VETTEL: Some UF-FSU Games To Remember

When the Gators and Seminoles played for the first time in 1958 I was five months old. Suffice to say that was one game that made little impression on yours truly. In fact I never saw a Florida/Florida State football game until 1979 when the winless Gators damn near knocked off the unbeaten Noles on television. I was a UF student at the time and it was the first sense I ever had of the rivalry meaning anything.

Boy that's changed over the years. This will be my 26th Florida-FSU football game in person. Many of them were generic and left no lasting impression, but about half have been games that I'll remember a long time. Here are the five most memorable to me. A word of caution to Gator fans, memorable does not mean successful. It does not mean my favorite games or best moments. These are the five games between the state rivals I'll never forget.

#5 1986 Florida 17, FSU 13: I was working the sidelines for the Gator Radio Network and I swear it must have rained a foot that night. It was an odd year for the Gators at their weakest from NCAA scholarship sanctions. UF opened the year with a win followed by four losses and then three wins including Auburn and Georgia. A miserable performance in Kentucky cost Florida a bowl bid and there seemed to be nothing to play for. The teams sloshed through the night before Kerwin Bell his Rickey Nattiel in the end zone for the game-winner. It was Florida's sixth straight over Florida State.

#4 1993 FSU 33, Florida 21: The Gators were #7 and FSU was #1 and looking for its first national title. FSU seemed to have control of the game, but the Gators came back strong and The Swamp was deafening. The Noles faced third and long with a six-point lead and a stop could lead to a winning UF drive. Warrick Dunn caught a pass in the flat, got a helpful nudge from Tamarick Vanover to get around Anthone Lott and went the distance for the score. Gator fans yelped about a block in the back that wasn't called and they were right ... sorta. That year had seen a number of games ruined by over-officious zebras flagging ever infraction imaginable. This crew called very few penalties, much to my delight, so I have to give them a pass for letting this one go. It was a great game, if not a great ending for UF.

#3 January 1997 Florida 52, FSU 20: Obviously this was the most important game in the history of the UF program regardless of the opponent, but to me it wasn't all that memorable. Florida played well in the first half, grabbing a 14-point lead. But some late breakdowns let FSU score towards the end of the half, and the Gators were disappointed to have just a seven-point lead at intermission (24-17). After a Scott Bentley field goal opened second-half scoring, Florida went nuts scoring four unanswered touchdowns. Three plays will stay with me forever. Ike Hilliard's stop on a dime move which might be the best in school history. Danny Wuerffel's slide into the end zone. And, Terry Jackson's jubilant dive across the goal line with the absolute clincher.

#2 1994 Florida State 31, Florida 31: To some, it's the "Choke at Doak." For others, it's the "Rally in Tally". To me, it's the most incomprehensible result to a game I've ever seen. The Gators were 9-1 and still in the running for the national title. Florida's offense was loaded with talent and it showed in dominating this game all day long. It was 31-3 when the fourth quarter began. FSU went for it on fourth down and completed a pass that should have come up short, but a bizarre spot gave the Noles a first down. I laughed on the air at the time, thinking, so what? Well FSU scored, Florida went three-and-out, the Noles scored three plays later and all of a sudden a comeback was underway. Wuerffel just missed Reidel Anthony on the next possession and the nightmare continued. When FSU got within one in the last two minutes, Bobby Bowden elected to kick for the tie. What a break for the Gators! There was nothing they could have run at that point that would not have worked. Florida escaped with a tie, and the two teams played a relatively emotionless rematch in the Sugar Bowl five weeks later.

#1 1997 Florida 32, FSU 29: A year after the national title the Gators struggled in the absence of Danny Wuerffel. Doug Johnson had let the team down, getting in trouble around the loss to LSU and the defense let the team down, getting steam-rolled by Georgia in Jacksonville. Still the 8-2 Gators were #10 while the Noles again had a title show, ranked #1 in one poll and #2 in the other. Fred Taylor fumbled twice early but the Gators kept after it, using the Johnson-Noah Brindise shuttle system. When Mike "Mud" Harris pushed Travis Minor out of bounds at the two-yard line in the fourth quarter it didn't seem like a big deal. But it was. The Gators held, forcing FSU to kick a field goal for a 29-25 lead. Then Johnson, who never could win over Gator fans, checked off to a deep pass to Jacquez Green. Two plays later Fred Taylor scored and shortly thereafter Dwayne Thomas intercepted Thad Busby and the Gators had a win. There have been some amazing moments in The Swamp over the years, but I don't know if any game ended with such joy and satisfaction. It's the most memorable game I've ever been at. And I doubt many people who were there would disagree.

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This year's game does not have great importance or significance for either program. Neither can end up better than 10-3, neither will reach many of its goals coming into the campaign. That doesn't mean this year's game doesn't have a shot to be a memorable one. But I doubt it can contend with those five. If I had been assigned six or more games, Florida's 14-9 win in 1991 would have been next on my list. Others in line would have been the 1998 FSU win (23-12) over a much better Florida team, Wilbur Marshall's intimidating 53-14 demolition in '83, Florida's 95 win (35-24) to remain undefeated and the 2003 shootout, won by the Noles 38-34 on two passes covering 76 yards in the final minute.

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