Feels so good: Here are the Florida Gators' five most satisfying games in history

David Whitley
The Gainesville Sun

Florida has won 743 football games since first beating the Gainesville Athletic Club in 1906. The score was 16-6, though few people remember the details.

That's not the case with bushels of games that followed. If you asked 100 Florida fans what the most satisfying game in history was, you'd get about 87 answers.

"Satisfying" is in the eye of the season-ticket holder. It could be a game that won a championship or a big upset or beating a rival like a rented Seminole mule.

But the most satisfying are games that leave fans with memories they will take to their graves. Here are five that have or will help Florida fans go out with satisfied smiles on their faces.

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Florida quarterback John Reaves formed a great tandem with receiver Carlos Alvarez.

5. Florida 59, Houston 34 — 1969

It was the season opener, and the Cougars came to Gainesville ranked No. 1 in Playboy's preseason poll. Hugh Hefner apparently hadn't adequately scouted the Gators.

Sure, Houston's Veer offense was all the rage. And Florida was coming off a 6-3-1 season lowlighted by a 51-0 wipeout by Georgia. The Gators' big problem was their best players couldn't dress out, because freshmen weren't allowed to play.

Houston, meet the Super Sophs.

John Reaves and Carlos Alvarez hooked up for a 70-yard touchdown pass on the third play from scrimmage. UF jumped to a 34-6 lead on the bewildered Cougars.

By the time Houston's head stopped spinning, Reaves had passed for 342 yards and five touchdowns. Alvarez caught three of those scores and had 170 yards receiving. The Gators' point explosion was their biggest since 1928.

It wasn't just a game. It was the start of a new era for Florida football.

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Former Florida head football coach Ray Graves circa 1960

4. Florida 17, Penn State 7 — 1962 Gator Bowl

This one should come with a trigger warning, though it has to go down as Coach Ray Graves' greatest psych job.

The Gators were 6-4 and got a Gator Bowl bid only after Georgia Tech and Duke turned down invitations. Penn State was 9-1 and felt it deserved a bid to a major bowl. The Nittany Lions had played in the 1961 Gator Bowl and nobody associated with the program was thrilled about going back.

"Florida is a fifth-rate club that has as much business playing Penn State as Khrushchev had putting missiles in Cuba," wrote a columnist for the Pittsburgh Press.

Graves sensed a motivational opportunity. He turned the game into a latter-day Civil War. The Gators weren't just representing the U of F, they were fighting for Southern football pride against a bunch of haughty Yankees.

To literally cap it off, the block numbers on the sides of Florida's helmets were replaced by Confederate flags. Florida's marching band took the field playing Dixie and waving a giant Confederate flag.

Sure enough, the game turned into a cleated version of the Battle of Bull Run. The Gators forced five turnovers and shut down Penn State's high-flying offense. It was Penn State's first bowl loss since 1928.

"I think we represented the SEC as well as any could have this afternoon," Graves said.

The South did indeed rise again. As for the Confederate helmets, don't expect to see them in any throwback uniforms anytime soon.

Florida quarterback Chris Leak and coach Urban Meyer congratulate each other during the celebration following the BCS National Championship win over Ohio State at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, on Jan. 8, 2007.

3. Florida 41, Ohio State 14 — 2007 Tostitos BCS National Championship Game

This had a bit of a 1962 Gator Bowl feel to it in that a lot of people didn't think Florida deserved to be there. Everybody thought Ohio State did.

The Buckeyes were ranked No. 1 all season and they had Heisman Trophy winning QB Troy Smith. The Gators jumped from No. 4 to No. 2 in the final poll thanks to a USC loss and Michigan being idle for two weeks.

Florida's poll margin over the Wolverines was .0101 points, much to the dismay of Big Ten fans who wanted an Ohio State-Michigan rematch for the national title.

"Michigan got jobbed," wrote an ESPN columnist.

It was the first game between Florida and Ohio State, and the Buckeyes were seven-point favorites. That seemed low after Ted Ginn Jr. returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown.

The Gators responded immediately with a 14-yard TD pass from Chris Leak to Dallas Baker. Then they just kept on responding.

It was 34-14 at halftime, and it was apparent that Florida's defense would keep feasting on the remains of the Heisman Trophy winner. Smith completed four passes for 35 yards, as the Buckeyes mustered all of 82 total yards.

It's not every game where you win a national championship and make football experts look like fools along the way. Now that's satisfying.

Florida wide receiver Jacquez Green gets away from Florida State defensive back Tay Cody to help set-up the Gators' game-winning score late in the fourth quarter of a 32-29 win on Nov. 22, 1997 in Gainesville.

2. Florida 32, FSU 29 — 1997

The Seminoles were ranked No. 1 and steaming toward a national championship. The Gators had a 19-game home winning streak, but FSU came in as a 10-point favorite.

After starting the year 5-0, Florida's Fun 'n' Gun offense lost its pop. Desperate times called for a desperate measure, so Steve Spurrier concocted a two-quarterback system.

Doug Johnson and former walk-on Noah Brindise rotated almost every play. Another surprise was Florida came out in all-blue uniforms. And there was a melee before the game when FSU players stomped on the midfield "F" logo with their helmets raised high.

All that set the stage for a Ben Hill Griffin Stadium classic.

Florida led 18-17 at halftime behind Fred Taylor's running and the patchwork passing game. FSU's high-octane offense kept settling for Sebastian Janikowski field goals.

The final one came with 2:38 left to make it 29-25. Janikowski celebrated by doing a mock Gator Chomp. At that point, the atmosphere felt more like the main event at WrestleMania than a football game.

Florida got the ball at its 20-yard line, and Johnson hit Jacquez Green for a 62-yard gain. The noise eruption reached all the way to Tallahassee. Taylor finished the drive with his fourth TD of the game, and FSU's desperation drive ended in an interception.

UF's thrill of victory was matched by FSU's agony of defeat.

"I'd rather lose 52-20 than the way we did tonight." Bobby Bowden said.

Speaking of which ...

Florida receiver Ike Hilliard scores a touchdown against FSU during the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, Louisiana, on Jan. 2, 1997.

1. Florida 52, FSU 20 — 1997 Sugar Bowl

What makes this the satisfier for the ages?

Win first national championship — check.

Deny FSU a national championship — check.

Get revenge for turning Danny Wuerffel into a crash test dummy six weeks earlier —check.

To truly appreciate this one, remember the set-up. In a battle of undefeated teams, FSU beat the Gators 24-21 in the season finale in Tallahassee. Spurrier basically accused the Seminoles of being low-down, dirty cheap-shot artists for how they kept hitting Wuerffel after the whistle had blown.

Through the weird machinations of the Bowl Alliance, UF got an instant rematch in the Sugar Bowl. Florida was a three-point favorite, and it led only 24-20 with 10 minutes left in the third quarter.

Then the Superdome roof collapsed on FSU. Wuerffel looked every bit the Heisman winner he was, passing for 362 yards. Ike Hilliard caught three scores, and the Gators romped to four unanswered touchdowns.

The 32-point win was the largest versus a No. 1-ranked team in bowl history. And that No. 1 team also happened to your most bitter rival.

For Florida fans, it doesn't get any more satisfying than that.