25 Best Moments in The Swamp: No. 2 — ‘Greatest Game’

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Gator quarterbacks Doug Johnson, left, and Noah Brindise hug after beating FSU at Florida Field in 1997.

It was June of 1992 when Steve Spurrier, fresh off Florida’s first official SEC title, called The Sun columnist Mike Bianchi with a new name for the stadium that would eventually bear his name.

The Swamp. 

In the years that followed, there have been some unbelievable games and players. Sun writers Pat Dooley and Robbie Andreu came up with their rankings of the 25 best moments since 1992 when Spurrier gave it that moniker.

No. 2 — Nov. 23, 1997

The ‘Greatest Game’

The set-up: After winning the national championship in 1996, the Gators didn’t win a championship of any kind in 1997, which means Florida just had a so-so season by coach Steve Spurrier’s standards. But the Gators did have a chance to prevent the undefeated Seminoles from playing for a national championship if they could upset No. 1 FSU in The Swamp.Through three quarters, it looked like it was going to happen. Alternating quarterbacks Doug Johnson and Noah Brindise on every play, the Gators led at the half and again in the third quarter. But FSU started to dominate in the fourth and took a 29-25 lead with just 2:38 to play on a 20-yard field goal by Sebastian Janikowski, who celebrated by doing the Gator chomp in a relatively quiet Swamp. While FSU was on that field-goal drive, Spurrier was on the sideline drawing up a new pass play.

The moment: On the first play after the FSU field goal, Spurrier called the new play. But when the Gators got to the line of scrimmage and Johnson looked over his receivers, it was evident to him that they were confused. So, he quickly changed the play. He looked at receiver Jacquez Green and then tapped his helmet, a signal for Green to run a hitch-and-go. Green sold the hitch, and standout FSU cornerback Samari Rolle bit. As he did, Green streaked into the open behind the secondary. Johnson found him about 25 yards downfield, Green made the catch and then weaved his way across the field, all the way down to the FSU 17-yard line for a 63-yard gain.

The result: On the next play, Fred Taylor ran 16 yards to the 1 on a draw play. The play after that, he found the end zone to give the Gators a 32-29 lead with 1:50 to play. Two FSU offensive plays after that, linebacker Dwayne Thomas intercepted a Thad Busby pass, sealing the Gator victory and turning Florida Field into an “insane asylum.” Today, many consider this the greatest game in the history of The Swamp.

The quote: “We tried to run a curl a little bit earlier and Samari Rolle almost intercepted the ball. The next time we called it, (Johnson) was afraid to throw it, so he tapped his facemask which means curl and go. That’s how we hit it. The only reason we got that play was because the quarterback was afraid to throw at Samari Rolle.” — Jacquez Green

Readers comment: A good number of participating readers have selected this as their top moment in The Swamp, to include Connor, Victor, Paul Kristofferson, Jon Braddock, KG Riggsbee, Charles McCurdy, Ed C, Ryan Johnson and Rick Sanders.

“It was the 32-29 come-from-behind victory! Fred Taylor’s 4 touchdowns including the game winner after the long pass from Doug Johnson to Quex Green in the last 3 minutes. It was the loudest I ever heard THE SWAMP! And knocked #1 Undefeated FSU out of the national Championship game.It was AWESOME!!!,” wrote John Rudd

Editor’s note: You have one Swamp game moment that comes to mind? Tell us what it is. Maybe it’s already on our Top 25 list. We’ll update readers on top moments from fans as the countdown proceeds.

12 COMMENTS

  1. I’ve read a very different take on the hitch and go deal over the years. This is what Chris Harry reported:

    “Somebody told me that Florida State had all our signals,” Spurrier said, “so I said let’s eliminate the signals.”

    But on that decisive fourth-quarter play, Johnson turned to Green in the huddle and told him to expect the “curl” signal at the line, but to run a curl-and-go. Rolle bit.

    “I’d say the loss is in my hands, a play that never should’ve come against a senior,” Rolle said. “I blew it.”

    Said Green: “Credit Doug, he’s the one who checked off and put it right on the money.”

    https://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/fl-xpm-1997-11-23-9711230046-story.html

    In any case, I was at the game and it was a great moment. As soon as we scored the go ahead touchdown, the semi fans headed for the exits. Not one of them believed Bustby was going to win that game.

    • I agree AfroMan. Also, while I acknowledge things changed for GatorNation when SOS came back to hogtown, there were so many great moments, so many great players making great plays prior to that time in Gator history. To mention some, Reeves, Alveraz, Debose, Spurrier (the player), Youngblood, Moore, McGriff, Collingsworth, Kerwin (fourth quarter 18 unanswered point comeback and 18-17 victory vs #5 Auburn in 1986, with an injured Bell hitting Nattiel for a last minute TD pass and then hobbling into the end zone for the two point conversion!), Emmit, Anderson, Hampton, Jones (one handed catch!), John L, and on and on. And slightly off topic, Robin Williams at Gator Growl. Consider me twisted if you want, but I have never laughed so hard. And I was not totally comfortable with it at the time, but Hope getting booed the following year was something else…he deserved it.

  2. Another fine example of ACC officiating in that game too, although nowhere as bas as The Swindle in 2003.

    Uncalled fsu pass interferences and holds on Gator receivers, phantom holds called on the UF OL, then that thug Janikowski repeatedly taunting UF fans with our Chomp and no flags… needless to say this win was one of the more satisfying ones right behind our stomping them for all the marbles the previous January.

    I live up here near talla-trashy, and all I heard all week long was how #1 fsu was going to roll us, UF had no chance at all, and Tally Democrat sportswriter, the late John Negowski, writing an article before the game making fun of Spurrier’s plan to commit to more of a run-oriented game-plan against fsu’s #1 ranked run-defense, and guaranteeing an fsu win.

    I literally picked UF to win this game 31 – 28, mainly because I knew fsu had feasted on ACC cupcakes all season and weren’t ready for an SEC battle-tested Gator team. My Gators proved me right, and Mr. Negwoski later got a letter from me with his article guaranteeing an fsu win attached with several packs of salt and a note from me that said “Here’s some salt to make that crow taste better” 😉

  3. Even though I picked the blocked kick against USC as my personal favorite Swamp moment, this will always rank as my favorite Gator victory. You just knew this game was going to be special when Spurrier began rotating QBs from the beginning (has that ever been done before or since?). For the defending national champs that had nothing to play for except pride, watching them derail our arch rival’s title hopes in such thrilling, nail-biting fashion will always be more special to me than any SEC title game or national championship game Florida has ever won.

    • Looking back, what Spurrier’s offenses did to FSU in the Sugar Bowl in 96 and then in the Swamp in 97 were nothing short of spectacular. Sure, it was easier with Wuerffel and Ike & Reidel, but that FSU run defense in 1997 was all-time good. They were allowing just 40 yards rushing per game! Fred Taylor, after 2 early fumbles, remember, gashed them for 160!

  4. I put this one as #2 behind our first SEC UK lock down win in 1991. Our season seats were in the top row of the bottom deck, underneath the overhang, next to the visiting band. After the go ahead TD (Fred Taylor), you couldn’t hear a thing! It was like jet engines. Semiholes started on our south end…I know Busby could not have heard anything. I was also at the first NC game. To me, this was just as glorious!

  5. A ”TOP 5” best moment for ”The Swamp” and/or ”Florida Field.” And I will always cherish that memory in 1997, as it was, in effect, U.F.’s ”National Championship game” that year. And I got so loud and celebratory with my Gator flags after the game that one car filled with FSU fans actually got out and tried to take my Gator head flags. Bystanders grabbed them and told them, ”Dude, you and your friends will get their as#es kicked. Get back in your car!”
    Chomp-chomp!

  6. I watched that game with my wife and a close friend at my high school buddy’s apartment. We screamed so loud after the final touch down that we thought the neighbors would complain but once we quieted down, we heard so much cheering coming from all over his building that evidently there were many more Gators doing the same thing!

    One of my favorite games in The Swamp was the Auburn game of 1990. Auburn was #4 in the country and Florida beat them so bad that then Auburn coach Pat Dye apologized to the Auburn fans for getting beat so bad. The network had a decibel meter on the field facing the student section. We did our best to keep the meter pegged at 130. Another game where we couldn’t hear or speak after the game. Go Gators!