GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Carlos Alvarez played his final game for the Gators 40 years ago.
He learned Tuesday morning that his three years spent as “The Cuban Comet” are hardly forgotten.
The 61-year-old Alvarez, whose name remains prominent in the Gators’ all-time receiving records, is being inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in December. Alvarez is the sixth player in UF history and ninth member of Florida’s football program to receive the honor.
“I’m hardly ever speechless, but I am,’’ said Alvarez, who caught and ran his way into the Florida record books from his first catch. “When you look at college football and the number of people who have played … I feel honored just to be mentioned.’’
Alvarez burst onto the scene in his very first game, a 59-34 upset of No. 7-ranked Houston in the 1969 season opener at Florida Field. The first of Alvarez’s 172 career receptions went for a 70-yard touchdown from quarterback John Reaves, quite an introduction for the receiver who would go on to break nearly every school and SEC reception record.
As a sophomore that season, Alvarez caught 88 passes for 1,329 yards and 12 touchdowns. The Reaves-Alvarez connection was at its best in a 35-16 win at Miami, Alvarez’s hometown after his family relocated from Cuba.
In a game that Florida fans who were around in those days still talk about, Alvarez caught 15 passes for 237 yards in a homecoming performance he’ll never forget. The 15 catches remain a single-game school record and the 237 yards stood 33 years until Taylor Jacobs’ 246-yard performance against UAB in 2002.
Alvarez finished his three-year career (1969-71) with 172 receptions, 2,563 receiving yards and 19 touchdowns. He was a first-team All-American selection in 1969, setting eight SEC receiving records that season as the Gators went 9-1-1 in the final season for head coach Ray Graves.
He remains the school’s all-time leader for career receiving yards, consecutive games (25) with a reception, is second all-time in career receptions and tied with Chad Jackson (2005) for most receptions in a season (88). Alvarez’s single-season yardage record stood until Travis McGriff (1,357 yards) edged ahead in 1998.
“I certainly didn’t expect these records to last 40 years,’’ Alvarez said. “They are good records, but they are not Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak. When the records get broken, I really am very supportive. I think they need to be passed on to a new generation.’’
Alvarez is the third former Gator football player to be inducted into the National Football Foundation College Football Hall of Fame in the past six years. Emmitt Smith received the honor in 2006 and Wilber Marshall in 2008. Besides Alvarez, Smith and Marshall, Dale Van Sickel (1927-29, inducted 1975), Steve Spurrier (1964-66, inducted 1986) and Jack Youngblood (1968-70, inducted 1992) are also former players inducted in the Hall of Fame, and Charles Bachman (1928-32, inducted 1978), Graves (1960-69, inducted 1990) and Doug Dickey (1970-78, inducted 2003) are former UF head coach inductees.
“Carlos is a great example of all that is good in college athletics,’’ Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley said Tuesday. “His tireless work and commitment to excellence translated into success both on and off the field. He has maintained his level commitment and success in his professional career as well.
“I've had the opportunity to see Carlos a number of times when he visits Gainesville and he remains a tremendous ambassador for our program. The honor is well-deserved.’’
Gators football coach Will Muschamp, who has shown a knowledge and appreciation of Florida’s football history in his short time at UF, echoed Foley’s sentiments.
“What a tremendous honor for Carlos Alvarez and the University of Florida football family,’’ Muschamp said. “Growing up a Gator fan, I was very aware of what Carlos accomplished, setting most of the receiving records in an era when you could only play three years and the seasons were only 11 games long. Carlos was equally successful in the classroom at UF and he has carried that success to his law practice.
“I had the pleasure of talking to Carlos shortly after I got the job at Florida and despite all of his success – I remember how humble he remains. He is very proud to be a Gator and today all Gators should be proud of him.’’
Alvarez reflected Tuesday on how football and world events in 1969 shaped so much of his life since, including all the social turmoil of that time that included the Vietnam War. He was recruited to Florida by then-Florida assistant Lindy Infante, who would later coach the Green Bay Packers, and his decision to come here was aided by the fact two older brothers were already at UF.
“It was an incredible time to be at a university,’’ he said. “I was part of all that in my own little way and I interacted with all that. It was an incredible season. I left everything I had on that field. It was nice to put it all together for Ray Graves.’’
After knee injuries slowed him down his final two seasons – Alvarez was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in 1972 but never played in the NFL – Alvarez graduated with high honors from UF and was the first three-time recipient of the SEC Academic Honor Roll in school history. He was also a three-time Academic All-American and was inducted into the Academic Hall of Fame in 1991.
Alvarez later graduated from Duke Law School and joined the Florida Bar in 1975.
He is now an attorney living in Tallahassee who specializes in environmental land-use law and has lectured at UF in the past. Alvarez has earned keys to cities and other honors over past 40 years, but his Hall of Fame induction moves to the top of his personal list.
Seventy-nine players were on the 2011 ballot, and Alvarez was chosen as one of 16 inductees in this year’s class – 14 players and two coaches.
“An honor like this to me is really a tribute to so many people who help you get there,’’ he said. “I did put the work in, but all that work is not going to get you there unless you have incredible people around you.
“I look at my career extremely fondly. Basically, I couldn’t have asked for more. There is a part of me of course that wish my knees had held out, and they didn’t. You just play the cards you’re dealt. I’m grateful to all those who helped me get here.’’