowl); 1973 Florida 12, Auburn 8; 1984 Florida 27, Georgia 0; 1980 Georgia 26, Florida 21; 1985 Georgia 24, Florida 3; 1997 Florida 32, Florida State 29; 2002 Florida 20, Georgia 13; 2003 Florida 19, LSU 7; 2004 Florida 20, Florida State 13.


Fightin Gators Top Stories