Five most galling Florida Gators football games
The Gators have provided hundreds of pleasurable afternoons for fans. But to fully appreciate the good, it helps to remember the bad. Here are five games that will forever haunt Gator Nation.
Into each life some rain must fall. Some storms, however, are worse than others.
Gator football fans have enjoyed sunny skies 63% of the time since 1906. The running tally is 743 wins, 424 losses and 40 ties.
Not to dwell on the negative (check out our list of Five Most Satisfying Games in UF Football History), but you often learn more in defeat than victory. It develops character, resilience, humility.
At least that's what a lot of motivational speakers preach. Easy for them to say. They probably didn't have tickets to the 1996 Fiesta Bowl.
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Losing 62–24 to Nebraska stung, but it wasn't an embittering experience. The Cornhuskers were in a league of their own. More importantly, they weren't wearing garnet and gold or red and black.
The games that really sting are losses to rivals, especially when the stakes are high. With that in mind, we think it will be educational to examine the five most galling afternoons and evenings in UF history. To truly appreciate the sunshine, you need to have gotten drenched.
5. Tennessee 13, Florida 12, 1928
The Gators rolled into Knoxville with an 8-0 record and star-studded lineup featuring split end Dale Van Sickel, the school's first All-American. The Volunteers were 7-0-1 and had shut out five opponents, but Florida was averaging 40.5 points a game and was brimming with confidence.
Athletic Director Everett Yon even visited the Knoxville newspaper office the day before the game and predicted UF would win 30-0, something Jeremy Foley never did.
A victory would have clinched Florida's first Southeastern Conference title.
The winner was also expecting an invitation to the Rose Bowl. California, here the SEC-champ Gators come!
Then everything got all wet, sort of.
It had rained the night before, but every Gator meteorologist swears the downpour wasn't that bad. Certainly not bad enough to turn the field into a muddy slip-and-slide.
Thus hatched a conspiracy theory that lives to this day. Those sneaky Vols watered down the field to slow down UF's offense.
It worked. Both teams scored two touchdowns, but Florida missed both extra points.
The Gators had to wait another 24 years to get their first bowl bid. That first SEC title took 63 years.
Rain must fall in each life, but it shouldn't be a man-made disaster.
4. FSU 3, Florida 3, 1961
No, it wasn't technically a loss. Just don't tell that to Ray Graves. His immortal words when asked what the result felt like:
"A death in the family."
The homicide was at the hands of that "girls school" in Tallahassee, which wasn't coed until 1947. The Gators reportedly looked down on the upstart institution. Imagine that.
The state legislature and Gov. LeRoy Collins had to arm-twist UF into starting a series in 1958. Even then, UF coach Bob Woodruff wanted every game to be played in Gainesville and Florida to get most of the gate receipts.
"It seems he wants us to promise everything but lose the game," FSU coach Tom Nugent said.
Woodruff didn't quite get his way, though the first six games were played in Gainesville. Florida won the first three, but the Florida football world changed on Sept. 30, 1961.
FSU's Roy Bickford blocked a punt to set up a first-quarter field goal. Florida kicked a 29-yarder in the second quarter, but that was it.
The scoreboard never budged off 3-3, which was fine with FSU fans. They jubilantly tore down the north end zone metal goal posts.
"Dozens of fights broke out among students from both schools for pieces of the metal," the Associated Press reported.
It felt like a death in the family to UF that day, but a rivalry was truly born.
3. Tennessee 34, Florida 32, 2001
This one was cursed from the start. It was postponed almost three months from the original Sept. 15 date due to the 9/11 attacks.
Nobody knew it at the time, but it would be Steve Spurrier's last home game as Florida's coach. In 12 seasons, he'd lost four — FOUR — games at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
The Gators were 18-point favorites to keep it that way. That despite the fact Tennessee was 9-1 and 6-1 in the SEC.
So were the Gators, but they were ranked No. 2 and beating SEC opponents by an average of 37.2 points. A win would clinch the SEC East and leave a clear path to the BCS title game.
Rex Grossman riddled Tennessee's secondary most of the day, but three drives ended near the goal line. It's always ominous when you trade TDs for field goals.
UF led 23-21 going into the fourth quarter, but it could not stop Travis Stephens, who gained 226 yards. Tennessee surged ahead, but the Gators scored a touchdown with 1:10 left.
A two-point conversion would have tied it, but that failed. The ensuing onside kick failed. Phil Fulmer did not.
What a way for the man who gave the stadium its nickname to go out.
"It's The Swamp, I guess," Tennessee tackle Albert Haynesworth said, "but we made it into a little pond."
2. Georgia 26, Florida 21, 1980
Just one year after going 0-10-1, Charley Pell's program was ranked 20th and was 4-1 in the SEC. If it beat the Bulldogs, Florida would be in prime position to claim its first conference title.
All it had to do was beat Vince Dooley's Bulldogs, which it rarely did in the 1970s. It sure wasn't expected to change with a new decade. Georgia was unbeaten and ranked No. 2, thanks mostly to an All-World freshman named Herschel Walker.
He gained 238 yards that day, highlighted by a 72-yard touchdown run. The Gators and quarterback Wayne Peace managed to hang with Georgia.
They had a 21-20 lead with 1:35 left. Georgia was stuck on its 7-yard line facing third-and-eight. Hold 'em there, and it's ballgame, nirvana, the long-lost SEC Promised Land.
Instead, Buck Belue hit Lindsay Scott on a short crossing pattern. Florida's defense was caught flat-footed, and Scott turned the corner and headed up the sideline.
Cue legendary radio play-by-play announcer Larry Munson.
"Buck back, third down on the eight. In trouble! Got a block behind him… Gonna throw on the run—complete on the 25. To the 30, Lindsay Scott 35, 40, Lindsay Scott 45, 50, 45, 40—Run, Lindsay!–25, 20, 15, 10, 5, Lindsay Scott! Lindsay Scott! Lindsay Scott!"
If there's a Seventh Circle of Hell for Gator fans, "Run, Lindsay Run" is the soundtrack.
"I still believe that it is the greatest play in Georgia football history,” Dooley told the Athens Banner-Herald in 2020, “because not only did it defy the odds to beat Florida, but it led to the only undefeated, undisputed Georgia national championship."
For the Gator Nation, it doesn't get much more galling than that.
1. Florida State 31, Florida 31, 1994
Technically, another tie with FSU. Realistically, this one felt like two or three deaths in the family.
Both teams were 9-1 and still sniffing a national championship. Florida looked like it was sniffing a Super Bowl title in the first three quarters.
Danny Wuerffel, Reidel Anthony, Fred Taylor and Ike Hilliard toyed with FSU's defense. It was 31-3 with 13 minutes remaining and FSU fans could not get out of Doak Campbell Stadium quickly enough.
The Gators shifted to a prevent defense and ball-control offense. Going conservative made sense, but things quickly went bat-guano crazy.
Florida's offense completely froze and FSU's Danny Kanell started finding receivers everywhere. The Seminoles had scoring drives of 84, 60 and 73 yards. All those despondent fans who'd headed to their cars began high-tailing back to the stadium to witness the impossible.
It culminated with a short run by Rock Preston with 1:45 left to make it 31-30. There was no overtime back then, but Bobby Bowden was haunted by a missed two-point try against Miami in 1987 that probably cost the Seminoles a national championship.
He opted to kick the extra point. That was good enough for the game to be forever labeled "The Choke at Doak."
“They were all bragging about the tie,” Steve Spurrier said. “I said, ‘Hell, it’s the same for you as it is for us."
It sure didn't feel like it.