Losing sucks. I was raised to worship the Red Sox and the Patriots and, although this century has been damn good to both of them, losing was my way of life until I got to college. The Red Sox — a lot of kids today might not realize — were the team that was always pretty decent, but never good enough to actually beat the Yankees. For about 75 years. And don’t get me started on the Pats. They had a nice season in ’85, but otherwise New England’s football team was straight-up pathetic until *very* recently.
So it was quite astonishing to me when I got to the University of Florida as a freshman in 1991. My team was good! We were winners! We won — seriously — like all the time. And we didn’t just win. We usually beat the bejesus out of people. We didn’t just score with an unprecedented air attack, we also ran back punts and kickoffs and interceptions. We ran like nobody else. We were the best team — or at least tied with the best team — in the state of Florida, the center of the college football universe.
So losing sucks.
Last night was so awesome of a beatdown, I was forced to reflect on where it sits alongside the great collapses in Florida football history. I wanted to compile a list of the five worst losses ever and was happy to realize that it wasn’t that hard to do. There just haven’t been that many losses since 1991.
Without even looking at the internet I was able to think of six games, six times that we lost and I was devastated. I can remember where I was, what I was wearing, who was with me, what I did before and after the game … these things are all cemented in my memory like nothing else.
I attended the 1999 SEC Championship Game in Atlanta as a guest of my friend’s dad, who was a Vice President of the Winn-Dixie grocery store. We had luxury box seats and all the food and alcohol any fan could want. In that game Alabama’s Shaun Alexander had 97 bruising yards on 30 carries. Current ESPN announcer and prior star of ABC’s The Bachelor, Florida’s quarterback Jesse Palmer was 7 of 20 for 80 yards, with three interceptions. At the time I felt like it was the worst loss I’d ever experienced in person, and riding home that night we suffered as the ‘Bama fans threw curses, Gator chomps, beer cans, and spittle at us through the streets. So I’ve got sort of a sore spot when it comes to Alabama.
But I wanted to compile a list of the top five worst losses, and there’s simply only room for one SEC Championship Game against Alabama on the list. The 1999 game is the one that didn’t make the cut.
Auburn 36 @ Florida 33 (October 15, 1994)
This game makes my list of the five worst losses in Gator football history for three main reasons:
- It was Spurrier’s first home loss to an SEC opponent in the five years since he started coaching.
- Auburn’s final score — with 30 seconds left in the game — came after the interception of a Danny Wuerffel preposterous pass on 3rd & long when all we needed to do was run out the clock.
- I was sitting in the stands about 20 yards from the play.
Yes, that’s right. I was sitting right there. Just like Eli Manning’s touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress to win the Super Bowl against my Patriots, this one stung more because it happened so close to me I felt like I could have swatted the ball away. Florida came into the game the number one ranked team in the country and having beaten its previous five opponents by the ridiculous average of almost forty points per game. I will never forget how many thousands of us sat in stunned silence for almost an hour after the game ended, staring at the field in disbelief.
Florida State 23 – Florida 17 (January 1, 1995)
The Fifth Quarter in the French Quarter
Mercifully this is the only other loss on the list which I attended in person, so you can’t say that I’m bad luck for my Gators. The 1995 Sugar Bowl was the first of two Florida / Florida State “rematches” in New Orleans. The second one was a glorious 52-20 victory for Florida which earned them their first national championship. But the first one — called “Overtime” by the press — was a painful loss in what should have been a redemption game.
Five weeks earlier, on Thanksgiving weekend, Florida State somehow managed to score 28 fourth quarter points to eke out a tie in Tallahassee. The Sugar Bowl rematch was one of the most-anticipated college football games of the decade, and it lived up to the hype. FSU scored the first touchdown on a trick play, a 73-yard Warrick Dunn halfback pass to Omar Ellison, to put them up 10-3. Although the Gators would execute an 82-yard TD pass, the longest in Sugar Bowl history, later in the second quarter, another FSU score and a last-second field goal had the Seminoles ahead 20-10 at halftime.
The second half was a defensive grind and the Gators could never really get going. This game, like the Auburn debacle, ended on a late, back-breaking Danny Wuerffel interception — this one by FSU’s soon-to-be NFL star Derrick Brooks. We were supposed to win this game, to avenge the humiliation of “The Choke at Doak”, so it hurt even more than the shocker to the Tigers.
Florida 31 @ Florida State 31 (November 26, 1994)
The Choke at Doak
Not many regular season games merit their own Wikipedia entry. That alone should be enough to tell you how significant this game is in Florida history.
Some people might argue that a tie game doesn’t belong on a list of losses. Those people are morons. When you’ve got arguably the most dominating offense in the country, and a defense that’s only allowing an average of sixteen points per game, and you’re winning by FOUR TOUCHDOWNS with less than 14 minutes to go over your biggest rival on their field, and you find yourself looking at a scoreboard that reads 31-31 as time expires … well, I can guarantee you that the other team considers it a win. So you’re sure as hell going to consider it a loss.
Words cannot describe the frustration of watching the Seminoles score twenty-eight unanswered fourth-quarter points while the Gators simply couldn’t manage to grind down the clock at all. Florida managed to gain only 44 offensive yards in the final quarter of play, while the defense uncharacteristically allowed Florida State scoring drives of 84 yards, 60 yards, 73 yards, and 60 yards, the last of which came after a — you guessed it — Danny Wuerffel interception.
- Choke at Doak Still a Landmark
- The Choke at Doak on Wikipedia
- The Fifteen-Year Anniversary of The Choke at Doak
Nebraska 62 – Florida 24 (January 2, 1996)
How Many Tackles Can One Man Break?
In the weeks leading up to the 1996 Fiesta Bowl, much of the talk was that Florida’s speedy receivers and backs would run wild through the lumbering, huge, corn-fed Nebraska players. Spurrier’s “Fun ‘n Gun” offense was posting video game scores for much of the ’95 season, beating overmatched opponents by an average of twenty-eight points per game. (They scored more than fifty points four times that season.) The Gators were unstoppable.
And then they ran into a wall of red.
For just one of many pieces of evidence proving that Nebraska’s team literally pounded the Gators on that depressing night in Tempe, I ask you to consider the first play of the game. Florida’s future NFL wide receiver Jacquez Green caught the opening kickoff and was immediately destroyed by Nebraska tacklers, suffering a dislocated hip that would sideline him for almost a year.
Surprisingly the Gators still somehow took a 10-6 lead into the second quarter. It would be the only lead of the game for Florida, who promptly surrendered 29 unanswered points before halftime. The Cornhuskers would score another 27 points in the second half (to Florida’s 14) in a game that was just a completely brutal bloodbath for the Gators. If you thought Florida’s defense looked inept in the 2009 SEC Championship Game, then you would have spent much of January 2nd, 1996 with your jaw on the floor. In the most memorable run of his career, Nebraska’s Tommie Frazier broke at least seven tackles on a 75-yard run which left most Florida fans wondering if anything could stop him.
Nothing could. He ran for 199 yards in the game, at the time the most ever for an NCAA quarterback.
For the record: Nebraska gained 524 rushing yards. Florida had -28 rushing yards. (Yes, that’s a negative.)
- 1996 Fiesta Bowl Wikipedia entry
- Fiesta Bowl History
- 62 – 24
- ’95 Nebraska Cornuskers – The Greatest of All Time
Alabama 32 – Florida 13 (December 5, 2009)
An Epic Disaster
The Gators and the Crimson Tide officially locked their spots in the 2009 SEC Championship Game in early November. But these two teams had been on a collision course for Atlanta since the season started. Everyone knew it. Alabama wanted revenge for the fourth quarter humiliation they received in the 2008 SEC Championship Game at the hands of the eventual national champion Gators. Florida — led by Tim Tebow — had a single goal for 2009: an undefeated season and an inconceivable third national championship in four years.
There’s a reason the word inconceivable exists.
Florida was riding an absurd twenty-two game winning streak and entered the game 12 – 0 and ranked #1.
Alabama followed its crushing loss to Florida the previous year with an embarrassing loss to Utah in the Sugar Bowl, but then reeled off 12 consecutive wins in 2009 to guarantee and #2 ranking and their chance at revenge.
ESPN, Sports Illustrated, ABC, and even the USA Today billed it as “The Game of the Decade”, “The Game of the Century”, “The Biggest Game in the History of College Football”, and “The Apocalypse”. The two greatest defenses in the country were going to square off in what was expected to be a knock-down, drag-out, back-alley brawl.
Unfortunately only one of the teams bothered to bring their fighting spirit to Atlanta.
The Gators were manhandled the entire game, tossed around and beaten down like rag dolls. The Crimson Tide steamrolled around, over, and through the Florida defense as if they were playing Florida International. Alabama controlled the ball the entire game, finishing with a 2-to-1 advantage in time of possession, and midway through the 3rd quarter it felt like the game was already decided.
This loss was more painful than any other because it ended the string of winning that began with “The Promise”, Tebow’s post-game speech after the early-season loss to Mississippi that fueled their run which culminated in the 2008 national championship and wasn’t supposed to end until a victory in Pasadena.
“There is no more appropriate summary of Tim Tebow’s impact or career than the fact that yesterday, on the list of Google’s top trending searches, ‘John 16:33’ was No. 1 and ‘Tim Tebow Crying’ was No. 2.” — Dan Shanoff