GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- It took one of Steve Spurrier's finest coaching jobs to get the 1994 Florida Gators to the 61st Sugar Bowl.
And it came a week after one of his most-memorable efforts.
When fifth-ranked UF faced third-ranked and 11-0 Alabama in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game, the Gators did so knowing their reward for a third straight league title would be a rematch against rival Florida State.
That's because on Nov. 26, UF went to Tallahassee and literally blew out the Seminoles for three quarters, taking a commanding 28-point lead that sent garnet-and-gold fans at Doak Campbell Stadium scurrying for the exits.
They should have stuck around.
FSU, behind quarterback Danny Kanell, rallied for 28 straight points -- guiding the Seminoles offense to 258 yards in the final period alone -- to salvage a miraculous 31-31 tie in a game that will live in UF infamy.
For the Gators, it was a 31-31 loss.
Seven days later, though, Florida staged a comeback of its own, scoring a late touchdown to upset the Crimson Tide 24-23 in the first SEC title game played at the Georgia Dome.
Sugar Bowl officials loved the idea of a rematch.
Fourth-ranked UF (10-1-1), SEC champ, vs. fifth-ranked FSU (9-1-1), the Atlantic Coast Conference champ.
So "The Choke at the Doak" gave way to "The Fifth Quarter in the French Quarter."
"I ain't gonna wait until the fourth quarter to turn 'em loose this time," said Coach Bobby Bowden, whose Seminoles were riding a college football-record nine-bowl winning streak. "I'm gonna let it rip."
To the time machine we go.
FOR HISTORICAL CONTEXT (ELSEWHERE ON JAN. 2, 1995)
• The Republicans, as the new majority in the 104th Congress, were set to begin their self-described revolution, putting on trial their fundamental belief they can cure the nation's ills with less government, not more. For new House Speaker Newt Gingrich and his Republican colleagues, the first order of business was to pass new House rules demonstrating that they were more open, responsive and businesslike than the old-order Democrats they supplanted.
• In Sarajevo, Serb leaders joined the Bosnian government in signing a crucial U.N.-brokered cease-fire agreement that could bring a four-month truce to Bosnia.
• Rod Stewart said he was too drunk during a trip to Brazil in 1979 to realize he was copying his "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy" from a Brazilian pop star. In Rio de Janeiro for the New Year's concert at Copacabana Beach, Stewart said he inadvertently copied the song that became a huge hit from Jorge Benjor's "Taj Mahal."
• In the worst performance of his career, Detroit Lions tailback Barry Sanders carried 13 times for minus-1 yard in a 16-12 NFC Wild-Card playoff loss at Green Bay. "It's inconceivable to hold him to negative yards," Packers defensive end Reggie White said. "He does things that no back as ever done."
One of the popular pre-game notions focused on the toxic mix of Florida fans, Florida State fans and lots of alcohol -- and what could happen on the streets of New Orleans.
Few expected fights to among players, though.
Certainly not teammates.
But at a New Year's Eve dinner for the Gators at the Superdome, a fight broke out between linebackers Darren Hambrick and Anthony Riggins while the two were in a buffet line. The scene, witnesses later said, was a virtually melee.
A bloody one, too.
"There apparently were tables turned over and tableware flying around," an embarrassed Spurrier explained when briefing media on the brawl at the news conference the day before the game. "I didn't see it. I just saw the results. They had to work on Riggins a little bit after the scuffle."
A lot of bit, actually.
Riggins, mostly a special teams player, suffered a long cut on his cheek and was hospitalized at Tulane Medical Center, where he underwent reconstructive facial surgery the next day. Hambrick, a starting outside linebacker, sustained a cut on his hand that required stitches. Spurrier sent both players back to Gainesville -- kicking them off the team permanently -- after their release from the hospital.
"We will not tolerate our players fighting, and hopefully the rest of them will get the message,'' Spurrier said. "It's unfortunate. It happened. We're dealing with it."
The Gators, meanwhile, tried to maintain their pre-game routine, which under Spurrier always included attending a movie as a team the night before.
"We saw 'Dumb and Dumber,' " defensive coordinator Bobby Pruitt said. "Apropos."
Eventually, the Gators had to shake the distractions -- all of their own making, by the way -- and deal with a Seminoles team that was virtually unstoppable for that one final quarter the last time the teams met.
"They're going to run the same offense until we show them we can stop it," senior safety Michael Gilmore said.
FSU cornerback Clifton Abraham: "We're going to go out and play as hard as we can on every play. That's something we didn't do until the fourth quarter the last time. We're ready, no doubt in my mind. We've got something for Florida."
Florida's quest for sweet revenge and redemption against their fiercest rival ended with another bitter setback.
All-America linebacker Derrick Brooks intercepted a Danny Wuerffel pass with 1:32 to play to thwart a UF comeback and seal FSU's 23-17 victory in the Sugar Bowl and, in essence, break the tie between the two teams from five weeks before.
FSU won its 10th straight bowl game and improved to 4-1-1 against the Spurrier-coached Gators.
Wuerffel, the sophomore, set bowl records with 394 yards passing, including an 82-yard touchdown to Ike Hilliard, but was sacked six times.
Two missed second-half field goals by FSU's Dan Mowery kept the Gators within striking distance. Wuerffel's 1-yard quarterback sneak with 3:47 to go drew UF within six points. The Seminoles recovered the ensuing onsides kick, but the Gators forced a punt and got the ball back with 2:27 to play.
After a first-down sack, Wuerffel was under heavy pressure on second down, got hit while throwing, and fluttered a ball into the arms of Brooks. Game over.
FSU tailback Warrick Dunn was named MVP with 51 yards rushing and 58 receiving. Kanell threw a 73-yard touchdown pass to O'Mar Ellison.
Wuerffel finished 28-for-39. Coupled with Reidel Anthony's razzle-dazzle wide-receiver throwback play for 52 yards, the Gators totaled 449 yards passing, but hurt themselves with two failed fourth-down conversions in FSU territory; one in each half.
"Congratulations to FSU. They beat us tonight, We had a chance to win it, but we couldn't make a play." -- Spurrier.
"We weren't going to be conservative like the last time." -- Kanell.
"For the first time this season, I felt like I could call anything." -- FSU offensive coordinator Mark Richt.
"I was getting ready to throw and got hit. I really didn't see what happened after that." -- Wuerffel on the game-sealing play.
"I came to Florida looking for a challenge. I didn't know if I could maintain my concentration enough to really improve if I came back." -- UF All-America wideout Jack Jackson, who set an SEC single-season record with 15 touchdown receptions (and tied the league's career mark of 29), in announcing after the game his plans to enter the NFL draft.
"It's no fun going to a bowl and having to beat your in-state rival. I don't ever want to play them twice again unless I'm coaching at Mississippi State or somewhere else." -- Bowden, in a quote that proved fairly prophetic ... two years later.