1994 champs set up Gators on historic run

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Florida stops Tennessee in the 1994 game. [File]

Nobody was thinking about it at the time because the players were young babes of football with no premonitions about what the hazy future could bring. At the time, it was simply what it was.

But as the great Florida ambassador Steve Spurrier said this week, “You know, 25 years goes by fast. But it’s why you win them, so you can celebrate them forever.”

Today in The Swamp, with the backdrop of a game that counts, Florida will celebrate a team that really counted, the 1994 SEC Champions.

It was a season of highs and lows, and we’ll get to those in a minute. But here’s what was really important about what happened in 1994 — it paved the way for two amazing seasons that followed.

And it might have changed Danny Wuerffel’s life.

“That’s a great point,” Wuerffel said. “You never know what trajectory would have happened. That was a significant year. It was sort of the turning point in my career.”

If Terry Dean had run the table at quarterback that year, who knows how things might have been different?

You can call it fate. You can call it taking advantage of an opportunity. Either way, that 1994 team and the quarterback who finished the season should be celebrated for what it did that year and what it sparked in Florida football.

Over the next two years, Florida went 24-2, 16-0 in the SEC and played in two national championship games, winning one.

“More than anything,” said offensive tackle Jason Odom, “that tie at Doak did something to our psyche in a good way. It helped us understand how to keep the gas on.”

Ah, the Choke at Doak, the most bitter tie in Gator history. Maybe college history. It was part of what made this team weathered.

So was Auburn, a 36-33 loss at home to Terry Bowden’s team a year after losing in Auburn.

“We never should have lost to Auburn,” said wide receiver Chris Doering. “Our team was loaded.”

Said Wuerffel, “That was a crushing loss. It was devastating.”

But born out of that contest was the decision to change quarterbacks during the game, this time for good. Dean and Wuerffel had been playing musical clipboards for two seasons.

It changed that day, and so did the future of Florida football.

Even though the Gators lost the Sugar Bowl that year to FSU (The game was dubbed “The Fifth Quarter in the French Quarter”), there is so much to celebrate with this team today.

• It was the first Florida team to be ranked No. 1 in the preseason. I remember walking after practice with Dean to talk about it because we had received advance notice. He had been the MVP of the SEC title game and was coming off a Sugar Bowl win.

It was his team. It just didn’t stay that way.

“The expectation level was really high,” Doering said.

• Those Gators scored the second most points in the history of college football in their first two games (143).

They only scored 31 in the third game.

Against Tennessee.

Tennessee failed to score.

• Florida beat Georgia in The Swamp for the first time ever 52-14. OK, they had only played in Gainesville one other time in 1931.

“We had a lightning delay and they came to us and told us we’d kick off in 10 minutes,” Spurrier said. “They forgot to tell Georgia. (Coach) Ray Goff came out and wondered what was going on. We were out there getting ready and they told him they were kicking off in 45 seconds. So they had to run out of their locker right onto the field.”

• And — the reason there is a celebration — the Gators were able to knock off unbeaten and No. 3 Alabama 24-23 in the SEC Championship Game for their second straight conference title and third in four years under Spurrier.

“That was the best conference championship game in the history of the game,” said Doering.

Of course, Doering threw a big pass on the winning drive and caught the winning touchdown pass from Wuerffel.

“That Alabama team was absolutely amazing,” Wuerffel said. “That was when you realized you could play-call your way to a win.”

Three Florida players completed passes on the game-winning drive — Doering, Wuerffel and back-up Eric Kresser when Wuerffel feigned an injury.

“It was a really good team,” Spurrier said. “Most of the guys coming (to the reunion) have at least three SEC rings and some of them, like Danny, have four.”

It was some kind of season.

And because of it, it would only get better around Gainesville.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at pat.dooley@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Those were the days. I had just graduated the year before in 1993 and was in the Army at the time, watching college football whenever I had the chance on AFN- before the internet of course. I was in Korea in 94 but then stationed in Tennessee the next year, and got to enjoy killing the Vols every year while living there.