Florida State vs. Florida: My Favorite Memory of a Gator Win
During my sports writing career, I have covered right around 20 football games between Florida and Florida State.
The contests are generally extremely heated on the field and in the stands.
As an objective journalist, part of my job description is to never root for either side. I don't care who wins or loses. But, like anyone else, I enjoy a highly competitive matchup.
That's why the season that stands out most for me in this rivalry was 1996, when the Gators and Seminoles played each other twice (something also done two years earlier).
The first game took place in Tallahassee and matched up the nation's top two teams.
In a physical contest that saw eventual Heisman Trophy-winner Danny Wuerffel sacked six times (and hit countless other times, many of which then-UF coach Steve Spurrier claimed were late), noted Gator-killer Warrick Dunn rushed for 185 yards as the second-ranked Seminoles topped No. 1 Florida, 24-21.
Dejected, it appeared the Gators' hopes for the first national championship in school history had vanished.
However, that's when some funny stuff began to happen.
Unheralded Texas upset third-ranked Nebraska in the Big 12 Championship Game, knocking the defending national champs out of the title picture. And after UF topped Alabama in the SEC Championship Game, the Gators moved up to third in the polls and were given their desired rematch with top-ranked FSU.
Still, if Florida was to win the national championship, it needed more help.
The Gators got just that when No. 4 Ohio State, rotating two quarterbacks, upset second-ranked Arizona State (led by Jake Plummer and the late Pat Tillman) in the Rose Bowl, bringing a loud cheer from orange-and-blue-clad fans stationed at the New Orleans Hyatt Regency and making that night's Sugar Bowl for the title.
In the week leading up to the game, I had a sneaking feeling that Florida wasn't just going to beat FSU—it was going to pound the 'Noles. I made sure to let fellow scribe (now high school athletic director) Pete Young know my premonition, just in case I was correct.
I'm not sure why I felt the way I did. It wasn't as if the Gators dominated the previous game and lost on a fluke.
Maybe it was how loose UF's players were leading up to the rematch.
Here's a quick story.
Early in the week, while enjoying a late night in the French Quarter (there were more than a few of those), the deejay at one of the New Orleans' more populated venues decided the joint was too packed.
Who wins this Saturday's game?
So, he instructed all of us to go outside while he pump, pump, pumped up "The Electric Slide."
Among those joining my rhythm-deprived crew on Bourbon Street were a large group of Gators, led by Jim Thorpe Award-winning safety/life of the party Lawrence Wright.
They were having a blast, looking they they had no cares in the world, despite it being well past midnight (Spurrier didn't invoke a curfew until late in the week).
Boogie, woogie, woogie.
When it finally came time to play the game, Spurrier showed he was willing to be flexible with his offensive wizardry.
In the past he had pooh-poohed the shotgun formation, and you never saw a Gator quarterback lined up anywhere except for under center.
However, realizing Wuerffel had taken a beating in the first game between the two teams, Florida ran a lot of shotgun that night.
And the result was a 52-20 spanking that saw Wuerffel finish 18-of-34 for 301 yards with three passing touchdowns (all to Ike Hilliard) and a rushing score. Terry Jackson also carried for a pair of touchdowns.
One of Hilliard's TDs included one of the best stop-and-start moves of the decade.
I saw him 10 years later at a reunion of that title team, and asked him if anyone ever brings up that play.
He laughed and said his nephews joke that the old man they know couldn't possibly do that now.
Yeah, we all age. But some memories never do.
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