Do not forget 1984, UF football's first SEC title

Published: Friday, November 20, 2009 at 4:44 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, November 20, 2009 at 4:44 p.m.

Seasons come and go, stacked on top of each other like a pile of logs. Some of them are so unforgettable you remember the score of every game. Some are so forgettable you can't remember which games you attended.

As this season winds down, I would be remiss not to take you back to a season a long time ago, a log stacked near the top. Because something very special happened a quarter of a century ago.

Many of you know exactly what I'm talking about because you've sent me e-mails during the season.

It was this week 25 years ago Florida won its first-ever Southeastern Conference championship.

Women screamed and grown men wept. A coach was hired full-time in the delirious locker room. Fans piled into the stands at Florida Field to welcome their boys back from the dead grass of Kentucky on the night of Nov. 17, 1984. The pilot dipped the plane low over the stadium so the champions could take in the scene.

So how will the 1984 team be honored on its 25th anniversary?

Um, well, the, uh, did you get your hotel in Atlanta yet?

Better change the subject because that's what the University Athletic Association has done with what is arguably the best team in the history of Florida football.

And here's the kicker.

I get it. In fact, I wrote in 2002 that the 1984 team (along with '85 and '90) should be removed from the wall of fame in the south end zone after Steve Spurrier left.

But here we are in 2009 and I kind of feel bad about it. Because the only indication of the success of that team is in the memories of those who experienced it. I guess I didn't expect that team to be exiled.

"I think the players from that team feel hurt," said Kerwin Bell, who was the freshman walk-on quarterback of that team. "I know there were a couple of players involved in the infractions, but most of us were just trying to do what was best for the university out on the field."

It's a tricky situation for UF. The school has embraced its best players and best teams in recent years. But at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, there is no indication that there was even a team in 1984.

Oh, there was a team.

I have always believed it was a perfect storm in an imperfect place in 1984. Charley Pell had assembled this uber-team, then was canned three games in. Gone was the tight coaching that plagued Pell in big games, and it was replaced by the laid-back style of Galen Hall.

After starting 1-1-1 under Pell (and losing to Miami on a touchdown pass with seven seconds to play), Hall took over and the Gators never lost again. It was 25 years ago this week that they won the SEC trophy that seemed like it would never reside in Gainesville.

Funny thing, I haven't been able to find anyone at UF who knows where the trophy is. Or the trophy presented by the New York Times declaring Florida the 1984 national champs. The Times was not alone, as a couple of dozen organizations thought enough of that team to name the '84 Gators as the best team in the land, including two of the computer rankings used in today's BCS formula.

In some dusty storage room, that trophy is probably sitting in a corner underneath an old Albert costume and behind the archaic manual scoreboard they used to use at Alligator Alley.

Because even though that team was amazing, even though that team did what had never been done before, there was this one little problem.

Actually, there were 106 of them.

Pell was alleged to have violated 106 NCAA rules. The sleuths had followed him to Gainesville from Clemson, where Pell was suspected of breaking rules. This time, they got him.

And therein lies the problem.

In the spring of 1985, Tennessee led a charge to strip Florida of the title it had won on the field. Enough presidents agreed and the title was vacated.

Florida began putting the years of its champions up on the wall when they started coming rapid-fire, and Spurrier insisted the 1990 team ineligible for the title because of probation be up there as well. That meant the 1984 and '85 teams had to be included.

A couple of years ago, the wall became too crowded with years of success and the obvious solution was to take down the "First in the SEC" seasons.

And that's when the coach at Jacksonville University started wearing his SEC Champions ring again.

"When they took it down, I put it back on," Bell said. "I felt like it was something to be proud of."

It was. It was not a happy time for Florida with probation and firings and allegations. But when that team took the field, there were an awful lot of smiles.

The Great Wall, which was the best offensive line at Florida. Don't even try to argue. John L. Williams and Neal Anderson and Lo Hampton. Adrian White would hit you during warm-ups. Alonzo Mitz. Frankie Neal. I could go on forever.

It was 25 years ago that they made history. Think about that team.

They deserve it.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at and follow at

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