GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The Gator Bowl.
That the college football postseason’s game in Jacksonville was played in a stadium of the same name and in the state most associated with the vicious reptile, well, that was appropriate. And the fact the University of Florida played just 90 minutes or so away, well, that was fitting too.
Gators and Gator Bowl, right?
The first bowl berth in UF’s football history came in 1953, with the Gators defeating Tulsa 14-13 in the Gator Bowl. Over the next nine years, Florida would return to the Gator Bowl three more times -- four trips in 10 seasons, all told -- and were happy each time to be included in the postseason lineup. After all, there were only nine or 10 bowl games back in those days.
That’s what made the first Sugar Bowl invitation so special.
In 1965, Florida went 7-3 and along the way defeated the likes of LSU, Ole Miss, Georgia and Florida State to catch the eye of the folks in New Orleans.
It was a big, big deal.
Back then, the Sugar, Orange, Cotton and Rose bowls were heads and shoulders the biggest and best, and now the Gators had crashed the party.
On Thursday, Will Muschamp and his 2012 squad will hop a chartered flight for Louis Armstrong International Airport to begin preparation for the 79th Sugar Bowl. When the fourth-ranked Gators (11-1) and 21st-ranked Louisville meet Jan. 2 at the Superdome, it’ll mark the ninth time UF has played in the Sugar Bowl, tying the Sugar with the Gator for the most-attended bowl by the Florida team.
Over the next eight days, we’ll revisit the previous visits, starting with that glorious -- and wild -- first one 47 years ago.
To the time machine we go.
FOR HISTORICAL CONTEXT (ELSEWHERE ON JAN. 1, 1966)
* Washington hoped the lull in the bombing of North Viet Nam targets would produce a peace bid from Hanoi, but US diplomatic sources said they knew of no response yet.
* Bob Hope wrapped up his Christmas visit to US servicemen in Viet Nam with a show for 8,500 Marines and Seabees and a hearty thanks from President Johnson. The Marines braved rainy weather and mud to watch Hope and his troupe, which included movie star Carroll Baker and dancer Joey Heatherton.
* Clyde Lee scored 39 points to lead No. 2 Vanderbilt to a 113-98 basketball rout of Syracuse in the Los Angeles Classic.
A few days after Florida defeated FSU 30-17 and the Gators’ invite to the Sugar Bowl became official, UF’s junior quarterback Steve Spurrier strolled into the communications department with a question.
“What are the Sugar Bowl passing records?” Spurrier asked. “Because I’m gonna break ‘em.”
The Gators had been matched against sixth-ranked Missouri (7-2-1) of the Big 8 Conference. The Tigers had beaten UCLA and Oklahoma -- and lost a 16-14 heartbreaker to third-ranked Nebraska for the league title -- and boasted a defense that allowed just 83 points in 10 games.
They also -- somehow -- got wind of Spurrier’s statement, courtesy of an article in The New Orleans Times-Picayune, which was pinned to the wall of the Tigers locker room that week.
THE 32nd SUGAR BOWL -- THE GAME
Missouri tailback Charlie Brown carried 22 times for 120 yards, helping the Tigers to a big second-half lead they had to cling to for dear life after a frantic fourth-quarter comeback engineered by Spurrier.
The Tigers went up 20-0 after a third-quarter field goal from Bill Bates and appeared to be on their way to embarrassing the Gators in their first appearance on the big bowl stage.
Spurrier, though, rallied his team through the air for three touchdown drives, including two of more than 80 yards. The Gators, however, went for two-point conversions after each touchdown and failed to punch in all three times.
Final: Missouri 20, Florida 18.
Guess those three PATs were somewhat significant, huh?
Spurrier finished 27 of 52 for 352 yards and two touchdowns, while also running for UF’s final score of the game. Yes, those were Sugar Bowl passing records, but the team that had come back to win so many close games that season -- the Gators earned the nickname “Cardiac Crewcuts” -- ran out of time.
As superbly as Spurrier played in the fourth quarter (16-for-23 and more than 200 yards), the post-game subject matter focused on why the Gators kept going for two when simple kicks likely could have won the game.
UF coach Ray Graves took the blame for the decision, but defensive coordinator Ed Kensler admitted talking Graves into the two-point attempts.
In the other locker room, the Tigers partied like it was 1966 (it was), with the Spurrier quote from the Times-Picayune prominently displayed -- and underlined in red -- on the wall.
“Their ball control was a big factor. We couldn’t get it back from them. We only had four offensive plays in the first quarter.” -- Graves
“It’s strange to think we can’t ever seem to play four quarters of consistently good football. We seem to paint ourselves into a corner, then come out fighting. I really don’t know why, other than maybe we seem to do better when the pressure’s on. But it hurts to lose one like that.” -- Spurrier.
“The ball sort of fell my way ... I don’t know if it was by best [catch], but maybe my luckiest.” -- UF wide receiver Charlie Casey, who had six catches for 108 yards and touchdown on a crazy tipped ball.
“They just never gave up. All I was thinking in those last two minutes was wondering how we were gonna keep ‘em from scoring another touchdown.” -- Mizzou defensive tackle Russ Washington.
“Best I’ve ever seen.” -- Tigers All-American offensive tackle Frances Peay on Spurrier.