25 Best Moments in The Swamp: No. 8 — Celebration, Gators are No. 1

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Florida's Danny Wuerffel, left, and Lawrence Wright hug and share a laugh on Jan. 11, 1997 at the Gators National Championship Celebration at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at Florida Field. [ALAN CAMPBELL/THE GAINESVILLE SUN/File)

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. 8 — Jan. 21, 1997

Celebration – Gators No. 1

The set-up: With the south end zone of The Swamp occupied by a stage, the players, coaches and more than 60,000 fans jammed into the rest of Florida Field for the biggest celebration in school history. What brought them here? Coach Steve Spurrier described it best when he said God had smiled on the Gators at the end of the 1996 season. After losing to Florida State in the regular-season finale, the Gators appeared locked out of a possible shot at the national title. But everything fell into place for it to happen. Texas upset undefeated Nebraska in the Big 12 title game. Then, on Jan. 1, the night before the Gators would play FSU in a rematch in the Sugar Bowl, Ohio State stunned unbeaten Arizona State in the Rose Bowl. Those two results turned the UF-FSU Sugar Bowl into the national championship game, and the Gators got their revenge, decimating the Seminoles 52-20 for UF’s first national title.

The moment: That big win in New Orleans led to a well-choreographed celebration a few weeks later. It started with the players walking out into The Swamp and taking a victory lap around the stadium, shaking hands and high-fiving fans along the way. On stage, Spurrier addressed the big crowd, saying this was a celebration for all Gators, even those in heaven. Shortly after that, a video tribute to the winningest senior class in school history was shown. It’s a class that included Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerffel, Lawrence Wright, James Bates, Jeff Mitchell, Donnie Young and many others. Then Wuerffel was honored with a video. His highlight moments were accompanied by the strains of “Son of a Preacher Man” and “We Need a Hero.” After the video, an emotional Wuerffel had difficulty addressing the adoring crowd. “I don’t think I’m even going to try and say how special this is,” Wuerffel said. “The guys right here (the players), you guys mean so much to me and always will. I love all of you. Everything here has been so special. … I don’t know what to say. First time I’m at a loss for words. God bless you all, it’s great to be a Gator.” Spurrier then took the microphone and closed the celebration coaching up the fans how to chant, “We’re No. 1.”

The result: The fans caught onto the chant quickly and it echoed through the stadium. Then everyone went home happy. No one knew it at the time, but it would be the first of three national championship celebrations in The Swamp. But this will always be the biggest, because it was the first.

The quote: “That was a very special celebration, the whole team, the fans, the first one in school history. I was talking about parents who are no longer with us and are up in heaven celebrating this championship with us. Oh, yeah, (I coached up the fans). When you play the No. 1 team, their fans would chant, ‘We’re No. 1, we’re No. 1.’ That was our chance to do that.” — Steve Spurrier

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.

11 COMMENTS

  1. Amen! I’ll take the 1st N.C. celebration as a Top 10 ranking. It will always be one of my most favorite memories as a lifelong Gator fan. And to quote Danny Wuerffel in closing, ”I believe a true Christian should be the toughest player on the field.” And many of us have seen that trait in so many Gators. So thank you to them all! GO GATORS!

  2. GI, the NC at the expense of Ohio State, and the one over Oklahoma were sweet beyond words. But you certainly nailed it — that 52-20 beat down of the Noles and subsequent NC was the sweetest ever, past tense and perhaps even future.