Friday, March 6, 2009

20 Years of Gator Athletics - Top Five Last Second Heartbreaks

Warning: Reliving some of these memories may cause headaches, heart failure, and a need to look at 1996, 2006 and 2008 football highlight films, or 2006 and 2007 basketball highlights

After having written a blog on the Top Five greatest Gator plays and hits, I decided to put together a follow-up list of the biggest heartbreaks in Florida athletics over the last 20 years. The list is football heavy (only one entry from basketball), and after listing them out, I was surprised to see that each of the football heartbreaks come from teams in our neighboring state of Alabama, and that Auburn was the source of most of my heartburn.

As usual, the list is highly subjective, so please comment with your own heartbreak memories!! Without further adieu, here's my...

Top Five Gator Heartbreaks

#5 - Bama's 2nd chance XP
Alabama 40, Florida 39 OT - 1999

In the Swamp, this heartbreak moment took Gator fans to the extremes on the emotional meter three straight times at the end of the game as the #3 Gators took a 30-game home field winning streak into their game against #21 Alabama. In overtime, after a Gator touchdown, Jeff Chandler missed the extra point. On Alabama's OT possession, Shaun Alexander scampers in for a TD. The amazing part came when Chris Kemp trotted out and MISSED the game-winning extra point...or so we thought. Turns out the Gators were offsides, and given a second chance, Kemp kicks the game winner to beat Florida 40-39 in OT. Ugh.

#4 - Emmitt breaks down
Auburn 10, Florida 7 - 1989

On 4th and 10, Reggie Slack completed a 25-yard pass with 20 seconds left to defeat the Gators by three points... the defensive secondary breakdown on this one play completely erased a spectacular defensive effort and provided the backdrop for the infamous images of Emmitt Smith weeping on the sideline after going his entire college career having never beaten Auburn.

#3 - Blue Jays hit buzzer-beater
Creighton 83, Florida 82 - 2002

The only basketball game to make my list. In the 2002 NCAA Basketball Tournament, I was stunned when the #5 seed Gators lost in the first round to Kyle Corver and the Creighton Blue Jays on a last second 3-pointer that proved to end the college basketball career of Udonis Haslem. This loss, coupled with the first round exit to Manhattan two years later, caused many around the country to begin to question Billy Donovan's ability to win big games. Fortunately, the 2006 and 2007 national titles helped erase those silly insinuations.

#2 - Duval last second FG
Auburn 23, Florida 20 - 2001

Florida went into Auburn ranked #1 in the country with heralded QB Rex Grossman, RB Earnest Graham and WR duo Reche Caldwell and Jabar Gaffney. However, Auburn kicker Damon Duval kicks a last second FG for Auburn from 44 yards out to defeat the Gators 23-20. Auburn only had 239 yards of total offense, but Gator turnovers turned out to be the key to the game, as Grossman was picked off four times, and a fumbled punt snap essentially gave Auburn a free touchdown.

After this loss, Florida would still play itself back into the National Championship picture late in the season, controlling it's destiny going into its final game of the season against Tennessee (a game that was rescheduled from earlier in the year due to a hurricane in Florida). Florida would lose to Tennessee by two points, and would have to settle for a win in the Orange Bowl against Maryland--in what turned out to be Steve Spurrier's last game coaching the Gators.

#1 - Patrick Nix to Frank Sanders
Auburn 36, Florida 33 - 1994

This was one of the most gut-wrenching game I attended at the Swamp, as I sat in the lower deck of the North end zone and watched Frank Sanders catch a last second floater from Patrick Nix to allow Auburn to break a seven game Auburn losing streak in Gainesville. More importantly, this knocked Florida out of the #1 ranking and kept the Gators from being in the National Championship picture that year (the same year that saw Florida choke in the 4th quarter against FSU in the infamous 31-31 tie in Tallahassee). Why we threw the ball on 3rd down with just over a minute left in the game I'll never know--as this was the only reason Auburn had enough time to execute their last drive...ending with this heartbreaker of a play for Gator fans.

Honorable Mention:

Ole Miss blocked XP in 2008
- This play would be in the Top 5 if Florida hadn't come back that season to win the National Championship after Tim Tebow's infamous 'promise'.

Missed FG in OT against Tennessee in 1998 - Gator kicker Collins Cooper misses a 34-yard FG in the first OT that would have tied the game... instead giving Tennessee a 20-17 win. Tennessee would go on to go undefeated and win the National Championship that year, Florida would go on to destroy Donovan McNabb and Syracuse in the Orange Bowl, and Bob Stoops would leave Florida to take the Oklahoma head coaching position.

Tennessee last second 50 yard FG in 2004 - Tennessee kicker James Wilhoit makes up for an earlier missed XP with a 50 yard FG to beat the Gators 30-28 in Ron Zook's last season as the head coach of Florida.

Do you have other heartbreak memories? Post them below in the comments!!


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