Written by Allen Deleney, Feature Columnist for Gatorsfirst.com.
You can read the original article here.
Over the summer, ESPN ran a feature on their Web site where they ostensibly picked the 50 most devastating losses in college football history. Several of these 50 ''losses'' were actually ties, which may feel like losses, but are still ties. This aside, it did, however, get me thinking about the most devastating losses in Gator football memory. I took this idea and began working on it in late August never knowing how much work this would eventually entail.
I dug deep into the records, all the media guides I could lay my hands on, Internet stories, and books on the Gators. It is impossible for me to claim the omnipotence to actually rank these losses. Each person's most devastating loss is a twisted thing of beauty; it lies in the eye of the beholder. Therefore I tried to look for each game that had done the most damage: a denied SEC crown, a national title chance gone awry, or a streak busted/begun.
Oh, and let me be clear...the 2010 loss to Alabama isn’t on the list. It hasn’t cost us a thing but pride.
As I toiled through the annals of Florida football history, I came to a realization: I would never make it to 50 games. We just sucked for too long.
Here's some quick perspective. Florida currently owns a 658-375-40 record all time. Since 1980, Florida has gone 283-91-4. A 30.357-year average (this year’s games included pre-LSU) of 9.322 wins, 2.997 losses, and 0.131 ties. In the 73 seasons prior (beginning in 1906 and skipping 1943 when a team wasn't fielded), Florida compiled a 398-297-36 record, or a 5.452W-4.068L-0.493T average yearly record. As if their sacrifice would end yearly pain, the 1979 Florida team compiled a 0-10-1 record. Everything since has been the gravy train.
Therefore I settled on 30 games. I debated on how to present the games but eventually decided the equitable way was to do it chronologically. Without further ado, let’s invite Freddy into the house and take a trip down Elm Street as we relive some of these nightmares. Break out the reading spectacles, it’s extensive.
December 8, 1928: ''Tennessee Waters the Field'' Florida 12 @ Tennessee 13
Florida came into the game as a juggernaut having outscored its opponents 320-31 (40-4 per game) with three shutouts, as Florida led the nation in scoring. There was talk of a berth in the Rose Bowl if Florida could best Tennessee, who brought a 7-0-1 record of their own into the game. Tennessee (29-5 average win) boasted five shutouts of their own, including their only blemish, a 0-0 tie with Kentucky.
Although there was some light rain the night before, the field was a quagmire, leading some Florida faithful to claim that Tennessee had watered the field. The Vol’s don't deny it. Tennessee missed one PAT but Florida missed two. The Gators would finish third in the Southern Conference behind 9-0-0 Georgia Tech and 8-0-1 Tennessee.
Tech would get the Rose Bowl invite instead, and defeated Cal 8-7 to go to 10-0 and win the national championship (retroactively, it wasn't devised yet). It was the ONLY bowl game that year.
November 6, 1954: ''SEC Fumbled Away'' Georgia 14 vs. Florida 13
Although UF only finished with a 5-5 record, they would finish 5-2 in the SEC. Mississippi won the league with a 5-1 conference record with a loss to Arkansas in a game "designated as a conference game," even though Arkansas was not yet a member of the SEC.
Georgia Tech would finish second with a 6-2 record. Florida would finish third and rue the November day in Jacksonville where they fumbled seven times and set up both Georgia scores on short fields. Quarterback Dick Allen was knocked out of the game early, the subject of which Florida coach Bob Woodruff said, ''I believe that cost us the title.''
October 29, 1960: ''Auburn Anguish'' Auburn 10 vs. Florida 7
Florida was 5-1 and 3-0 in the SEC as the War Tiger Eagles came to town for homecoming. Over 40,000 watched the defensive struggle from the stands. Both teams had managed one long drive apiece for a touchdown in the first half and little else. Late in the third, Auburn kicked a 31-yard field goal for a 10-7 advantage. Florida was unable to ever get in range for the tying try.
Even a tie would've given Florida a piece of the SEC title; UF finished 5-1 while Mississippi won the league crown with a 5-0-1 record. Florida would go on to win the Gator Bowl over Baylor and finish 9-2, the second best finish in school history at the time behind the 1928 team.
October 24, 1964: ''Steve's Mistake'' Florida 14 @ Alabama 17
For the second year in a row, the Gators traveled to Alabama. The year before they had become the first team to beat a Bear Bryant-coached Alabama team in what was then Denny Stadium, now Bryant-Denny.
The 10-6 score set off the original University Avenue Street party with no greased light poles needed (needing instead fire trucks for the bonfires). The Bear would only lose one other time in Denny stadium, a 38-29 loss in his final game there in 1982 in the middle of a three-game skid.
When they met, both squads were undefeated. After Florida's leads of 7-0 and 14-7, the game stood 14-14 late. Florida knocked starter Joe Namath out of the game. The backup, option-style quarterback Steve Sloan, moved the Tide into position for a David Ray field goal with 3:06 remaining.
Sophomore sensation Steve Spurrier led the Gators right down the field, but made a crucial mistake. ''Well, I made a mistake. I misjudged the 7-yard line for the 2,'' Spurrier would later say before calling ''the wrong play'' (his words). Left with a long 4th-and-goal, Florida lined up Jimmy Hall for a short field goal try for the tie.
Unfortunately the Gators only had 10 men on the field after Jimmy Jordan came on and then left again with the man he replaced. An unblocked Alabama rusher forced a quick and inaccurate attempt.
A win would've tied Florida with Alabama for the SEC crown with one loss apiece. Instead Alabama went on the win the national championship. A couple of key plays here.
November 5, 1966: ''Why Spurrier Hates Georgia'' Georgia 27 vs. Florida 10
The Gators came in at 7-0 and favored over 6-1 Georgia. Spurrier led Florida down the field for a quick TD. After a Bulldog field goal, a 72-yard kick return by Harmon set up a field goal by Florida for a 10-3 lead. A Spurrier interception set up a Bulldog score to tie the game.
With 10 minutes remaining, Spurrier was intercepted again, this time by Lynn Huges. The year before, Huges had been beaten on a deep throw from Spurrier to Jack Harper in the waning moments in a 14-10 Gator victory. This time he went 39 yards down the sideline into the end zone for a 17-10 Georgia lead.
Coming into the game, Spurrier had thrown 192 passes and two interceptions. He threw three picks in a six-attempt stretch, leading to 17 Georgia points. Steve was also sacked numerous times, fumbling several, but the sack wasn't an official stat at the time so it is hard to know how many.
Florida in the second half netted five yards rushing, and 29 yards passing. Instead of kneeling, the Bulldogs tacked on a score with six seconds remaining for the final margin of 27-10. Probably the reason Spurrier never felt the need for his 1990s offenses to let up against the Dawgs.
The loss cost Florida an SEC title they would have shared with Alabama. Georgia split the title with Bama instead. Here is extensive video of the '64-'66 games with Georgia.
November 1, 1969: ''Reaves Record'' Florida 12 @ Auburn 38
John Reaves and Carlos Alvarez had led the "Super Sophs" to a 6-0 record and the top 10 in the national rankings (AP seventh, Coaches ninth) when they traveled to Auburn to take on the 4-2 War Tiger Eagles. Reaves would throw nine interceptions, an NCAA record that stands to this day and will likely never be broken.
Florida would finish 3-1-1 in the SEC. Tennessee won the SEC with a 5-1-0 record, which the Gators would have topped with a 4-0-1 record with a win over Auburn.
November 8, 1975: ''Appleby to Washington'' Florida 7 vs. Georgia 10
Florida came in ranked with a 6-1 record against a ranked 5-2 Georgia team. Boasting several famous Florida names, Wes Chandler, Don and Derrick Gaffney, and Jimmy Ray Stevens to name a few, Florida’s only loss had been 8-7 to North Carolina State in Raleigh (and starting linebacker Bill Cowher, yes the one you’ve heard of).
After an early score and a mid-game Georgia field goal, the Dawgs got the ball back on their own 25 with just over three minutes remaining. Conservative coach Vince Dooley surprised everyone watching and called a reverse pass. Richard Appleby took the reverse and threw to wide-open Gene Washington for a 75-yard touchdown. UGA won 10-7. Florida would finish 5-1-0 and second to 6-0-0 Alabama instead of sharing the SEC title.
November 6, 1976: ''Fourth-and-Dumb'' Florida 27 vs. Georgia 41
A famous Florida loss to Georgia. After an opening-game 24-21 loss to North Carolina in Tampa, the Gators reeled off six straight wins and was undefeated in the SEC. They took a 27-13 lead into the half against the Dawgs.
After Georgia scored midway through the third, coach Doug Dickey decided to go for it on fourth-and-half-a-yard at the Florida 29. He went with an outside option and didn’t make it (bad play-calling seen here). Georgia completed the momentum shift by scoring a few minutes later to tie the game. Florida never recovered in a 41-27 loss. Georgia would win the SEC with a 5-1 record, while Florida finished 4-2.
November 13, 1976: ''Bluegrass Hangover'' Florida 9 @ Kentucky 28
After having their outright SEC championship dreams derailed by Georgia for the second year in a row and losing for the third year in a row to the Dawgs in heartbreaking fashion, Florida came into Kentucky flat. Bad news against a resurgent Kentucky team that would finish the season 8-4. The Cats won 28-9.
Even though the Wildcats had lost to Georgia 31-7 and Mississippi State 14-7, several seasons later MSU was forced to forfeit games from the 1976 season, which moved Kentucky’s record to 9-3 overall, 5-1 in the SEC. This garnered them a share of the SEC title, meaning that if Florida had won either game in this eight-day period they would have tied for the SEC crown.
November 8, 1980: ''Run Lindsey Run'' Florida 21 vs. Georgia 26
Holding a 21-20 lead over undefeated and No. 2-ranked Georgia with only 90 seconds left, Florida looked poised to finally exorcise the Dawg demons and finally be the one to ruin Georgia’s season.
Faced with a third and 8 from their own 7-yard line, this happened for Georgia. Florida would finish 8-4 but 4-2 in the SEC; while Georgia would go on to win the national championship. A win over the Dawgs would have put both teams at 5-1 and given Florida, you guessed it, a share of their first SEC title (a continuous theme in Gator history).
October 29, 1983: ''A Bad Eight Days'' Florida 21 @ Auburn 28, and November 5, 1983: Florida 9 vs. Georgia 10
The 1983 Florida football team may have played the hardest schedule in school history. At least the hardest three-game sample. The Gators would play eventual 11-1 national champion Miami in their opening game, defeating the Canes 28-3. The other two games were in an eight-day period beginning on October 29th with 11-1 Auburn and ending November 5th with 10-0-1 Georgia.
The first contest was a top-five matchup at Auburn. The War Tiger Eagles won 28-21 as two long TD runs and 196 total rushing yards by Bo Jackson helped erase 336 yards passing by Florida QB Wayne Peace and 123 receiving yards by Gators WR Dwayne Dixon. The fact Auburn only threw for 71 yards made it even harder to swallow.
The following week the now-ninth-ranked Florida traveled to Jacksonville to take on the fourth-ranked 7-0-1 Dawgs. Florida’s opening drive reached the 1-yard line but netted no points. The Gators got inside the Georgia 25-yard line six times but only got nine points out of it. In the third quarter, Florida held a nearly 4-1 total offense advantage but a Wayne Peace interception set up Georgia’s only touchdown and their "bend but don’t break" defense somehow made it hold up in a 10-9 win.
Georgia would go on to lose a de facto SEC championship game with Auburn 13-7 as the Gators finished behind both with a 4-2 SEC record (AU 6-0, UGA 5-1). The bigger damage was done nationally, as a win in Jacksonville would’ve kept Florida in the national championship hunt.
September 1, 1984: ''Kosar’s Drive'' Florida 20 vs. Miami 32 (Tampa)
In a back-and-forth game Miami held a 19-13 lead entering the fourth quarter. Florida appeared to blow two chances to win the game when WR Gary Rolle fumbled at the 1-yard line, and when they recovered a mishandled snap by Miami punter Rick Tuten at the Miami 31 and failed to generate any points.
After getting the ball with 4:27 remaining, Kerwin Bell drove the Gators 52 yards with two fourth-down conversions, hitting Frankie Neal for an apparent game-winning TD with 0:41 remaining. Miami QB Bernie Kosar drove the Canes 72 yards in only 34 seconds, the big play being a 36-yard strike to TE Willie Smith, before completing a 12-yard TD pass to WR Eddie Brown. Bell’s desperation pass with one second left was returned for a touchdown for a 32-20 final.
Florida would go 9-1-1 on the season with the loss keeping them out of the national championship game. They would finish third and win their first SEC championship that season, only to go on probation and have the SEC presidents vote to vacate their title in the spring of ’85, ironic since the running joke in the '80s was SEC meant ''Surely Everyone is Cheating.'' Last-minute heroics by both teams.
November 9, 1985: ''No. 1 for a Week'' Florida 3 vs. Georgia 24
From 1983-85 Florida was having its best run ever. In 1983, they had gone 9-2-1, in 1984 won their first SEC title, albeit then stripped, while going 9-1-1, and had opened the 1985 season 7-0-1. After winning at Auburn 14-10 in a battle of top-10 teams (UF No. 2, AU No. 6), Florida moved to the No. 1 ranking for the first time in school history. The ranking lasted one week.
A Georgia team that would go 7-3-2 on the season ran wild on the Florida defense in a 24-3 victory. Dawg freshmen RBs Keith Henderson (145 yards, 76 yard TD run, two total TDs) and Tim Worley (104 yards, 89 yard TD run) keyed UGA’s 344 total rushing yards. UGA stifled the Gator rushing attack and sacked Kerwin Bell numerous times allowing them to survive his 408 yards passing. The loss broke Galen Hall’s 15-0-1 record at Florida.
Florida would go on to have the best record in the SEC again as they finished 9-1-1 overall and 5-1 in the league, but would be ineligible for the SEC crown due to still being on probation. Unsure of crooked 1980s NCAA politics, I have no idea whether they were eligible for the national title, but they had been voted No. 1 that week so I assume they were eligible, meaning the Dawgs cost them a title shot.
November 15, 1986: ''Wildcats' Last Win'' Florida 3 @ Kentucky 10
This is the first of two games in a row that didn’t cost Florida an SEC or national title as Florida would finish 6-5 in 1986 and 7-5 in 1988. These two games are included because by now these games are taken as automatic wins every year. It wasn’t always so.
Before Florida’s current 24-game winning streak against Kentucky, Florida’s record against Kentucky was 19-17. Basically before Spurrier, Kentucky was a coin-flip game. Florida went up in a freezing cold game in Lexington at the end of the year and couldn’t get anything going. Just remember, we used to lose to Kentucky. Kentucky finished 5-5-1.
October 15, 1988: ''Commodores' Last Stand'' Florida 9 @ Vanderbilt 24
Part two of this story is Florida’s last loss to Vanderbilt. Florida lost to the 'Dores in the second game of a four-game losing streak. Before Florida’s current 19-game winning streak, Florida owned a 13-9-2 record against Vandy.
Vanderbilt was a coin-flip game. These two games are so meaningless in the annals of college football history, I was unable to find anything online to reference these games except the score and that it was the last time either team had beaten us.
There are hundreds of articles about each game from any of the last few seasons with just a mention of the date. Oh yeah, and this was Vanderbilt’s third and final win of the year in a 3-8 season, before losing their final five games.
September 21, 1991: ''The Last Road Hurrah'' Florida 21 @ Syracuse 38
It was Steve Spurrier’s second season in Gainesville and he had the Gators on the national scene after finishing first in the SEC the previous season (and once again being denied the SEC crown due to being on probation).
Florida had just marched into Bryant Denny Stadium and defeated the Crimson Tide 35-0. Riding high the No. 5 Gators rolled into Syracuse, New York to take on the No. 17 Orangemen. The 'Cuse ran a reverse on the opening kickoff and Kirby Dar Dar went the distance, the Carrier Dome went bonkers, and the Orange never looked back in a 38-21 victory.
It was Florida’s first ever 10-win season and first official SEC championship season. The loss was the only regular season loss and the Gators would go to the Sugar Bowl ranked third before losing to Notre Dame.
In the years before the BCS, 12-0 Washington beat No. 4 Michigan in the Rose Bowl, while 12-0 Miami beat No. 11 Nebraska in the Orange Bowl to split the national championship. Had Florida not lost to Syracuse they, too, would have had a shot at the national title.
Florida learned its lesson about the non-conference road game. The only place Florida has played a non-conference road game at since (other then obviously every other year at FSU) has been Miami. Once. I will give the slightest pass, however. In 1992 the SEC expanded adding South Carolina and Arkansas, split into two divisions, and added a conference game, taking away some scheduling freedom.
December 5, 1992: ''The First SEC Championship Game'' Florida 21 vs. Alabama 28
Even though Florida entered the game with only an 8-3 record, the No. 12 Gators had a shot to knock off undefeated No. 2 Alabama and win the conference crown under the new championship game format.
The Tide were on a 20-game winning streak since losing 35-0 to Florida in Tuscaloosa the year before. After falling behind the Tide 21-7 in what was essentially a home game in Birmingham, Florida rallied to tie the game at 21 against a raging crowd. After getting the ball back with around three minutes to go, Shane Mathews was picked off by Antonio Langham who raced 20 yards to the end zone for the winning score as Alabama would hold on 28-21.
The Tide went to the Sugar Bowl as decided underdogs to play the No. 1 defending national champion Miami Hurricanes, whom the Tide promptly dismantled 34-13.
October 15, 1994: ''Nix to Sanders'' Auburn 36 @ Florida 33
Second-year coach Terry Bowden had led Auburn to an undefeated record and a three-point upset of No. 4 Florida at Auburn in 1993. Florida came in looking for revenge. The Gators had started the season ranked No. 1 in the country and Auburn came in ranked No. 6.
In a back-and-forth game, Florida held a four-point lead with 36 seconds remaining but Auburn had the ball 1st-and-goal at the 8-yard line. Florida blitzed big leaving 6’2" Auburn WR Frank Sanders against 5’10" Florida FS Michael Gilmore. You know the result.
Auburn was on probation and not eligible to go to the SEC title game. It would be the only regular season loss for the Gators and only the second loss at home under Steve Spurrier. Florida would go on to tie FSU in the "Choke at Doak" and win the SEC, but with the loss never had a chance at the national title.
January 2, 1996: ''Tommy Frazier'' Florida 24 vs. Nebraska 62
The Gators had been so close to winning the national championship under Spurrier only to have lost the crucial game somewhere along the way and fall short. For the first time ever, Florida had completed the regular season undefeated.
Under the new Bowl Alliance (precursor to the BCS) Florida was invited to the national championship game against No. 1 Nebraska in the Fiesta Bowl instead of the usual Sugar Bowl for the SEC champion.
Florida led 10-6 after the first quarter, but a disaster of a second quarter put the game out of reach. Lawrence Phillips, the RB questionably started (in the eyes of many people) after beating his girlfriend on the break between the end of the season and the bowls, got it started with a 42-yard TD run. After the kickoff, Danny Wuerffel was sacked consecutive plays for a safety and a 15-10 Nebraska lead. The Gator offense went quit and Nebraska scored a TD and a FG to go up 25-10. Michael Booker’s 42-yard pick-six off Wuerffel blew a close game wide open.
Florida could never get going offensively and Nebraska ended up with a bowl record 524 yards rushing as they cruised to a 62-24 win highlighted by Tommy Frazier’s 75-yard TD run where he broke seven tackles and shrugged off a crew of Florida defenders. Truly one of the sadder sights in Gator memory. If you really want to see it, here are all the lowlights (Tommy Frazier’s run is at 7:11). The worst part was, it was our first national title game so you couldn’t look away.
November 1, 1997: ''Robert Edwards'' Florida 17 vs. Georgia 37
Florida came in as the defending national champions but having already sustained a loss three weeks before at LSU where Doug Johnson threw four interceptions in a 28-21 loss. However, Florida still controlled their own destiny as they had defeated Tennessee in Gainesville 33-20.
Under Spurrier, Florida had never lost to Georgia. The Dawgs came in with a 6-1 record and a No. 14 ranking while Florida sat at No. 6. Georgia running back Robert Edwards had a day to remember as he tied a school record with four touchdown runs and finished with 124 yards. Even though Florida picked off UGA quarterback Mike Bobo three times, the Florida trio of QBs of Doug Johnson, Jesse Palmer, and Noah Brindise combined to throw four interceptions of their own.
UGA took a 14-3 lead into the half, but Florida scored the first 14 points of the second half to take a 17-14 lead halfway through the third period before Georgia decisively won the fourth as they scored the last 23 points of the game.
It was the worst regular season loss for Florida since a 45-24 loss to FSU in 1992. The loss cost the Gators the Eastern Division. Tennessee won the division even though they had lost to Florida because they finished the season with only one loss in the conference. The Volunteers went on to defeat Auburn in the SEC title game.
September 19, 1998: ''Collins Cooper'' Florida 17 @ Tennessee 20
The Gators had won five straight games against Tennessee and talk had begun about how Phillip Fulmer couldn’t beat Florida. The Vols looked to be in a state of transition as Peyton Manning had moved onto the NFL and Tee Martin was only making his third career start.
Multiple times Florida seemed to be poised to score, only to be held back by mistakes. Terry Jackson fumbling, literally, at the goal line is the biggest play to me, as it avoided the early ''here we go again'' feeling for the Vols. Tennessee’s defense would gather three fumbles and have two sacks in the first half as they stymied Florida again and again. Late in the second quarter Jesse Palmer led UF on a 67-yard drive to tie the game at 10.
The second half didn’t start any better. Another Florida fumble. Deon Grant’s famous one-handed interception to prevent a huge gain and Tennessee with the ball at midfield. Tee Martin found Peerless Price for a touchdown and Florida looked to be on the ropes. Facing 3rd-and-11, however, Palmer hit Travis McGriff in stride down the sideline for a 70-yard touchdown.
A scoreless fourth left the Gators facing their first ever overtime game. After holding Tennessee to a three-and-out FG in the first frame of overtime, Florida picked up a first down. On third down, Tennessee hero Al Wilson, who had already forced three of Florida’s four fumbles, came unblocked up the middle and forced a high throw through the end zone. You can see three of the fumbles (if you can stomach it) and Wilson’s rush here between the 2:00 and 2:27 marks, as well as Price’s touchdown at 5:16 and Grant’s interception at 0:33.
Collins Cooper missed the tying 32-yard field goal on a kick that looked to Florida fans as though it went over the upright. Cooper swears it was good. Only kid I ever remember getting booed at Gator Growl. Tennessee would go on to win the national championship against FSU, leading us to our other heartbreaker from 1998.
November 21, 1998: ''Marcus Outzen'' Florida 12 @ FSU 23
The Gators had to feel pretty good about their chances going into the 1998 game in Tallahassee. Seminole starting QB Chris Weinke, who would lead the Seminoles to a title in 1999 and win a Heisman Trophy in 2000, had been lost for the season due to a serious neck injury two weeks prior in a win over Virginia.
Both teams were strong defensively. FSU led the nation in defense while Florida was first in the SEC. Before the game however, a scrum started at midfield lead to Florida starting safety and defensive leader Tony George being ejected as well as some undressed (so they were not going to play in the game) FSU backups.
Florida led 12-6 at halftime. The famous play from the game happened when Florida DB Marquand Manuel stepped in front of an Outzen pass for what looked to be a pick-six, only to have the ball go through his hands to FSU wide receiver Peter Warrick who danced through the defense for an FSU touchdown instead. Warrick would later throw a TD pass on a trick play to Ron Dougans.
Florida was shut out in the second half. The final was 23-12. The game would hurt even more one week later.
Florida had entered the game with a No. 4 ranking, against FSU’s No. 5. Undefeated No. 3 UCLA lost at Miami 49-45 in a shootout make-up game postponed from September 26th due to Hurricane Georges, which hit the Florida Keys on September 25th. Texas A&M upset undefeated No. 1 (in the coaches and No. 2 in the AP) Kansas State in the Big 12 Title game 36-33. Had Florida been able to beat FSU they would have gotten a shot at revenge against Tennessee in the Fiesta Bowl for the national title.
October 2, 1999: ''Darrell Jackson'' Alabama 40 @ Florida 39
This is one of the games on the list that didn’t cost Florida a shot at a national or the SEC titles. This game makes the list due to ending Florida’s 31-game home winning streak. Florida clung to a 33-26 point lead but had forced a punt with only 3:33 remaining in the game and Alabama holding only one timeout.
If the Gators could make a first down they could effectively win the game. If they didn’t they would at least punt and force 'Bama’s run-first offense to go the length of the field with no timeouts. Instead Florida WR Darrell Jackson muffed the punt surrounded by Alabama players at the 22-yard line. Alabama capitalized and scored the tying touchdown.
In overtime, Florida scored first on a pass from Doug Johnson to Reche Caldwell. Then Jeff Chandler missed the PAT. After Alabama scored with a Shaun Alexander run, backup kicker Chris Kemp missed the winning PAT wide left…but Florida had jumped offside so he got a second chance. It also doesn’t look good, but was ruled good, as Alabama wins 40-39. Video of all the late drama.
December 4, 1999: ''Freddie Milons'' Florida 7 vs. Alabama 34
Florida came into the game having lost to No. 1 FSU the week before, effectively ending their national title chances. I didn’t include that game because the result here made that loss irrelevant.
Florida opened the game with a touchdown drive on their opening possession to take a 7-0 lead on a short pass to Earnest Graham out of the backfield and we were feeling pretty good about ourselves.
It ended up being the Gators only points of the afternoon.
Still Florida clung to a 7-6 lead just before the half when Jesse Palmer threw a pick at the Florida 35-yard line with 1:42 remaining. Andrew Zow threw a touchdown pass with 0:20 seconds remaining but the Tide stalled on the two-point conversion and held a 12-7 lead at the half.
The lead expanded to 15-7 with an Alabama field goal with 2:12 remaining. After another stalled Florida drive, WR Freddie Milons lined up at quarterback in a Wildcat formation before the Wildcat formation. He evaded multiple tackles before going 77 yards down the right sideline to give Alabama a 22-7 lead with 11:54 remaining. A nice kickoff return gave Florida the ball at the 44-yard line. On first down, Palmer’s swing pass was batted into the air and defensive tackle Reggie Grimes returned it for a touchdown.
In three plays the game had gone from 15-7 on Alabama’s 23-yard line to 28-7 (missed PAT on fumble return) and the game was effectively over. Alabama would add a touchdown with a few minutes remaining following another Palmer interception to end the scoring 34-7. All the big stuff.
December 1, 2001: ''Spurrier’s Last Home Game'' Tennessee 34 @ Florida 32
The make-up game with Tennessee that had been postponed from September 15th due to the terrorist attacks on September 11th. Since Tennessee and Florida were both 6-1 in the conference, this became a de facto Eastern Division championship game.
Travis Stephens would run for 226 yards on only 19 carries (over half came on three carries) while Florida, missing Earnest Graham because Darnel Dockett had twisted his knee and injured him in the previous game with FSU, managed only 36 yards on the ground. Florida would go 11-0 with Graham that year, and 0-2 without him.
Still Florida led 20-14 at the half and 23-21 after three quarters.
Tennessee took the lead after a 34-yard run by Stephens set up a short TD by Jabari Davis, but botched the two-point conversion. Florida kicked a 52-yard FG to cut it to one. After another short TD by Davis gave Tennessee a 34-26 lead, Rex Grossman led Florida the length of the field for a touchdown with 1:10 left. However, the two-point try failed and the Gators failed to recover the onside kick.
The loss was the first at home to Tennessee since 1971 and cost Florida not only a shot in the SEC championship game (which Tennessee promptly blew and lost 31-20 to LSU and their backup quarterback Rohan Davey, a team Florida had beaten 44-15 in Baton Rouge) but since Florida had entered the matchup with a No. 2 ranking, it also cost them a shot at the BCS title.
The loss also cost Rex Grossman a chance to be the first sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy even though he was brilliant in defeat. Grossman threw for 362 yards and two scores and had a rushing TD.
Florida lost because they had done what Tennessee had always done in losses to Florida: stall and kick field goals. Jeff Chandler kicked four—three in the red zone and two on snaps from inside the 10.
September 6, 2003: ''Meltdown in Miami'' Florida 33 @ Miami 38
In 2002, Miami had thrashed Florida at home 41-16 and Florida was looking for payback. For three quarters it looked like they were well on their way.
Miami’s Devon Hester returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown. Florida responded with a solid drive that stalled inside the 10-yard line and resulted in a field goal. Miami returned the second kickoff they received inside the red zone but Florida’s defense forced a field goal.
Then, for a while, it was all Florida. A 50-yard touchdown from Ingle Martin to Carlos Perez down the right sideline with 4:17 left in the first. Early in the second quarter, Keiwan Ratliff jumped on a backward pass and scampered 45 yards for a touchdown, but UF missed the PAT. On the next possession, Miami fumbled again at the Florida 45-yard line and Darryl Dixon picked it up and returned it to the Miami 21-yard line.
Somehow (Ron Zook) Florida didn’t score there.
The Gators did tack on a field goal just before the half to take a 19-10 lead into the break. On the first possession of the third quarter DeShawn Wynn broke a 65-yard TD run to increase the lead to 26-10. Following their second interception of the third quarter off Brock Berlin, Florida finally capitalized and Ran Carthon punched in a TD with 5:10 remaining in the third and the rout was on. Except it wasn’t.
First, Miami went no-huddle and cut the lead to 33-18 in only 1:35 at the 3:35 mark of the third. Florida went three-and-out. Another TD drive for Miami. Now it was 33-25 with seconds remaining in the third. Another Florida three-and-out. Another TD drive by Miami. After inexplicably going for two on their first TD in the second half (book says wait until the next score: down 23 with a seven-point TD cuts it to 16, or two TDs with two two-point conversions, whereas a missed two-point try still leaves you down 17 and three scores) Miami then chose to only kick the extra point and be down 33-32.
After an exchange of punts, Florida once again couldn’t do anything but three-and-out (as they had done every drive since the Carthon TD) and punted. Miami drove down and scored the game-winning TD with 1:44 remaining. Florida finally put a few first downs together now that they were behind, but when Chris Leak (Martin had been knocked out with a concussion earlier in the game) attempted his third straight fade pass to Dallas Baker, it was intercepted with seconds remaining and the Canes had won. The stunning collapse was Ron Zook’s career at Florida in a nutshell. Highlights galore.
November 29, 2003: ''The Swindle in the Swamp'' FSU 38 @ Florida 34
Florida came in at 8-3 facing a 9-2 FSU team. In a game filled with controversial calls and an ACC officiating crew, Florida fans feel they were robbed on multiple occasions. Three different times an FSU player fumbled and the ball had been picked up by a Florida player in the clear running for a defensive touchdown, only to have the play called dead. Then FSU was awarded a fumble on a play where Gators RB Ciatrick Fason looked down.
Even so Florida clung to a 34-31 lead with FSU facing a 4th-and-14 with only 1:23 remaining. Florida only rushed three players and dropped into a soft zone, allowing Chris Rix to complete a pass to Dominic Robinson. The next play Rix went for it all to P.K. Sam for a 52-yard Hail Mary touchdown. Sadly, it is what most Gators remember safety Gus Scott for, even though it was only one black eye on an otherwise stellar career.
FSU fans claim the game was fair. When the outcome of this game was the most commonly cited reason why instant replay was added, you know the calls were blown. For me, I can fall on this sword knowing that with us as the catalyst to add instant replay, such injustice shouldn’t happen again in college football.
November 5, 2005: ''Spurrier’s Revenge'' Florida 22 @ South Carolina 30
It was Steve Spurrier’s first year at South Carolina. It was Urban Meyer’s first year at Florida. Meyer had Florida in position to win the Eastern Division (if Georgia slipped up at Auburn and they did 31-30) as they traveled to Columbia for the first matchup of Spurrier against Florida.
Florida’s defense held the Gamecocks to 246 yards of offense while gaining 359, but 11 penalties and the only turnover in the game loomed very large. The one turnover was an interception thrown by Chris Leak where his pass was batted at the line, caught by South Carolina defensive lineman Chris Tucker which you can see here at the 0:26 mark that was run down inside the 5-yard line setting up a touchdown. The video has most of the other lowlights.
Even so, Florida cut the game to 20-19 early in the second half before Sidney Rice broke two tackles on a WR screen and went 64 yards to the 1-yard line. After a South Carolina field goal extended the lead to 30-19, Urban Meyer elected to kick a field goal with 2:51 remaining. Epitomizing a game filled with penalties, Florida forced a punt with a minute remaining for one last shot to tie, but had too many men on the field, giving South Carolina a first down and letting them run out the clock. It broke a 14-game winning streak in the series, as South Carolina hadn’t beaten Florida since 1939.
December 5, 2009: ''The Dream Ends'' Florida 13 vs. Alabama 32
All that stood between Florida and its second undefeated season and chance for a BCS title was Alabama. It was the first time a conference championship game had featured two undefeated teams, and was the first regular season matchup of No. 1 against No. 2 since Michigan and Ohio State had played in 2006. Florida had bested an undefeated Tide team the year before in Atlanta, but this year it was not to be. Florida’s offense had been in a pseudo funk all year and it finally caught up to them.
The game was a low-scoring defensive affair as most had anticipated early. Tim Tebow threw a 23-yard TD pass to David Nelson to cut the lead to 13-10 with 4:33 remaining in the first half. However Alabama responded with a 75-yard screen pass down inside the 10 and scored a TD the next play. Florida kicked a field goal late in the first half to cut the lead to 19-13. However Florida always seemed split seconds slow.
In the second half, the Gators offense completely disappeared. Alabama managed to put two more touchdowns on the board, the second with 13:49 remaining in the game. Twice UF got deep into Alabama territory only to throw an interception and be stopped on downs. Alabama got the ball with 7:28 remaining and killed the clock with a 12-play drive to end the game (lowlights).
The point of this list is to remind Florida fans how blessed we truly are. For years, we paid the price year in and year out of being the team that snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. It was always “wait til next year.” We have actually had that "next year" now.
There were thousands of Gators who came and passed without that satisfaction. We will have "next year" again. It might still be this year. Or this might be a team made half of freshmen that will take a few lumps this season, but be a beast several years running over the next few. When all your junior players who could go to the NFL go to the NFL, you don’t reload you rebuild.
We’ve reached the plateau where a bad and unacceptable result are three eight-win seasons in a row, even when eight wins a year STILL raises our average wins a year (103.357 year average of 6.366-3.628-0.387). This is a good thing. This past week’s loss to Alabama was bad for sure, but the reality is the game hasn’t cost the Florida a thing but pride. In fact a loss to LSU would only cost Florida a shot at the national title, something realistic fans knew was a stretch this year anyways.
What is still in play is the Eastern Division and a shot at a SEC Championship. Before the season I guarantee Urban Meyer would have taken an SEC title shot, regardless of record. Spurrier always said to remember the SEC is the first prize. He left when no one would. Urban has enough health problems from the pressure before the Gator Nation jumps on him in the seasons we should expect to be down a bit. Save it for the guys wearing the other colors.
Enjoy this season's ride for the highs and the lows. Or better yet, saddle up next to a grey-haired Gator and ask for a few old tales of yore. Just don’t be surprised if most of them are sad.
I asked my father (Gainesville resident since 1954 at the age of two) which old losses stuck out the most in his memory. With a far off glassy look in his eye, he considered the question. The 1962 Duke game played in Jacksonville. He had listened on the radio. Florida held a 21-0 lead and lost 28-21. It was the largest lead a Florida team had ever blown to that point.
The second was the 1970 Auburn game. Auburn won 63-14. ''I just couldn’t understand how they could beat us that bad,'' said my father about a game between a 5-1 Auburn team and a 5-2 Florida team.
This article was about perspective. You have to let the anger go because the losses are still going to eat away at you anyways. There are literally hundreds of Gator football losses. Each one probably has a Gator somewhere who would peg it as their most disappointing loss.
Please comment about which losses affected you the most and why.