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Stranger things: Florida's series vs. Ole Miss has had everything

Pat Dooley
Gator Sports
Florida quarterback Will Grier throws a pass in front of Mississippi linebacker C.J. Johnson (10) during the Oct. 3, 2015 game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

At the time, it seemed like a low point. Seriously, how many college football players have been booed at home as soon as they put their helmets on?

What Kyle Morris didn't realize at the time was that it was a defining moment. 

"So much of what I have taken with me for the rest of my life came from about an hour of that game," Morris said.

He is now a successful owner of the Live Oaks Golf Club in Jackson, Miss. He is also part of a legacy of the Florida-Ole Miss series, one seldom played but strangely interesting.

The teams will open the season Saturday for only the second time in the modern era of college football. There were three forgettable openers in the 1940s (Florida scored 10 points in three games, all played in the state of Florida), but certainly there were a lot of Gators who were there the last time these two teams opened the season in 1989.

But let's start with the positives of a series that has seen only 24 meetings between the teams.

• There was the Will Grier flu game when Ole Miss came to Gainesville ranked No. 3 in the country and the Gators won 38-10.

You walked out of the stadium that night thinking, "This Jim McElwain thing is really going to work out."

• There was the 2007 game, the last time Florida went to Oxford, Miss., when Florida jumped on their sophomore quarterback's back and rode him to a six-point win.

Tim Tebow ran 27 times in the game and broke the school record for rushing yards as a quarterback in a game with 166. (He also won the Heisman Trophy later that year).

"I'm just glad to get on a plane and get out of here," then-UF coach Urban Meyer said after the win.

• There was the Steve Spurrier sweep, winning twice against Ole Miss as a player and twice as a coach. The most bizarre was in 1995, when Ole Miss coach Tommy Tuberville ran twice as much as he threw the ball to keep from getting blown out by the Florida juggernaut.

"I remember Tommy being happy after the game," Spurrier said. "I never heard of a coach being happy after losing a game 28-10."

• And there was the 1980 game in Oxford when a freshman quarterback named Wayne Peace got his first start. Remember, I promised you bizarre? 

"I always slept when I got nervous," Peace said. "The older players were wondering what they were in for. Some guys had to wake me up when we got to the stadium."

Florida won that game 15-3. 

"We were just the better team that was able to overcome an inexperienced quarterback," Peace said.

OK, ready for the bad?

• Actually, one of the worst losses to Ole Miss turned out to be something special. You know the story of the Tebow pledge after losing to Ole Miss. 

But at the time, nobody was thinking about a national championship. It was a deflating loss at home. 

• Then there were back-to-back losses in the first two years of Ron Zook. In 2002, Florida lost in part because Rex Grossman's girlfriend had broken up with him the night before and he threw four interceptions. 

Ole Miss fans stormed the field but had to be ushered off because there was one second left on the clock. They stormed it again and brought down the goalposts. Back then, I could move fast enough to dodge on upright headed for my skull.

The second one might have been the beginning of the end of Zook because all Gator fans are quick to tell you Peyton Manning was 0-4 against Florida. They like to forget that Eli Manning was 2-0 and that Archie showed up for the 2003 game in The Swamp.

"He claimed after Peyton he'd never come back to Gainesville or The Swamp," Eli said. 

• And there was the second bowl game ever for Florida when the Gators fumbled three times and lost 7-3 to Ole Miss in 1958.

So I have given you the good and the bad and at the risk of being called out for a cliche, I give you the ugly.

• The first was a 1973 loss on Homecoming. The final was 13-10. Florida had a chance at the end with a drive down the field. 

But quarterback David Bowden thought the Gators had made a first down and threw the ball out of bounds to stop the clock. It was fourth down. He wouldn't be the last Florida quarterback to do that (jimmy Fisher against North Carolina comes to mind), but his mistakes forced Doug Dickey to make a change at quarterback.

It was the beginning of a new era. The quarterback was African-American. Don Gaffney became a star. So again, something good came out of a bad loss to Ole Miss. 

But let's circle back to where we started with Morris. Florida was supposed to have a good team in 1989 with running back Emmitt Smith and a defense that was tough to penetrate.

But Morris, who was from Clinton, Miss., threw a couple of bad interceptions, one returned for a touchdown by Chauncey Godwin, and Florida lost 24-19.

"I didn't play as bad as it appears," Morris said, "but the mistakes were big."

Florida's backup quarterbacks were shaky at best, but still the fans booed every time Morris entered the game. And we're talking loud boos.

"They'd start as soon as we got the ball back," he said. "I thought about how I could cower or to hell with those people. 

"I loved the University of Florida and I still do. I grew up a Gator fan. But I learned not to care about what people think as long as the people you love know what you're about."

That team won its next four games. Then, Galen Hall was fired as head coach. The Gators won again before Morris and several other players were dismissed from the team for making bets with another student who was a small-time bookie.

What better way to end this than with the most bizarre season in a bizarre series.

Of course, that was before 2020 came along.

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

Saturday

Who: No. 6 Florida vs. Ole Miss

Where: Vaught Hemingway Stadium, Oxford, Miss.

When: Noon

TV: ESPN

Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850