Don Gaffney made history by becoming the University of Florida’s first African American quarterback. All Gaffney wanted to do was play quarterback at the University of Florida. The 19-year-old college sophomore wish became a reality on Nov. 3, 1973, after former head coach Doug Dickey returned to his Alma Mater in 1970 to become the head coach for the Gators. The Gators were on a four-game losing streak entering a late October bye week.
Dickey also decided to try something new with the offense and get the Gators back on track. Dickey wanted to showcase Gaffney’s dual-threat talents. Just Minutes before kickoff, Gaffney was named to start. Gaffney would lead UF to their first-ever win at Auburn to spur a five-game winning streak, dubbed “The November to Remember.” “The November to Remember,” run would definitely be one to remember as Florida defeated Georgia, Kentucky and Miami to go undefeated that month and close out the regular season by demolishing Florida State, 49 – 0.
Hunger for Success
Meanwhile, Dickey and Gaffney had one goal in mind. That was to succeed and win championships but were unsuccessful during their three seasons together in Gainesville. On the field, Gaffney became an All-SEC performer in 1975. The Gators would go on to the Sugar Bowl in 1974. They won 22 of 30 games after the quarterback change.
The Gators would always come up short. They lost high-stakes games, but Dickey’s impact went beyond wins and losses. He brought a new era of football to the University of Florida.
“Coach was out looking for the best players — period,” Gaffney said. “He protected his players. That’s one of the things we respected and loved him for.”
Dealing with Racism
Additionally, Gaffney dealt with racism. His car was vandalized, people were booing him, and even received death threats. Dickey even got his fair share of hate. He got letters from the Ku Klux Klan, hate from Jacksonville and some teammates were not happy about the situation. Gaffney describes playing football as an African American as ugly.
The Gators played Ole Miss and ruined their homecoming week after beating them 16-0. Gaffney recalls the n-word was said so much that even the referee used it after he went to go confront the ref. That wasn’t gonna stop Gaffney from playing some of the best football Florida has ever seen.
Dickey left Knoxville, Tennessee, to join Florida in 1970. He would inherit the first two black players for Florida. Receiver Willie Jackson Sr and Cornerback Leonard George gave Dickey advice about adding more black players to the roster. Every year, more were added to the team. Gaffney’s 1972 class was the fourth featuring Black players. Dickey recruited more African American players to make a statement. He wanted to show the University of Florida would recruit more Black players.
Don Gaffney Making a Difference
Overall, Gaffney is proud of what he has accomplished at UF. He was given a chance to turn football into something bigger than he could ever imagine.