Alvarez something special

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If you added up all the Florida fans who have said they were at Florida Field at 1 p.m. on Sept. 20, 1969, the total probably would be around 500,000 or so. Because Florida Field didn’t (and still doesn’t) hold quite that many, not everyone is being truthful about being there to witness the launching of one of the most magical seasons in Gator history.

I actually was there that day (no lie), a 14-year-old kid from St. Augustine sitting in the west stands with his parents and two siblings.

One of the things I remember most about heading into the start of the ‘69 season is that there really wasn’t much of a buzz about this young team — although there was a considerable one among those close to the team who had seen John Reaves, Carlos Alvarez and the rest of the Super Sophs light it up in preseason scrimmages.

Of course, on the third offensive play of the game against Houston (which was ranked No. 1 by Playboy in the preseason), Reaves dropped into the pocket and threw a deep strike to Alvarez down the middle of the field for a 70-yard touchdown pass. Man, it was on after that, the Gators thumping the dazed Cougars 59-34 in a game that saw the crowd actually grow larger at halftime as fans made their way to Florida Field after listening to Otis Boggs call the amazing first half on radio.

It was the start of one of the greatest seasons in Gator history. And it was the start of some great Gator careers.

I bring up the ‘69 season now because Alvarez was voted into the College Football Hall of Fame on Tuesday. He will be enshrined next summer.

Here are some of my memories of Alvarez:
* His first reception going for 70 yards and a TD on the third play of the Houston game.
* His fingertip grab for a touchdown in the rain against Florida State.
* His 15-reception performance against the Hurricanes in his return to Miami.
* Playing in obvious pain (and in a bad offense) on a bum knee his junior and senior seasons.
* Chucking the ball high into the stands after catching a touchdown pass from Reaves in his final home game against Kentucky in 1971.
* Celebrating again in the Orange Bowl one last time two weeks later after Reaves set the NCAA career passing yardage record in a game now known for the Gator Flop.

Now, 40 years later, this — Carlos Alvarez going into the Hall of Fame. No one is more deserving. Not only was he a special athlete and a great player, he excelled in the classroom at UF and now is a prominent attorney in Tallahassee. As a player and a person, he is one of the all-time great Gators.

In typical Alvarez fashion, the first former teammate he mentioned on a teleconference Tuesday afternoon was Reaves, who has been trying to overcome some personal demons over the past several years.

“When all is said and done, I would not be here without John Reaves,” Alvarez said. “My name and his are forever tied. We all know he’s had some problems recently that he’s doing really well to overcome. What an unbelievable quarterback and friend.”

Whenever I think about Alvarez, I always wonder what might have been if he had not injured his knee running track for the Gators after his sophomore season. Alvarez tore part of the lining in his knee and underwent surgery, the first of its kind at Shands. As he said Tuesday, it never took. Alvarez played with pain and swelling in his knee the rest of his career. Along with the injury, he found himself playing in Doug Dickey’s more run-oriented offense his final two seasons.

“You have got to be grateful for what you have and play the hand you’re dealt,” he said. “I wanted to be on the field so much I hurried everything and overworked the injury. It never healed.

“I played the last two years with a lot of pain, with cortisone in my knee. But I would not trade it. You do wonder at times what else I could have done if those things had not occurred.”

His numbers at UF would be off the charts, almost untouchable. But Alvarez isn’t wasting too much time contemplating what might have been. Instead, he’s celebrating a wonderful career and earning a place in the College Football Hall of Fame.

Here’s another great thing about Alvarez: He remains a huge Gator and is still around the program. He planned toi attend Will Muschamp’s Gator Gathering in Tallahassee on Tuesday night.

Alvarez said he’s excited about the Gators’ new offense under Charlie Weis. It takes him back to 1969, he said.

“Certain things that Coach Weis brings to the table is exactly the kind of offense we played in 1969,” he said. “If you go back and look at ‘69, you see a lot of the schemes that are being done today. I think it’s going to be a very exciting thing.”

25 COMMENTS

  1. I was a Freshman at UF, my first Gator game. Wow! what a way to start
    a lifetime being a gator fan!! I remember
    the Gator cheerleaders doing push ups for every point we scored every
    time we scored. That’s a lot of pushups.

  2. I was in the stands that day, as a UF junior. After the opening kick-off, I remember someone saying, “Well, there’s our last 1st down”. Almost before the words were spoken, we saw the ball hurled down the field and Alvarez reaching the end zone. If I remember correctly, we intercepted Houston and scored again- all within the first few minutes. I was privileged to know Carlos during my remaining yars in Gainesville, and knew him as a kind, humble and very determined man. He’s an example of why IT’S GREAT TO BE A GATOR! Congratulations Carlos!

  3. About 1 1/2 years ago I had the opportunity to meet Carlos. I approached him for a favor that he had no obligation to meet. He went out of his way to help and was a 100% class act. I can’t emphasize enough that he is a quality individual and still LOVES the Gators.

  4. I remember listening to the game on the radio. I was in my second year in JC and many of the bigger Gator supporters in our town said they didn’t see much need in going down to G’ville to watch the massacre. Boy, were they wrong. Alvarez was always a fan favorite. The “Cuban Comet”!

  5. Wasn’t at the Houston game, but was at FSU in ’69, Kenucky in ’71 (when he threw the ball out of stadium) and at Miami later that year for the flop. Here’s another off the field Alvarez story. Either his junior or senior year they started talking about charging students $7 to attend Gator games which were free for students at the time. Alvarez was an usher at the Sunday masses at the Catholic Student Center on University Avenue. The Sunday after the idea was made public, the church was packed, standing room only. Alvarez walked up to a friend standing up in the back of the church and said “I’ll get you a seat for $7.00.” Lots of people quietly laughed. … Not surprised he mentioned Reaves first. He’s never forgotten John despite Reaves’ repeated battles with his demons. Without question one of the classiest Gator football players of all time. Congratulations and thank you.

  6. That was my first Gator game ever. I was 10-years old and we had just moved to Gainesville from the panhandle. I had never been to anything bigger than a Friday night high school game where we played football with wadded up Coke cups in the end zone when the teams were on the other end of the field, so walking into Florida Field that day was a big deal.
    We were sitting about 7 rows up and the catch happened pretty much right in front of us. I became a Gator fan instantly. I have always considered Carlos Alvarez the best receiver that I’ve ever seen play in person, but the memories of a 10-year old kid probably take on greater mythological proportions as 55-years old looms. Still, the guy could flat out play.

  7. Yes Robbie I was there, but I was late driving from Merritt Island and was expecting Houston to destroy us. From out side of the stadium I could hear the roars and was wondering what was happening. Could not believe my eyes to see the 14 points on the board. Reeves to Alvarez what a time!

  8. Hi Robbie… I was there… Dennis from St. Aug. with my girlfriend Suzanne from SAHS. We went because her brother (who attended UF) did not want to go to the game. A perfect down out and gone done the sideline… the Houston db bit on the out and the ball was perfectly thrown… It was my first Gator Game ever as a soph in high school.

    Yesterday at the Gator Gathering in Tallahassee, I had the privilage of shaking his hand. I as a total stranger was looked squarely in the face with the warmest of smiles and his first words were ” and your name is?”

    True definition of class and character…. from 69 till 2011… Yesterday.

    Congrats…on your Hall of Fame Induction… “Go Gators”…

    The D

  9. I was at a Halloween party in Tallahassee several years ago and had the opportunity to meet Carlos Alvarez. I remembered following his exploits as a kid. Reeves had an interesting costume that night…he was dressed in drag. He was “on the big side” for a girl, but he didn’t look totally out of place in a dress. Congratulations to the “Cuban Comet” on his selection to the CFB HOF.

  10. I was there as a true freshman…by the luck of draw Brian Shea and I got 50 yard tickets ,a couple of freshman at their 1st game and had never been to a game…when Carlos ran the streak to the North endzone Brian said to me he is wide open I wonder if the QB is strong enough to get it there..the rest is history..thanks for memory

  11. I was one of the 500 thousand that day. a couple of others were playboy all americans steve tannen and elmo wright. im too lazy to look it up but was yarborough, dennis and youngblood playing. i know we only had one loss that year and it was at auburn as 8 point favorites. went to tallahasee for the fsu game tickets in hand, only problem is that we started in a bar and never made it to the stadium…those were the days…

  12. i was there as a 13 year old sitting in the South Endzone. A whole bunch of us would drive down from Ortega in Jax and tailgate at what is now the Linder Tennis Complex. The kids would play football for hours and eat great food while the ever increasing drunk parents would debate whether Ray Graves would ever get us to the promise land.

  13. Wasn’t there yet, I was preparing to apply for admission while a Sr. in high school. Moved to hogtown the next year and liked it so much I stayed for 7 years and 2 degrees. So I did have the pleasure of watching CA,Reaves, td Tommy. Rich, Ortega, Cameron and the rest for the next 2 years. Sadly, it wasn’t quite the same without Gator Ray even though he was the AD.

    I’m sure like many others, those years have defined myself. Oh, and I’m working on coming back for good one of these days.

  14. CA was my hero when I was a kid. I remember wanting so much to be like him flying down the field to catch a pass. He has always been a class act. I am glad to see him getting the recognition he deserves. I am really proud of him for mentioning JR as well. If Dickey had had as much sense as he thought he did, he would have used the talents of the players he inherited to better advantage, instead of putting a system in place which did not suit them.

  15. My 1st UF game was in 1968, and finally it was my freshman year, but I was at a small school in SC. Watching the game of the week on TV I saw the UF score crawl across the bottom of the screen. I had to read the ACJ account on Sunday to get the game story. By the end of the season, I knew I was transferring back. Those guys were awesome…finally got to go to the Gator Bowl game to watch them in action. Then Dickey came and my 1st homecoming was watching Auburn beat us senseless. Carlos Alvarez and his guys gave us a Cinderella season. Wow, has he taught us even more in life after college.

  16. I was a junior at St. Augustine High school that year, and sat in the NW corner of the stadium that day, with two of my high school football teammates. We had never seen anything like that before. Carlos, Reaves and all of the Super Sophs treated us to one of the most exciting, greatest seasons of all times, even considering the championship seasons since. Congratulations Carlos and thanks Robbie for rekindling some great Gator memories.

  17. I met Carlos in 2008 when he was retained in Nassau County to mediate a dispute. He is the consummate professional and is one of the more accessible, down to earth, and humble individuals you will meet, given his brilliant career and high level of achievements. He also appears to be in excellent physical shape as oppsed to many former athletes… In a state overrun with so many individuals representing narrow special interests, there are some true advocates like Carlos that can rise above the fray and bring out the very best in all of us. Carlos has led by example on the field and off. Carlos is truly one of the greatest Gators ever.

  18. I was one of the 500,00 also. Alvarez became one of my alltime favorites after that game. I finally met him when he was representing FP&L Co in Ft Pierce years later. Someone mentioned Elmo Wright which made me remember seeing Soph. Robert Newhouse playing Fullback in their veer offense for the first time that day. He went on to play for the Cowboys for many years. Also remember that Coach Bill Youmans was never the same after that butt kickin that day.