Perhaps no one enjoyed it more than I did, seeing how my high school --- Martin County --- football team lost the last 18 games they played while I was there. No, I wasn't on the team, but I was the Student Body President who got to emcee the Friday pep rallies. Boy was that fun!
I've been to most season openers and every home opener since then in one capacity or another and there are a few of them that really stand out to me. I thought I'd share them with you as we edge closer to the 2009 opener.
1982 Florida 17 Miami 14 ---- There was a great deal of hope and anticipation about the 1982 season in Gainesville. The Gators were coming off a 7-5 season that included a hideous performance in the Peach Bowl but there was reason for optimism. The Gators had lost to Miami, Auburn and Georgia by a combined eight points and it seemed like they were on the verge of beating the powers and becoming a contender. This was a terrific game highlighted by James Jones' spectacular catch falling backwards into the end zone for a TD. Okay, he didn't actually reach the end zone before hitting the ground, but why quibble.
1984 Miami 32 Florida 20 ---- The first live College Football game on ESPN was a tremendous contest with little known Kerwin Bell, just a redshirt freshman leading a loaded Gator team into Tampa Stadium. It was a great atmosphere and a great game and only a Miami interception return for a TD on the final play made the score look one-sided. The 1984 Gators would not lose again.
1989 Ole Miss 24 Florida 19 ---- NCAA sanctions were no longer a factor and Florida returned a talented team with legit aspirations of being an SEC contender in '89. It didn't take long for those hopes to be dashed as the Gators stumbled to a home loss to Ole Miss. Florida was rallying late, but a Kyle Morris pass to an open receiver was under thrown and intercepted and the game was lost. To this day it is the loudest I've ever heard the Gators booed in their own building. Shoot, I'm not sure they were ever booed that harshly on the road either. This is the last time the Gators lost on opening day. They'll try to make it 20 straight wins Saturday night.
1990 Florida 50 Oklahoma State 7 ---- There were many doubters about Steve Spurrier's ability to win in the SEC with this idea of throwing the ball half the time if not more. It took all of three plays for the Gators to get into the end zone on their first possession and the rout was on. It would be a few weeks before Shane Matthews and company would light up an SEC defense, but the era of the fun-and-gun was officially underway.
1996 Florida 55 SW Louisiana 21 ---- The Gators were coming off a perfect regular season and win in the SEC Title Game that put them into the Fiesta Bowl to play Nebraska for the National Championship. The Cornhuskers' 62-24 destruction of the Gators motivated the players all off-season. That and the addition of young hot shot defensive coordinator Bobby Stoops made opening day a more meaningful event despite the opposition. While the offense sputtered Stoops' defense did not disappoint. Florida scored four defensive touchdowns, forced two other turnovers and sacked the quarterback six times in a 55-21 win.
2001 Florida 49 Marshall 14 ---- This one is special to me for personal reasons. It was the first time I got to do play-by-play for a season opener on Sun Sports TV and one of the guys who worked for me as a student, Steve Cotton was in a nearby booth handling PXP for the Marshall Radio Network. The Gators took command of what was supposed to be a tough opener and ran away with the game early. Earnest Graham ran for three TD and Rex Grossman passed for three more in the first of many great offensive performances by perhaps the best Gator team not to win the SEC in the last 25 years.
I'm sure many of you have opening day memories with sharing. I hope you do. I'm not expecting Saturday night to be particularly memorable, but you never know.
A Six-Pack of Memorable Openers
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