Saturday, January 24, 2009

20 Years of Gator Football - Top 5 Plays and Hits!

As I continue to bask in the glow that is the success of University of Florida athletics over the last three years (read: two football championships and two basketball championships), I recently wondered to myself what were the BIG MOMENTS over the last twenty years in Gator athletics. So, I've put together a couple of lists below. Feel free to comment!

Top 5 Gator Football PLAYS:

Wuerffel to Doering against Kentucky - Sept 1993
This was the play that started the Danny Wuerffel legacy at Florida, as the redshirt freshman QB threw a touchdown to sophomore receiver Chris Doering with three seconds left in the game to overcome Kentucky on the road in 1993. This enabled the Gators to get to the SEC Championship game that year, where they beat Alabama and won the first of four consecutive SEC championships. I was a UF student at the time and was watching this game at a party where everyone went from anxiety-stricken to pure joy and relief--all in one play.


Doug Johnson / Jacquez Green / Fred Taylor - Nov 1997
A year removed from their first national championship, Florida's game against FSU in 1997 was one of the most memorable games ever played in The Swamp. FSU came into Gainesville as the consensus number one ranked team in the country. Florida, already out of the national title hunt with losses to Georgia and LSU earlier in the season, was looking to spoil their arch-rivals' National Title hopes by rotating both QB's Doug Johnson and Noah Brindise throughout the game. After 58 minutes of an electric, back-and-forth battle between the two teams, it looked like FSU would escape with a win after Sebastian Janikowski kicked a field goal to put the Seminoles up by four points with two minutes left. However, the first play after Janikowski's kickoff will go down as one of the most memorable for me... a 63-yard pass completion from Doug Johnson to Jacquez Green. To this day I still cannot understand how Florida State could let Jacquez (who was the only receiving threat on that team) get so open, but I'm not complaining! Follow that with two outstanding Fred Taylor runs (the last for the game-winning TD), a Thad Busby interception, and you have one of the most exciting games ever played on Florida Field. Too bad I passed up an opportunity to go to the game and watched a mere five hours away in TimeOut sports bar in Albany, GA instead. Still banging my head over that poor decision.

Ike Hilliard's catch in the Sugar Bowl - Jan 1997
The 1997 Sugar Bowl drew up a rematch between #3 Florida and #1 Florida State. With Arizona State losing earlier in the day to Ohio State, the Sugar Bowl turned into the National Championship game for the 1996 season. Florida, having lost a close, tough game a month earlier to FSU, took control from the outset and dominated this game behind Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerffel's accurate arm. While there were many exciting moments throughout the game, the one play that left me in awe from my seat in the Superdome was the Ike Hilliard catch where he stopped on a dime (causing two FSU defenders to crash into each other) and then proceeded to waltz into the endzone. This play sealed Florida's first football National Championship.

Mick Hubert's audio call

Ahmad Black's INT against Oklahoma - Jan 2009
This play proved to be the pivotal play for the 2008 national championship. The 2009 FedEx BCS Championship game was close throughout, and with both Florida's and Oklahoma's offenses beginning to move the ball consistently, it appeared that who ever had the ball last would win the game. After Florida went up by three with a field goal in the fourth quarter, Oklahoma was driving. But Ahmad Black's amazing play where he ripped the ball out of Juaquin Iglesias' grasp for an interception of Heisman-winner Sam Bradford gave the ball back to the Gator offense--and that was all she wrote. Florida proceeded to orchestrate an eleven play, seven minute drive that culminated in a game-ending, trademarked Tim Tebow jump pass for a touchdown... all due to the Ahmad Black interception. I especially love Sam Bradford's wide-eyed look of disbelief that he was picked off!!

Jarvis Moss' blocked field goal - Nov 2006
By far and away, this is one of the most important plays in Florida sports history, as it single-handedly enabled the Gators to get the opportunity to play in the 2006 BCS Championship Game against Ohio State and win their second football national championship. Clinging to a one point lead against South Carolina in Steve Spurrier's first game coaching in The Swamp as a visitor, Jarvis Moss lept into the air and swatted down a Ryan Succop field goal attempt with seven seconds left in the game. This one play is continually referenced as THE play of the 2006 season, and caused Spurrier after the game to declare that "this could be the year of the Gators".

Honorable Mention:
* Jarvis Moss against Ohio State, causing fumble recovered by Derrick Harvey - January 2007
* All Tim Tebow jump passes in 2006, 2007, 2008.

Top 5 Gator Football HITS:

Monty Grow against West Virginia in Sugar Bowl - January 1994

I was at this game, and I remember two things from that night: Monty Grow's hit on Darren Studstill, and a poor Mountaineer fan puking on himself at Pat O'Brien's after the game. Monty's hit was WAY better! The images of Studstill trying to play with his chin strap vertical through his facemask are classic! Monty's consecutive plays also introduced us to a spectacular play by Lawrence Wright (see #3 below) as a freshman!

Brandon Spikes against Georgia - October 2008

Not the most devastating hit in history, but definitely a major statement that set the tone for Georgia's offense the entire game. After a year of stewing on the 2007 loss to Georgia and being reminded daily by the Gator coaching staff how Moreno ran all over the Gator defense in that loss, Brandon Spikes took out 365 days of aggression on Moreno in the Bulldogs' second play from scrimmage. The energy that hit gave the Florida defense enabled them to dominate the entire game. I wish I could hear their 'conversation' after the hit!

Lawrence Wright against Tennessee - September 1995

One of the most vicious hits I've seen in person, this famous hit on Joey Kent separates him from a Peyton Manning pass--and set the aggressive defensive tone in Florida's 62-37 destruction of Tennessee. Lawrence Wright eventually won the Jim Thorpe award in 1996 as the best defensive back in the nation, but it was this hit that put him in the national spotlight as one of the premier safeties in the country.

Jarvis Williams on Miami's Melvin Bratton - September 1986

Okay, so this game is outside the 20-year window I imposed above, but this hit is one of the best hits ever in Florida football history. The Gators went on to lose this game, but the brutality of the hit still makes me cringe even today when I see it. I was in 9th grade, watching the game with my dad in our living room when this bone crusher occurred.

Major Wright against Oklahoma - January 2009

What's with Gator safeties named 'Wright' and massive hits? I'm rating this one as #1 mainly because of the stage upon which it was made (BCS Championship Game) and because I believe it gave the defense confidence that it could continue to aggressively cover the potent Oklahoma passing attack. The execution of this aggressive, defensive gameplan was a major (pun intended) reason why Florida was able to hold Oklahoma to a meager 14 points of offense. Manuel Johnson was pretty much a non-factor for most of the game after getting blown up by Wright in Oklahoma's first series.

Honorable mention:
* Earl Everett helmetless against Troy Smith and Ohio State - January 2007
* Jermaine Cunningham against John Parker Wilson and Alabama in 4th quarter - December 2008
* Reggie Nelson all throughout the 2006 season!

Comment below if you agree, disagree, or have other special Gator moments I may have missed!

- Gatorchuckie, Jan09


1 comment:

  1. Great list. I think some of the Reggie Nelson hits should be called out instead of lumped into a montage...but that top 5 is pretty strong. Never saw the Jarvis Williams hit before...ouch!