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.”