Where are they now? Wayne Peace
Published: Saturday, July 31, 2010 at 10:06 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, July 31, 2010 at 10:06 p.m.
In his four years as Florida's starting quarterback, Wayne Peace completed many big passes and produced many memorable moments. The irony is that perhaps his most memorable play started out as maybe one of his worst passes.
Rolling to his right under pressure, he unloaded a high wobbler (a wounded duck begging to be shot out of the sky) that would have sailed over the head of most receivers.
But James Jones somehow turned it into pure gold — reaching and stretching and snagging the pass with his big right paw and then cradling the ball as he fell backward into the end zone.
This became known in UF football lore as The Catch — a 17-yard scoring play with 1:48 left in the game that made the Gators a 17-14 winner over Miami on Sept. 4, 1982 at Florida Field.
It is considered one of the most memorable plays in Florida football history — and Peace was the trigger man.
“I was actually talking about that play the other day,” Peace said earlier this summer. “It's not how the pass looks as long as it's completed. It was one of the most pivotal throws in Florida history, but it was a terribly thrown ball ... high, wobbly, terrible.
“James Jones made me look like a hero. He made a Willie Mays deluxe with that catch.”
Jones made the play, the spectacular catch — but it was Peace who made the cover of Sports Illustrated the following week. It's a famous UF cover, with Peace avoiding the arms of a UM defender with the ball tucked under his left arm. And this headline: The Peace Corps. ... Quarterback Wayne Peace Leads Florida Over Miami.
It doesn't seem that long ago, but 28 years have passed. “It's staggering,” he said.
Peace turns 49 in November (which probably will make many longtime UF followers feel old). He is in his 23rd year as the owner of a State Farm Insurance Agency in his hometown of Lakeland.
Back in the day, Peace and his Lakeland High School sweetheart, Melanie Britt, were the unofficial first couple of Florida football. He was the star quarterback, she was a Gator Getter. They've been married 25 years now and have four children: Bryant, 20, Britt, 18, Brad, 14, and Mary, 10.
Despite the considerable passage of time, the Peace Corps Sports Illustrated cover remains popular among Florida fans.
“I bet I get 10 to 20 mailed here to the office every year from all over the country,” Peace said. “I sign them and mail them back. It's kind of neat.”
The Catch is the Peace play that many remember, but he had so many others in what was one of the most productive quarterback careers in UF history.
Peace, who took over as the starter in the fifth game of his true freshman season in 1980, threw for 7,206 yards and still ranks second in UF history in career passing percentage (61.6). Peace set the NCAA season record for completion percentage (70.7) in 1982, but Steve Young broke it a year later.
“It was fun. I have a lot of great memories,” he said. “I was a decent athlete and a pretty solid quarterback. I was surrounded by good people - (offensive coordinator) Mike Shanahan, (head coach) Charley Pell.”
Peace said Pell, who was known for his toughness, had a great influence on him.
“Honestly, the whole time I played for Coach Pell, it was like a love/hate relationship,” he said. “I wanted to punch him in the nose half the time.
“But I had great respect for him. He would look you in the eye and tell you exactly what he wanted to tell you whether you wanted to hear it or not. I had an immense amount of respect for him. He'll never get the respect he deserves.”
Today, Peace spends most of his time in Lakeland. Along with running his insurance agency, he is the quarterbacks and receivers coach at Lakeland Christian High School, which is going into its fifth season of football.
“I love every minute of it,” Peace said of his coaching career.
Between work and family, Peace said he hasn't had a chance to attend many UF games in recent years.
“Not as many as I should,” he said. “Some Florida fans are irritated with me because I'm not more involved, but when you have children your life revolves around them. The day will get there, in three or four years, when I'll be more involved (in UF football), and I'm looking forward to that.”
Peace said UF coach Urban Meyer has reached out to him like he has to so many former players, but that he hasn't established a relationship with Meyer yet.
“Sadly, no, and he has absolutely reached out,” Peace said. “I had a chance to sit down and talk to him three years ago. I really enjoyed it. I'm impressed with what he's done and the man he is.”
Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com.
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