Alvarez happily passes receptions crown to Bubba

PAT DOOLEY Sun sports columnist

The numbers kept clicking off in his head.

Five to go. Four to go.

With every catch he got closer to a record that once seemed so far away.

“Who would have thought it two years ago when I broke my leg (against Tennessee)?” Andre Caldwell said. “Who'd have thought I'd be at the top of the list? I mean, a lot of great receivers have been through here. This isn't like West Virginia or a school where they don't throw the ball.”

They have thrown it plenty at Florida over the years. And nobody has caught more of those throws than the guy they call Bubba.

Carlos Alvarez knew his mark was in jeopardy. That's why he was there Saturday, dressed in a black blazer and a Gator cap, watching the mark he held for almost four decades disappear in less than a half.

“I probably wouldn't have come to this game, but especially with Percy (Harvin) out, I knew they'd be going to Bubba a lot,” Alvarez said. “I'm thrilled for him, I really am. He's such a nice kid.”

Alvarez approached Caldwell after the record had been broken just before halftime, congratulated the wide receiver and handed him another verbal carrot.

“You might as well go ahead and get my single-game record, too,” Alvarez said.

Caldwell almost did. Alvarez caught 15 passes in his sophomore year at Miami. Caldwell finished with a career-high 13. He also had a long reception called back and dropped a short throw in the fourth quarter.

But that did little to dim Caldwell's appreciation for what he had just accomplished.

Think about it. All of the great receivers who have come through Florida over the years, including Caldwell's brother Reche. There is only one No. 1.

And to have done it despite that awful broken leg in 2005 and the knee injury earlier this season makes it that much more special.

“Knowing that I've been through so much,” Caldwell said. “And my name is at the top of the list. When I got hurt (in 2005), I thought it was out of reach.”

But it wasn't in part because of Harvin's illness the last two weeks. Caldwell probably would have reached the record anyway, but with Harvin out, the senior has had 24 catches for 312 yards as Tim Tebow's go-to guy the last two games.

And so the numbers clicked off.

Three to go, two to go.

“I knew exactly how many I needed,” Caldwell said. “I ain't no dummy. And I had guys telling me every time I came off how many I had.”

The only disappointment was that the record-breaker came on a bubble screen for 10 yards.

He wanted it to be a touchdown. So badly.

“I wanted to get into the end zone,” he said. “I wanted to do something stupid.”

Maybe throw the ball in the stands like Alvarez did when he caught his final pass as a Gator.

“One of the coaches told me about that,” Caldwell said. “I might have done that.”

His longest catch Saturday was a 40-yarder midway through the second quarter. He was tackled in an awkward fashion and came up with a slight limp.

“I tweaked my ankle but there was no stopping me,” he said. “I had a goal.”

One to go, none to go.

And then he was at the top.

Alvarez sought Caldwell out again after the game, another hug of congratulations. He began to walk off the field when Urban Meyer spotted the Cuban Comet, now an attorney in Tallahassee.

“Carlos! Carlos!” Meyer said. “Come into the locker room.”

There, Alvarez gave an emotional speech. He talked about how he always considered his record to be a team record. He talked about how he was fortunate to have a great quarterback in John Reaves just the way Caldwell is fortunate to have a Tim Tebow.

He talked about how proud he was that someone who had been through so much adversity broke his record.

And then he gave Andre Caldwell the game ball from Florida's win over Florida Atlantic. Never has a game ball from an FAU game meant so much to someone.

There were tears.

“This makes it worthwhile, coming back for my senior year,” Caldwell said. “It makes me feel good about staying for another year. I had a decision to make after last year and I knew that it doesn't get any better than college football and there is no better place to be.”

For two of the best receivers in Florida history, there was no better place to be Saturday than in a warm embrace.