College football is back, and as Week Two approaches an old rivalry is re-ignited. The Florida Gators spend their second week of the season on the road in Miami and find themselves in a match up against their in-state rivals, the Miami Hurricanes.
This rivalry goes back to 1938 and was played annually until 1987. Throughout the series there were many games that had fans on the edge of their seats…of the last 54 meetings, nearly half have been decided by just a touchdown or less.
But the match up of 1971 is what made the rivalry what it is. A true fight for respect and for the state of Florida.
Both teams entered the game with miserable seasons. The Gator quarterback John Reaves needed just 343 passing yards to break Jim Plunkett’s NCAA career passing record. Reaves said before entering the game, the record was the fuel for the fire…
“We weren’t having a great year. We lost two or three close games by a point or two, so we go in there and there wasn’t much to play for other than the possibility of breaking the national passing record.”
Reaves wasn’t the only one disappointed in the season…
Florida’s safety John Clifford said before the game started, emotions ran deep…
“I think that year it was just frustration. They had beaten us the year before at Florida Field where we dropped a ball right near end of a game for touchdown and then missed an extra point too. It was a great hard fought game. And we did play every year. We always played…it was one of our big time rivalries.”
The Gators held a commanding 45-8 lead well in the fourth quarter in the ’71 game. Miami was in possession of the ball and eating up the clock going for a pointless touchdown, and with Reaves needing a couple more yards for the record…Florida began to call time outs. Clifford recalls his team growing anxious.
“I think there were a couple time-outs we called and one of the players went over there and asked coach and he said no and said no. Coach must have thought we were going to make it look like a professional wrestling match and have our helmets fly off. But he finally gave in to the idea ‘okay lets let them score’ but I don’t think he thought we’d do it in that fashion.”
The fashion in which Clifford is talking about is as follows; as Miami snapped the ball the entire Florida defense dropped to the ground…allowing Miami running back John Hornibrook to score an uncontested 14 yard touchdown.
Reaves watched from the sideline, and his initial response was priceless.
“Heck…I didn’t know what to think, ya know! I really didn’t.”
Back on the field and back in possession of the ball, Reaves was able to find Carlos Alvarez for a 15 yard gain, and break the record.
To this day nearly 42 years later, fans of college football look back on that game as the Florida Flop.
On Saturday Florida will play the Hurricanes for the first time in five years. What some considered the biggest rivalry in the Sunshine State….may end with this September 7th game.
Clifford reflects on the spirit of the rivalry and thinks the current Gator players respect all that once was.
“Even though we haven’t played them in many years, I think the players still understand it’s a Florida thing. They’ll get pretty fired up for it.”
However disappointing it may be, it is not surprising that the series is coming to an end. With the SEC schedule possibly expanding to nine conference games and an annual series against Florida State, it makes sense Florida wouldn’t want to carry out another series with a power conference team.
Maybe this final match up between the Gators and the Hurricanes will be remembered and talked about as much as the Florida Flop.