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February 7, 2006

10 Pivotal Moments in Florida Gator Football

A few weeks back, I published the Top 10 Pivotal Moments in Georgia History. Putting a similar report together about the Gators is tough because nothing of interest happened prior to 1990. However, below you'll find a comprehensive look at Florida Football history. The good and the bad.

Listed by Date. Not overall importance.

1879 - Invention of the Airbrush. Revolutionizes North Florida art and tourism industries. While many people consider Panama City to be the "Beating Heart of the Airbrush Industry," true airbrush historians know that the University of Florida's School of Airbrush Design lead the charge in this field. Today, it is a mainstay of Gator Athletics as anyone who's anyone is airbrushing a Gator onto key game day attire.

If only I could've found a pic of the legendary Gator Hearse.

April 20, 1945 - Birth of Steve Spurrier. Legend has it that Spurrier exited his mother's womb whining and proceeded to throw the umbilical cord to the ground in disgust. The entire Gator Football program's tradition (well the good stuff anyway) is built around his accomplishments. The Heisman Trophy, the SEC Titles, the National Title, the Tank Black Scandal. It's all Stevie.

This is his baby photo. No seriously. He was born this way.

Oct. 1966 - In 1966, Spurrier was en route to winning the Heisman Trophy, and Florida was unbeaten and ranked seventh when it arrived in Jacksonville. However, Georgia whipped the Gators and their star quarterback, Steve Spurrier, 27-10. The loss cost Florida its first ever legitimate SEC Title in Football. Georgia defensive legend Bill Stanfill recalls the game. It was, "a fun day. Steve didn’t like you to get close or touch him. He’d get up complaining, ‘Late hit, late hit!’ I said, ‘Excuse me, Stevie, I didn’t mean to step on your skirt.’" If Florida wins that game, maybe Steve doesn't hate Georgia as much. Maybe his driving desire to destroy our program wouldn't be so strong.

Even to this day, when Spurrier is golfing he looks around before he tees off to make sure Bill Stanfill (above) doesn't sack him again.

January 26, 1979 - Levi Strauss came to San Francisco in 1853, at the age of twenty-four, to open a west coast branch of his brothers' New York dry goods business. Roughly 126 years later, the blue jeans industry's evolution took a quantum leap forward as the Dukes of Hazzard premiered. While the show was based in Georgia, it was residents of the Sunshine State who embraced the fashion aspects of the show more than any other group alive. Most of the country was content to merely fantasize about Daisy Duke's jorts> Not the Gator Nation. No, they lived the dream. Thus beginning a love affair that has lasted to this day.

As if I would ever write something like this without a Jean Shorts reference.

December 31, 1989 - Awakening the Sleeping Giant. Spurrier announced as head coach of the Florida Gators. One of the defining moments of the Southeastern Conference. Spurrier revolutionizes the league offensively and ultimately defensively by virtue of the necessity of competing with him. Can't make too many jokes about this because as a Georgia fan, it simply isn't funny. Spurrier also brings the one liner to the conference as the father of "Free Shoes U" and "Can't spell Citrus without U-T".

Spurrier at Duke before joining the Gators.

1991 - First legal SEC title in Florida history. This article from College Football News sums it up with comments from Spurrier on the '91 team.
"The ‘91 team was our first conference champion. Our first conference game I think was Alabama here. We beat them 35-0. But I got a letter from a Gator fan after the game. He said ‘Coach, you need to calm down on the sidelines. You’re too stressed. You’re too emotional. You need to calm down a bit. Head coaches don’t act like you do and I’m afraid you’ll burn yourself out real fast.’ I read the letter and thought maybe this guy has a point. Maybe I can be successful and act like all the other coaches and let the assistants do all the yelling and so forth. So the next week, I tried to do that. I was very calm at practice, on the road trip and on the sideline. We went up to Syracuse, played like a bunch of zombies, got our butts kicked, 38-21 I think. So I came back home and apologized to the players and said, ‘That style may work for some people, but it doesn’t work for us, doesn’t work for me.’ That’s the only way I think I have a chance to be effective. Coaching is a very individual profession and you’ve got to do it your way, and there’s all kinds of ways to do it. I think our players understand that I’m yelling at them, I’m yelling at everybody. And I’m also trying to praise them at every opportunity I get. That’s my style of coaching and hopefully we can achieve the most we can throughout the season. After that Syracuse game, we bounced back and won all of them and finished the season 10-1 and won our first SEC championship."

That's right. 1991 was the first title. Just like if you rob a bank, you don't get the money back after you do your time. If you get busted cheating, the NCAA doesn't let you claim your SEC titles.

Jan. 1, 1997 - Gators win National Championship while pistol whipping the hated Seminoles. Rather than have me write this one. I'll leave it to Orson Swindle, owner of one of Gatorland's great man crushes:
The Run It Up Arm Wheel - Sugar Bowl 1996. As if redemption against the FSU team who gave Danny Wuerffel a boot party sans officiating in their only loss of the season wasn’t enough…early in the fourth quarter, with Florida up by 18 points, Florida busts a huge hole on shotgun trap, springing Terry Jackson for a TD and extending the lead to a mind-boggling 25 against the vaunted jailhouse D of FSU. The camera goes to Football Lucifer on the sidelines, who is smiling and–we shit you not–pinwheeling his pointed hand in a Pete Townshendesque motion that on the spot determined the international gesture for “run it up.” The glee on his face as his team punched the opponent out of the ring and then went for the folding chair still keeps many a Gator fan warm on those brutal fifty degree nights in north Florida. - Orson

Gators win it all.

Jan. 4th, 2001 - Spurrier resigns - Known as "Black Friday" in Gainesville and "The Greatest Friggin Day Ever" in Athens, this is without question one of the most pivotal moments in Gator Athletics. Spurrier walks away from Camaroville with six legitimate SEC Titles, 8 SEC East Titles, 1 National Title, and the greatest 12 year run by an SEC Coach not named Bryant or Neyland. Jeremy Foley, Florida Athletic Director, quickly begins the magical mystery tour of rejection which ends with Ron Zook's hiring.

Spurrier's resignation sets off legendary fireworks displays in Knoxville and Athens.

Jan. 9, 2001 - Ron Zook Hired. By Jan. 10th, is online. My parents were in New Orleans at the time, and all the sports talk guys could talk about that day in NOLA is how excited they were that Zook wouldn't be back coaching the Saints Defense the next year. I was just excited that they never got around to calling Jon Gruden after Stoops and Shanahan rejected Foley. Shockingly, Richt only beats the Zooker once in three tries. That is the biggest fork in the eyeball of that three year period for Georgia.

Zook carried off in style after doing something Spurrier never did. Beat the Noles in Doak.

March 2005 - Meyer points at first person. While Meyer 1.0 was less than perfect, it was overall an improvement from the final year of Zook's tenure. What Meyer has done on the recruiting trail has been even more impressive than his accomplishments on the field. Beating out Notre Dame to bring Meyer on board was solid work. It remains to be scene if he's a super genius or just a good solid coach.

More Spurrier moments from the Gator standpoint from Orson here, here and here.

In the next week or two, I'll do one of these for at least one other rival.



Anonymous said...

Couple things: Technically, CMR never beat Zook. He was fired the week before our game in 2004. Shockingly, Richt finished 0-2 vs Zook.

ALso, you should have included the alignment of heaven and earth which allowed UF to win the MNC in 1996. Weren't there 3 or 4 one-loss teams? There were some srtange circumstances and upsets that had to happen to even set the stage for UF's MNC.

Unknown said...

I'm not sure what game you were at, but I was in attendance in 2004. Richt was on one sideline and Zook on the other.

If Zook gets credit for beating FSU at the end of the season, he certainly gets credit for losing to Richt 3 weeks earlier

Anonymous said...

I think your dates are a little off...I think Spurrier resigned in January 2002. Because Richt lost to him in JAX in Oct. 2001. Zook coached the gators in 2002, 03, 04.

Anonymous said...

As far as Meyer 1.0 is concerned - this is the best article that I read concerning 1st year coaches and their recruiting classes.

Mandel says -
"Therefore, while Florida's Urban Meyer, Notre Dame's Charlie Weis, Pittsburgh's Dave Wannstedt, Ole Miss' Ed Orgeron, Oklahoma State's Mike Gundy and Illinois' Ron Zook -- all of whom are completing the first full recruiting cycle at their school -- should be commended for their exemplary classes, it's too soon to reach any definitive conclusions about the course of their programs. The biggest theme I've noticed in covering the past eight signing days is that second-year coaches at rebuilding programs almost always clean up in recruiting. Momentum is rarely higher than when a coach first arrives. The key is keeping it going.

At schools where the coaches are more deeply entrenched, however, recruiting results are often a telling reflection of the overall state of a program."

He then goes on to say that Georgia, Penn State, and OU were encouraging because they were able to address their needs.
So basically - I am holding out any judgement on Meyer's recruiting until he has put together a string of solid classes ala Richt.

Anonymous said...

What, no shouts out to Wayne Peace? Or Jack Youngblood? Carlos Alvarez? Kerwin Bell? Someone's got to stand up for those who muddled along before the 90s...

As for airbrush...we breathe it like the sweet mists of Erin.

Unknown said...

Excellent call Orson. Another pivotal moment was the 1996 graduation of Kerwin Peace Matthews Wuerffel Bell who lettered at Florida from '78-1996.

UF hasn't been the same since.

Anonymous said...

And on the weird circumstances leading to the '96 MNC...they were weird. FSU beats us in Tally on zero late hit calls; James Brown rolls out on fourth and one to complete a long pass and beat the Huskers; and we somehow take the team who reduced us to pudding a month prior and put a beating on them in the Sugar Bowl. Bizarre, bizarre.

ps. That Texas backfield: Priest Holmes splitting time with Ricky Williams. Oh, my.

Anonymous said...

By "wierd", I meant that lots of variables had to fall into place for UF to even have a shot at the MNC.

If you would rather me say "fortunate" circumstances, I could see that

Unknown said...

If i had done hoops, I would've put something in there about Eddie Fogler's favorite topic...Billy Donovan's recruiting.

But all things considered, I figured throwing stones at UF's ethics in hoops wasn't an area where I could speak from a position of moral superiority.

Worrier said...

You left out what might be the most pivotal moment in freeing the Dawgs from the Spurrier curse (a curse that's extended to Zook and now Prince Urb):

The Vols, 18 point underdogs, went into the Swamp in early Dec. 2001 and beat the Gators (first win in the Swamp since 71) giving SOS a home loss when a trip to the SEC CG and possible Rose Bowl berth on the line. Fans grumbled. Redskins opened checkbook. SOS left - partly because he had an audience that he couldn't please anymore unless winning SEC's and NC's. (reminds me a little of Knoxville this year with Fulmer).

While he owned us for years, we do relish the fact SOS lost his 1st (199?) conference game to the Vols and his last 2001.

Anonymous said...

Florida took a big hit losing Nyan Boateng. Wonder how a guy who claims to run a 4.0 forty can get stabbed in the leg by a woman? Speed must not be everything. You gotta have some moves with it I guess. Pretty tough campus there.

I guess Steve Lucifer will be ok at South Carolina. He probably has Tank working in the background. So far none of the players have tried to throw their girlfriends off a balcony unless it has been hushed up pretty well.
As a nole we haven't been able to help you out much lately as you have our oc as coach but we are wishing you luck next year.

Anonymous said...

Florida took a big hit losing Nyan Boateng. Wonder how a guy who claims to run a 4.0 forty can get stabbed in the leg by a woman? Speed must not be everything. You gotta have some moves with it I guess. Pretty tough campus there.

I guess Steve Lucifer will be ok at South Carolina. He probably has Tank working in the background. So far none of the players have tried to throw their girlfriends off a balcony unless it has been hushed up pretty well.
As a nole we haven't been able to help you out much lately as you have our oc as coach but we are wishing you luck next year.

Anonymous said...

Nole says:
Congratulations on the bowl win. We will always have a fond spot for Mark Richt.
Being an FSU grad I must say we have had more thrilling moments but we will iron it out. I hope they do select Chris Hatcher from Valdosta State. He is a proven football mind and class guy.

The grief I am experiencing now from gators, well, I have a bit coming. Many friends of mine did go to Florida and I have been a bit erudite over the years. I can remember the year Terry Bowden upset them at Auburn. I was prone at times to take a junket up to an Elks Club near Gainesville, Florida for the games. I will never forget when Terry Bowden upset them. At the beginning of the game, Stephen Davis broke about a forty yard gain. Gators were very quiet, you could almost hear a pin drop. I jumped out of the chair and screamed "go big daddy, rip it back." My health was severely threatened. Other notable comments were " no man cometh unto the father except through the son." Also "How do you choke a gator, give him 25 points. This was in reference to the Danny Kanell comeback when Florida lead 25 nothing at half and tied 28-28 at the end of the game for the greatest comeback in NCAA history.
Being no stranger to Georgia, I grew up in Griffin, Georgia. I lived a few blocks from Preston Ridlehuber, a former UGA quarterback. He was a couple of years older than us and he and is friends liked to use us as tackling dummies. You know how it goes with the younger kids on the block.

Preston went through puberty at about eleven. We used to call this guy Frankenstein, He had that big square head. In little league baseball he looked like
Don Drysdale on the mound. When he hit one out in a 200 foot stadium, well it went 300 feet, similar to highschool.

One thing I have to tell you however is that Preston, being extremely competitive, would always cry if he lost. We coined the term "teardrops Ridlehuber." If I am lying about this, I would love to hear from some of you. This is the truth.
He looked like, well you get the picture. There was another guy who was a pitcher called Mickey Clark. This guy at 12, was about 5-9 200 pounds. (a lefthander also, which made it even more terrifying.) The catcher used steak in the catchers mit to keep from breaking his fingers.

Anonymous said...

Gee how do you like back to back NCAA championships in Basketball with a BCS championship in between while destroying OSU like a high school Dogs had your days (years) they are just a long time ago sort of like Alabama!!!

Anonymous said...

Your blog is humorous, and somewhat entertaining, especially the Ron Zook comments. However, your dates concerning Spurrier's resignation and Zook's hiring are wrong. The year was 2002. Then again, you're a Georgia fan - you're excused.

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