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Thursday August 30, 2012The List: 10 Memorable Home Season Openers

Gainesville, Fla.

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

It's been 23 years since the University of Florida lost a season opener at home -- and the same amount of time since the first game of a season has been close.

Florida has amassed the second-longest opening day winning streak in the nation (22 straight, behind only Nebraska with 26), although only two of the Gators' opponents in that stretch have come from what are now classified as BCS conferences (Oklahoma State in '90 and Kentucky in '92).

All the openers during that run have been played at home.

Which brings us to the subject of our "List of the Week," a feature GatorZone.com starts this week and will take through the 2012 football season.

With the Gators opening Saturday against Bowling Green, we'll open with 10 memorable or notable opening days played on the UF campus. The Gators are an all-time 78-27 in openers (.743), including 63-6 when those games were played in Gainesville.

And here's our 10:


No. 1
Sept. 20, 1969
Florida 59, Houston 34

The Cougars came to town ranked seventh in the country, having been picked by Playboy as the magazine's preseason No. 1. Waiting were the "Super Sophs," a group of young and hungry Gators that routinely waxed the varsity in scrimmages the year before.

Florida sent a message early.

Sophomore quarterback John Reaves hit speedy classmate and wideout Carlos Alvarez (above) with a 70-yard touchdown pass on the game's third play, setting the tone for a mega-upset, as the Gators scored their most points since hanging 60 on little Washington and Lee in 1928.

"I was bit nervous at first," Reaves said. "But after that first pass ... I just couldn't believe it."

Said Alvarez: "I saw it coming and said, 'Oh boy, my first pass.' I ran past the defender as if he was standing still."


The Gators ran past the Cougars like that all day.

"We have no alibis," Houston coach Bill Yeoman said. "I wish I could say they surprised us, but they didn't."

Reaves finished 18 of 30 for 342 yards and five touchdowns. Alvarez had six catches for 182 yards and three scores. UF cranked out 502 yards of total offense in one of the most dominant performances in Gators history, as the team carried Coach Ray Graves off the field after the game.


No. 2
Sept. 8, 1990
Florida 50, Oklahoma State 7

It wasn't supposed to look that easy ... but it was.

Steve Spurrier's homecoming as coach of his alma mater was a resounding success, with the Gators destroying the Cowboys with 567 yards of offense, the 10th-most in school history.

Sophomore quarterback Shane Matthews took UF 70 yards in five plays on the opening drive -- hitting Ernie Mills for 26 yards on the first play from scrimmage -- the march capped by a 2-yard touchdown run from fullback Dexter McNabb.

The performance put on display for UF fans what the folks who cheered Spurrier's wide-open attacks that made the coach a sensation with the USFL Tampa Bay Bandits and at Duke.

It was everything a Gator possibly could have hoped for.

"The story was just that we were better than Oklahoma State and our guys played with tremendous effort," Spurrier said. "We're really, really proud of them."

Matthews finished 20 of 29 for 332 yards and a touchdown.

"I'll tell you something," he said. "It was pretty easy out there."


No. 3
Oct. 26, 1906
Florida 6, Rollins 0

Anyone out there who remembers this one, call us.

Please.

Quickly.

Assuming you can get to the phone, that is. Or remember how to operate one.

We have to include the very first opener of the very first Florida football season. And while not a lot of data exists from the game, we found a record of it in a 106-year-old story in The Gainesville Daily Sun, courtesy of the George A. Smathers Libraries.

Three paragraphs worth.

University Defeated Rollins
Wins Out in First Game by Close Points and Good Playing

The first game of football was pulled off in this city Friday between the University of Florida and the Rollins College teams.

The game was fairly well attended, and a great deal of interest was manifested. The score resulted in a victory for the University boys six to nothing.

Neither team scored in the first half that lasted for twenty minutes, but in the second half, which was twenty minutes more, the University boys got six, which gave them the game.

We'll leave it up to individual interpretation whether the person who wrote the story (rest their soul) knew what they were watching.


No. 4
Sept. 3, 1983
Florida 28, Miami 3

This one really became more significant after the season.

That is, after the Hurricanes ran the table for 11 straight wins, including a thrilling and epic 31-30 defeat of No. 1 Nebraska in the Orange Bowl to claim the program's first national championship.

Yet, that UM team was no match for the Gators.

Florida forced seven turnovers, including a fumble by tailback Speedy Neal -- on a wicked hit from safety Tony Lilly -- at the UF 13 on the game's third play. Wayne Peace quickly found fullback Joe Henderson for the first of two first-quarter touchdown passes and the rout was on.

"Without those errors it still would have been difficult to win, but those seven turnovers stick out," Hurricanes coach Howard Schnellenberger said. "[Florida] played inspired error-free football and I suspect they'll win quite a few football games this year."

UM's heralded freshman quarterback Bernie Kosar was harassed all night, going 24-for-45 for 223 yards and three interceptions. Cornerback Bruce Vaughan stood out on defense with eight tackles and a pick.

"This isn't the best way to start a career," Kosar said. "But I'll learn from my mistakes, and so will the team."

He was right, of course.


No. 5
Sept. 9, 1989
Mississippi 24, Florida 19

There are games that are memorable because everyone would like to forget them.

Florida's last opening-day loss not only was a dismal display by the football team, it led to one of the most infamous home crowd incidents in Gators lore.

"That's the worst I've ever seen a player treated by his own fans," UF offensive coordinator Whitey Jordan said.

That player was quarterback Kyle Morris, who was not good that day (18 of 35 for 216 yards, two interceptions, no touchdowns), but hardly the sole culprit in UF's first opening-day home loss since 1971.

Wouldn't have known it by the boo barrage that targeted the sophomore.

UF's offense cranked out 379 yards and 26 first downs, while the defense limited the Rebels to just 127 total yards and sacked quarterback John Darnell five times.

The Gators, though, managed just two field goals and two touchdowns on six trips inside the Ole Miss 30. One of those TDs was a short run by tailback Emmitt Smith (117 yards) in the closing minute -- the game already decided -- with the All-American slamming the ball to the turf in frustration.

"Is this the electric chair?" Morris asked as he took a seat in front of reporters in the post-game interview session.

Moments earlier, Morris had come off the field to a rain of plastic cups and expletives, with assistant coach Red Anderson even challenging one fan in the stands.


No. 6
Sept. 23, 1944
Florida 36, Mayport NAS 6

After shutting down the program for the 1943 season due to World War II, the Gators had enough soldiers-turned-students back on campus to resume football in the fall of '44. A crowd of 6,000 turned out and was thrilled to have football back in the fall.

The Daily Sun raved about "swivel-hipped" Bobby Forbes, the Clearwater back who executed Coach Tom Lieb's "T-formation and single-wing" attack to perfection while the UF defense intercepted the servicemen six times.

Forbes ran twice for 63 yards in the first two minutes of the game for any early 6-0 lead. Buddy Carte, out of Tampa Plant High, passed for two touchdowns and helped the Gators out-gain Mayport 426-112 in total yards.


No. 7
Aug. 31, 1996
Florida 55, Southwestern Louisiana 21

New defensive coordinator Bob Stoops was quite the hit in his game. As was his unit.

Florida's defense scored a team single-game record four touchdowns -- one more than the offense that night -- in returning two fumbles and a pair of interceptions in just the second game ever played by a UF team in the month of August.

"That was fun," said Stoops, who came to UF by way of Kansas State. "I realize we're going to be playing better people down the road, but this is something to build on."

He had no idea.

The Gators, of course, would go on to win their first national championship that season.

After scoring just one defensive TD the entire 1995 campaign, the Gators got a 12-yard fumble return from strong safety Lawrence Wright, a 26-yard interception return by free safety Teako Brown, a 64-yard fumble return and 65-yard interception by cornerback Fred Weary.

Obscure note: Ragin' Cajun quarterback that night: Jake Delhomme.

"I've never seen anything like it," UF defensive tackle Ed Chester said. "I mean, I spent as much time blocking their offensive linemen as they did blocking me."


No. 8
Oct. 6, 1913
Florida 144, Florida Southern 0

No, not a typo.

And, yes, the figure still stands as the most points scored by a Florida team in the program's 106-year history.

It was a time when players we referred to in the newspaper simply by their last names. That day, it was Moseley scoring two touchdowns and Price "punting" 13 "goals" (extra points, actually) out of a possible 22, according to accounts.

That would be 22 touchdowns.

Or as The Daily Sun put it the morning after in writing about the team known then as the "Alligators:"

The boys of the good old Orange and Blue clearly demonstrated the fact that the leading colleges in the South will again have to battle hard with them for honors.

They downed the Southern College by the horrible score of (we will put it in figures, as it will take too much type to spell it out) 144 to 0.

The score shows that Southern has a poor team, but that Florida has a good one, for it takes a good team to pile up such a score against any class of opposition. From any point of view, the "Alligators" are considerably stronger than they were at the beginning of last season. The old boys show that their experience has taught them much and the new ones show that they have the "stuff" in them that makes good football men."


No. 9
Sept. 19, 1964
Florida 24, Southern Methodist 8

Proven and popular senior Tommy Shannon was back to quarterback the Gators, but the crowd of 33,000 got a first glimpse at the hotshot sophomore slinger who came down from Tennessee two years earlier.

That Spurrier fella.

Shannon gave way to his backup on the first series and Spurrier connected with Jack Harper for 56-yard pass to set up the game's first touchdown. Spurrier (below) finished three of six for 73 yards for the game. Shannon, meanwhile, did his running thing.

"They're a good 1-2 punch," Graves said.

Still, many of the post-game questions focused on Spurrier and how such an inexperienced player could have looked so sharp so soon in the passing game.

"He isn't inexperienced. He's been playing for seven years," Graves said.

This was college, it was pointed out by a scribe.

"After his first play, he was experienced," Graves shot back.


No. 10
Sept. 3, 1994
Florida 70, New Mexico State 21

The Gators opened the season ranked No. 1 for the first time in school history.

Played like it, too.

Senior Terry Dean threw seven touchdown passes -- all in the first half -- to set a Southeastern Conference single-game record. Four of them went to wideout Jack Jackson. The point total was the second-highest in school history, a fireworks display that featured 618 yards of offense and 34 first downs.

"I've never been more comfortable in a game," Dean said. "It was like scoring at will."

Added Jackson: "It got to the point where it was a little boring out there. Everything worked."

Spurrier wasn't impressed.

"We're not very excited about setting a bunch of records against an opponent that is not the kind of caliber we usually play," he said. "Obviously, it was a team out there we had out-personneled."

And on opening day for the Florida Gators, that's been a trend of the last couple decades plus.

 

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