Florida Gators High and Lows, Part I: The Steve Spurrier Era
Joseph is currently writing a series highlighting the best and worst moments in the University of Florida coaching tenures of Steve Spurrier, Ron Zook, and Urban Meyer.
If you would like to read the introduction to this series, click here:
I don't know about you, but I always like to hear the bad news first. Then I'm able to comfort myself with the joy of good news. Therefore, I will start by naming the five worst moments in Steve Spurrier's coaching career at Florida. Then, I will name the five best moments of his tenure.
FIVE WORST MOMENTS
Honorable Mention: Losing the 1992 Sugar Bowl to Notre Dame
Coming off the school's first official SEC Championship, Spurrier and his Fun 'n' Gun offense were supposed to light up the Irish secondary, finalizing one of Florida's finest seasons in school history to that date.
Unfortunately for the '91 SEC Champs, things didn't go to according to plan. No. 18 Notre Dame beat the heavily favored No. 3 Gators despite turning the ball over three times and accumulating fewer yards of total offense.
5. 28-21 Loss to LSU in 1997
The Ol' Ball Coach led the defending national champions into Baton Rouge, only to have their hopes of repeating as national champs seriously hampered.
Florida quarterback Doug Johnson threw four interceptions and failed to record a passing touchdown, one of the few times in Spurrier's college coaching career that this has occurred.
4. Spurrier's Resignation
Alright, he wanted to try coaching in the NFL—I get that. However, he left the Gators hanging out to dry with their head coaching vacancy.
Spurrier allowed his alma mater, the football program he built single-handedly, to fall into the hands of athletic director Jeremy Foley. Foley then hired career-long assistant coach Ron Zook to take over the head job.
We all know how that hire turned out.
3. Losing to Tennessee in his final game at "the Swamp"
In a game postponed due to the horrific events of Sept. 11, 2001, the Gators played host to the Tennessee Volunteers in a game that was to decide the SEC East.
After surrendering two leads in the fourth quarter, the Gators mounted one last touchdown drive, but failed to convert the two-point play to tie the game.
This loss cost the Gators a trip to Atlanta for the SEC Championship game and, possibly, a Rose Bowl matchup with the Miami Hurricanes for the national championship.
2. Losing the National Championship to Nebraska in the 1996 Fiesta Bowl
Better known to the Gator Nation as the "Fiasco Bowl," this game was just plain ugly. The Cornhuskers beat the Gators in every possible way, stifling Florida's normally explosive offense.
Spurrier's first national championship game as Florida's head coach was merely a display of how good the '95 Cornhuskers really were. A 62-24 beat down left the Gators humbled, but hungry for a second shot at the school's first national title.
1. The Choke at Doak
Ties are like kissing your sister. They're just wrong. Most sports fans agree they would rather their team lose than end a game in a tie, let alone with their bitter rival.
That's how that fateful day went down in Tallahassee, Fla. The Gators, enjoying a 31-3 lead over the Seminoles in the second half, were unable to close the deal.
Warrick Dunn and Florida State just kept clawing away at Florida's shrinking lead until the game ended in a gut-wrenching, 31-31 tie.
What made matters worse was that the Seminoles met the Gators in the 1995 Sugar Bowl, which was nicknamed "The Fifth Quarter in the French Quarter."
Unfortunately for the Florida faithful, the Gators lost the rematch with the Seminoles, leaving a bitter taste in the mouths of Gators fans that still exists to this day.
FIVE BEST MOMENTS
Honorable Mention: Steve Spurrier's Sharp Wit
This is the thing about Spurrier that drove other SEC coaches insane. Here are some of Spurrier's best one-liners:
- “You can’t spell Citrus without U-T.” Referencing Tennessee’s constant appearances in the Citrus Bowl because of second place finishes in the SEC.
- “But the real tragedy was that 15 hadn't been colored yet.” Spurrier telling Gator fans that a fire at Auburn's football dorm had destroyed 20 books.
- “Ray Goof.” A reference to Georgia Bulldogs head coach Ray Goff, who performed poorly against the Gators during his tenure at Georgia.
- “You know what FSU stands for, don't you? Free Shoes University." Spurrier to the Polk County Gator Club in 1994 after the FSU Foot Locker scandal.
- "Danny [Wuerffel] doesn't have a nasty temper at all. I think he's sort of like a New Testament person. He gets slapped upside the face and he turns the other cheek. He says: 'Lord, forgive them. They know not what they do.' I'm probably more of an Old Testament guy. You spear our guy in the ear hole, and we think we're supposed to spear you in the ear hole.” Spurrier responding to late hits made by the Florida State defense to Florida quarterback Danny Wuerffel during Florida’s 24-21 loss to the Seminoles in 1996.
Those were just a few examples of Steve Spurrier’s cocky sense of humor.
5. Danny Wuerffel Wins the 1996 Heisman Trophy
Danny Wuerffel greatly benefitted from Spurrier's Fun 'n' Gun offense during his four seasons at Florida. Wuerffel set all kinds of school passing records and regularly threw for 300 yards per game.
With Wuerffel's Heisman victory, Steve Spurrier became the first person to ever win a Heisman Trophy as a player (1966) then go on to coach a Heisman Trophy winner.
4. Dominance over the Georgia Bulldogs
During his 12 seasons at Florida, Steve Spurrier beat the Bulldogs 11 times, outscoring the 'Dawgs by an average margin of 21.4 points per game. Florida’s run of success in the rivalry closed the gap between the two teams in the head-to-head standings, but Georgia still lead the all-time series because of their prolonged dominance of the rivalry prior to the 1990s.
However, one of Florida’s greatest moments in the rivalry came during the 1995 matchup. In a rare occurrence, the Gators traveled to Athens and beat the Bulldogs, 52-17. As of that date, the Gators were the only team to score 50 points against Georgia at Sanford Stadium.
3. “The Greatest Game Ever Played in the Swamp”
In what is considered the greatest game in Florida Field’s history, the Gators defeated the Florida State Seminoles in a 32-29 thriller.
The 1997 Florida State Seminoles came into “the Swamp” undefeated and needed a win against the defending national champion Gators to clinch a spot in the national championship game.
Steve Spurrier whipped out some of the best coaching of his entire career, confusing the Florida State defense by alternating quarterbacks Doug Johnson and Noah Brindise in and out of the game. However, Florida running back Fred Taylor was the game’s hero, rushing for four touchdowns.
Taylor scored the winner with under two minutes to play, sealing the victory for the Gators and ending the Seminoles’ 1997 title hopes.
2. Winning the 1991 SEC Championship
The curse on the Florida football program had finally been lifted, courtesy of head coach Steve Spurrier. “The Ol’ Ball Coach” took over as the Gators’ head coach and changed the culture of the program immediately, placing first in the SEC in 1990.
However, the Gators were denied the SEC crown due to probation.
Defeating Kentucky at “the Swamp” on that glorious day in Gainesville, Fla., though, clinched the team its first SEC Championship, and the football program hasn’t stopped since. The '91 SEC title was the first of six during Spurrier’s 12 seasons at Florida.
The 1991 SEC Championship was the turning point in the history of Florida football, and Steve Spurrier deserves the majority of the credit.
1. 1996 National Champions
What’s better than winning your first national championship?
Humiliating your archrival at the same time.
The Florida Gators won their first football national championship with a 52-20 rout of rival Florida State. The blowout win completed a marvelous career for Florida quarterback Danny Wuerffel and cemented Steve Spurrier’s legacy as a Florida Gator legend.
Steve Spurrier is the savior of Florida Gators football—no doubt about it. However, every good era has both its good times and bad. Fortunately for Spurrier and the Gator Nation, the good times greatly outweighed the bad during his tenure.
Have I left a great moment or a bad moment off the list? Feel free to let your opinions be heard! Stay tuned for the highs and lows of the Ron Zook Era of Florida Football.
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