Gators can look to the past for motivation

Pat Dooley
Gator Sports
Vanderbilt's Jamie Duncan forces Florida quarterback Danny Wuerffel to fumble in the Nov. 9, 1996 game in Nashville.

We think Dan Mullen was kidding this week when he said that he would put on a cheerleader's uniform to help fire up his football team Saturday if the Gators truly needed it.

Like I said. We think he was kidding.

But I also get the concern for playing a game like this. 

Everyone has you penned into Atlanta. Vanderbilt's record is heading for possible history. There will be a crowd that will be about as loud as a book club. It's an 11 a.m. start, local time. 

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But Mullen doesn't need to put on a cheerleader's uniform. All he needs is to tell his current Gators the story about the 1996 game.

This is where I lose some of you who don't care about history and keep the interest of those who have been scarred over the years. But it just shows that you had better be ready for every game on your schedule, especially this year when crazy things are happening.

Now, we could cut to the chase and talk about Florida winning the national title that year. But the story of that season would not be complete without the near-disaster in Nashville.

Vandy was awful, which is to say that Vandy was Vandy. The Commodores were 2-6 and the two wins were over North Texas and UAB. North Texas was in its second year after coming back to Division I football. UAB was in the sixth year of its program.

So you get the picture.

The mighty Gators were undefeated and blowing teams out of the water like Godzilla going through the Sea of Japan and eating those little gunboats trying to stop him. (Sorry. Big Godzilla fan.)

"We were ready," said Steve Spurrier, the Florida coach at the time.

Florida led 28-6 and the rout was on. Then, tackle Zach Piller was injured. 

"He was lying there and it must have taken them 20 minutes to get him off the field," Spurrier said. "His mother came down on the field. We're standing around talking to the other coaches. Danny Wuerffel is joking around with some of their players.

"We all just relaxed."

In the next play, Wuerffel audibled. Guard Ryan Kalich didn't hear it and his man ran free. Linebacker Jamie Duncan slapped the ball out of Wuerffel's hand, picked it up and ran 31 yards for a touchdown. Vanderbilt converted the two-point try and we had a ball game.

"We were a little full of ourselves when we got the big lead, but these guys starting running all kinds of exotic blitzes at us," said running back Terry Jackson. "We had to realize they were still coming to play."

Vandy scored again on a 42-yard toss sweep by Jason Dunavant. It was 28-21 early in the fourth quarter. The small Vanderbilt crowd (is there another kind?) was razzing the Gator bench.

"We got a little shaky on the sidelines," Spurrier said.

Florida was able to run out the clock and get the win, but even that was a little shaky. Wuerffel had to hit a middle screen to Jackson on third-and-10 to set up a fourth-and-1 in its own territory,  Wuerffel sneaking it over behind Donnie Young to convert.

And the Gators could breathe again. So the point of all of this nostalgia is that the winless Commodores are going to show up for the game. They are 30-point underdogs, but if they can catch an unfocused team by surprise, it would make their season.

Otherwise, 0-10 is looking more and more likely.

Hey, this Gator team doesn't have to look that far back, all the way to before they were born, to find motivation. Just two years ago, the Commodores had a 21-3 lead on Florida. That was the day I believe there was some buy-in in this program because Mullen explained at the half that the coaches knew how to win this game if everyone would just do their jobs.

And they did.

"We talked to our team this week about being down 21-3," Mullen said. "(That game) and the South Carolina game that year gave us a belief of how to win."

And winning begats winning.  

But all of that and everything I have written about Saturday is history. The only thing that matters is winning in the present.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at And follow at