The University of Florida officially recognizes a football history that dates back to 1906. Rival fans, however, will sometimes ask if the Gators had a football team before 1990, the beginning of Steve Spurrier’s 12-year tenure as head coach.

It’s unfair to the Gators of the 1960s with coach Ray Graves or the 1980s under Charley Pell and Galen Hall to completely write off the pre-Spurrier era, but it’s true that Florida reached a new level of success and national prominence when the Head Ball Coach returned to his alma mater.

After a three-year period of mediocrity following Spurrier’s departure for the NFL, Florida brought a different kind of offensive genius to Gainesville, and some of the best seasons in school history occurred during his short tenure.


1984: 9-1-1 (5-0-1), SEC Champions (vacated), No. 3 final AP ranking

For people who like to joke about the Gators not existing before 1990, the mid-1980s Gators would like a word with them.

Pell was the head coach for a 1-1-1 start, but was fired due to multiple NCAA violations. The Gators, led by QB Kerwin Bell, won the eight remaining games under interim coach Hall, including victories over No. 8 Georgia (27-0) in Jacksonville and No. 12 Florida State (27-17) in Tallahassee.

The final coaches poll had the Gators at No. 7 while the Associated Press ranked them No. 3. Multiple publications, including The New York Times, even named UF their national champion for the ’84 season. Despite Florida’s first-place finish in the conference, the SEC voted to strip the Gators of the SEC title and made them ineligible to win it in 1985 and 1986.

The ‘85 Gators also went 9-1-1 on probation.

1990: 9-2 (6-1), first place in the SEC, No. 12 final AP ranking
The Spurrier era got off to a strong start, highlighted by wins over Alabama (17-13), No. 4 Auburn (48-7) and Georgia (38-7). Quarterback Shane Matthews set a school record with 2,952 yards.

Despite the lack of hardware, it’s quite an impressive season for a first-year coach. Spurrier adamantly maintains that it is not fair that his first team at Florida is not properly recognized as SEC champions due to the punishment for violations under Hall.

1997: 10-2, No. 4 final AP ranking
The 1997 campaign did not end in a championship, but it did result in two big rivalry moments.

Peyton Manning took one last crack at the Gators in ‘97, but even without Danny Wuerffel on the opposing sideline, Florida still got the better of the Volunteers legend in a 33-20 game. To this day, Florida fans will remind anyone and everyone that despite Manning’s myriad accomplishments, he never beat the Gators.

The ‘97 season also featured what is known in Florida folklore as “The Greatest Game In The Swamp.” No. 2 FSU was 10-0 when it came to face No. 10 UF, 8-2 at the time. The back-and-forth battle featured Spurrier alternating quarterbacks Doug Johnson and Noah Brandise almost every play. Johnson led a thrilling final drive that gave the Gators a 32-29 edge for the win that spoiled the Seminoles’ season.

On the CBS broadcast, Florida’s two-loss season was referred to as a down year – a perfect summary of the Spurrier era.


Spurrier’s Fun ‘n’ Gun offense was firing on all cylinders in 1995. Danny Wuerffel was recognized as a Heisman Trophy finalist in a stellar junior season (210-of-325, 3,266 yards, 35 TD).

Florida’s perfect regular season included blowouts such as the come-from-behind 62-37 win over Tennessee (the Volunteers had led 30-14 in the second quarter) and 52-17 over Georgia, a game affectionately known as “Half A Hundred Between The Hedges,” for UF’s only trip to Stanford Stadium since the game moved to Jacksonville in 1933.

The fun came to a screeching halt in the Fiesta Bowl when Nebraska steamrolled Florida 62-24 for a national championship.


Tim Tebow returned to Florida with the goals of a repeat national championship and the first undefeated season in school history. It didn’t quite happen, and for most UF fans, 2009 a season to forget.

While the ’09 campaign is not a fan favorite, it checks almost all of the boxes for a great season – no home losses, perfect record against the Big 3 rivals (Tennessee, Georgia and Florida State) and a bowl game victory.

All the positives, however, were ultimately outweighed by one big negative – a 32-13 loss in the SEC Championship Game to Alabama, the eventual BCS champions. Tebow is often mocked for crying on the sideline, but he probably wasn’t alone that night in the Georgia Dome.

The failed repeat bid was so taxing on Urban Meyer that he announced his retirement prior to the Sugar Bowl, only to change his mind days later. The season ended on a high note with a 51-24 win over Cincinnati in Tebow’s swan song.


No one ever doubted Ron Zook had an eye for talent, but it took Meyer’s coaching to get results from that talent. Two stud freshmen, Tebow and Percy Harvin, gave a loaded veteran team the boost it needed to go from 9-3 and a Citrus Bowl win to 12-1 and national champions.

Chris Leak, arguably the most under-appreciated Gators quarterback, wasn’t the ideal fit for Meyer’s spread option offense, but the coach modified his system to fit Leak’s skill set. The Florida offense rarely erupted in the regular season – as evidenced by Florida’s wins of 21-20 over Tennessee, 21-14 over Georgia and 21-14 over Florida State – but a veteran defense did the heavy lifting while the offense scored just enough.

In what could have been a cruel twist of fate, Spurrier almost spoiled Florida’s second national championship season. Defensive end Jarvis Moss blocked both an extra point and a game-ending field goal attempt to help UF escape with a 17-16 win over Spurrier’s Gamecocks, preventing a loss that would have eliminated Florida from the national championship race.

Everything came together for a 41-14 victory over Ohio State that started an SEC run of seven consecutive national championships. It’s hard to imagine it happening today, but after the conference championship games, Meyer had to publicly lobby for Florida, the SEC Champion, to get the opportunity to play for the national championship instead of an all Big Ten title game (OSU-Michigan rematch).


Tebow’s Heisman might have come in 2007, but his most memorable season at Florida will always be 2008. Following an upset loss to Ole Miss at home in September, Tebow famously promised that no one would work harder than he and his teammates going forward.

The words proved prophetic as Florida seemingly took Tebow’s speech to heart and became a new team with renewed focus and determination. For the next 10 games, the Gators were an unstoppable force with an abundance of offensive weapons (Tebow, Harvin, TE Aaron Hernandez, WR Louis Murphy, WR Riley Cooper, RB Chris Rainey, RB Jeff Demps) that overwhelmed opposing defenses. When the Gators had their backs against the wall (the fourth quarter against Alabama, the second half against Oklahoma), Tebow found a way to will his team to win.

The defense, coached by Charlie Strong, was arguably just as talented. The depth chart on that side of the ball included future pros CB Joe Haden, CB Janoris Jenkins, S Major Wright, S Will Hill, S Ahmad Black, LB Brandon Spikes, DE Carlos Dunlap, DL Jermaine Cunningham and DE Justin Trattou. It’s no surprise that the ‘08 Gators, which Meyer has called the best in college football history, averaged a 30-point victory.


If you’re a Gators fan, you couldn’t script a better season than 1996 – Wuerffel won his Heisman (207-of-360, 3,625 yards, 39 TD); the Gators won an SEC Championship; and a 52-20 revenge victory over arch-rival Florida State brought the first national championship to Gainesville.

The combination of Spurrier’s high-powered offense and Bob Stoops’ defense led to many lopsided wins for the Gators, who outscored opponents 612 to 228 on the year. UF managed to crack the 40-point mark 10 times that season. In the friendly confines of The Swamp, Florida’s lowest home-game scoring output was a 51-10 thumping of No. 16 Auburn.

Arguably, what might be most remembered about the ’96 championship is how unique it was to the pre-BCS, pre-playoff arrangement. Not many teams could afford to end the regular season with a loss and claim a national title two games later as No. 3, but the Gators did it.

Following a 24-21 loss to Florida State in the season finale, No. 4 Florida had one game left to play, the SEC Championship against No. 11 Alabama, before it would learn its bowl fate. The SEC title game suddenly took on increased importance when an unranked Texas team upset No. 3 Nebraska 37-27 in the Big 12 Championship Game earlier in the day. If the Cornhuskers had won, they would have been No. 1 Florida State’s opponent in the Sugar Bowl, but the door opened for UF to play its way into a rematch. The Gators punched their ticket with a 45-30 win over the Crimson Tide.

Thanks to No. 4 Ohio State’s upset of No. 2 Arizona State on Jan. 1 in the Rose Bowl (back before the BCS guaranteed No. 1 vs No. 2), the Jan. 2 contest between the Gators and Seminoles became the undisputed national championship game. In the debut of the shotgun in Spurrier’s offense, Wuerffel, who had been battered in the loss at Tallahassee on what Spurrier called late hits, was free from the pressure of Florida State’s pass rush and able to lead the Gators to their seventh 50-plus point performance of the campaign.