Florida football: 5 signature Florida moments at the Cocktail Party
Steve Spurrier never got over losing to Georgia in 1966 as a player, a loss that at the time cost Florida what would have been its first SEC title. From that point forward, Spurrier took a special interest and pride in beating the Bulldogs, winning 11 of 12 contests as Florida’s head coach.
He also didn’t ever feel like a player who chose to attend Florida could achieve their goals without success against Georgia.
“(Spurrier) never said it was the biggest game of the year to him,” Ed Chester, an All-American defensive tackle who played for Spurrier from 1995-1998 told me this summer. “He would find other ways to emphasize how much it meant. Georgia was a league game, like Tennessee. Coach would motivate us and say if you beat Tennessee but lose to Georgia, your win over Tennessee doesn’t matter. His main thing was that at Florida, winning the Georgia game is key to every goal you set at the beginning of the season. Want to win the SEC East? Better beat Georgia. Want to win the SEC? Better beat Georgia. Want to have a chance at a national? Better beat Georgia.”
Spurrier’s success against Georgia — and in bringing a 3-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust SEC out of college football’s stone age — helped him earn the nickname “The Evil Genius” from longtime Atlanta Journal Constitution scribe Mark Bradley — along with the derision of generations of Bulldogs fans.
It also turned a rivalry long-dominated by Georgia on its head. Despite being on the wrong side of the Cocktail Party for most the rivalry’s first 60-plus years, the Gators have been dominant against Georgia since 1990, winning 21 of 28 games since.
In that span, Florida has won by double-digits or more 15 times, compared to just two such wins by Georgia, including the Bulldogs 42-7 demolition of the Gators a season ago. Florida has also posted an 8-3 mark in that span when both programs have entered Jacksonville ranked, though the Dawgs won the last such meeting and as a result the SEC East, in 2012.
The series has evened out again this decade (4-4 since 2010), with Florida floundering offensively in the post-Tebow era and Kirby Smart building Georgia back into the type of physical, fast, athletic team that made the program a perennial power at the height of the Vince Dooley era.
But all in all, it has been a good series to be a Gators fan over the past few decades, with Florida registering most the victories in that span and collecting a number of signature moments.
Here’s a look at five of Florida’s signature moments (and wins) in the Cocktail Party since 1990.
5. Errict Rhett Rumbles in the Rain, 1993
Played in a downpour and mud quagmire at the old Gator Bowl, Florida struggled to get grip the football and throw the ball the way Steve Spurrier’s Fun-‘N’-Gun required.
Spurrier turned to running back Errict Rhett, who carried the ball an astonishing 41 times for 183 yards to help Florida keep the ball nearly 35 minutes and hold off a masterful performance from Georgia quarterback Eric Zeier. It was the type of signature performance from Rhett that was why SDS recently named him one of the most underrated running backs in SEC history.
By game’s end, Rhett’s white jersey was a brown, orange and red mixture of mud and field paint, and the man who would go onto be Florida’s all-time leading rusher had done just enough to give the Gators a stirring 33-26 victory.
Most Georgia fans remember the game for a “phantom timeout” called by Anthone Lott in the game’s final moments and awarded to Florida only after Zeier had completed what appeared to be a game-tying touchdown pass.
But the game was truly decided in the third quarter, when Florida put together a remarkable 21-play, 80-yard drive that covered 11 minutes of game time. Rhett carried 13 times for 41 yards on that physically-bruising, soul-breaking drive, including the final play of the drive when he dove over left tackle for a 1-yard touchdown to give the Gators a 10-point lead they would never relinquish.
4. Chas Henry silences Todd Grantham and Georgia, 2010
Florida’s precipitous decline to college football’s mere mortals began in 2010, when a clearly distracted Urban Meyer and a team searching for an identity after the departure of Tim Tebow limped to a 4-3 start.
Florida used the week ahead of the Cocktail Party to tweak the offense, playing John Brantley as well as tight ends Trey Burton and Jordan Reed behind center at various times in the football game.
The move worked, reviving a moribund Gators offense and helping the Gators erase an early fourth-quarter deficit and get the game into overtime.
Unfortunately, Florida’s kicker was injured entering the game, which meant that following a Will Hill interception of Aaron Murray in overtime, the Gators had to rely on punter Chas Henry to attempt the game-winning field goal.
Moments before the kick, Mark Richt called a timeout to freeze Henry and then-Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham made a “choking gesture” directly to Henry.
Here’s how the Florida punter turned kicker responded.
In delicious irony, Grantham, of course, returns to the Cocktail Party this week on the Florida sideline.
3. Tebow breaks Herschel Walker’s SEC rushing touchdown record, 2009
Both Herschel and Tebow belong in conversations about the greatest college football players of all time. Both are definitively the best players in the history of their storied programs. Both won a Heisman, guided their teams to national championships and contended for others.
Only one, however, is the all-time leader in rushing touchdowns in the SEC.
That would be Tebow, who tallied 57 touchdowns as a three-year starter at Florida from 2006-2009.
Fittingly, Tebow waited until the Cocktail Party to break the record long held by Herschel, doing so on this beautiful 23-yard run in the first half of a dominant 41-17 Florida victory.
Ever the humble winner, Tebow reflected on the honor of passing Herschel after the Florida win.
“Breaking Herschel’s record means a lot,” Tebow told the media after the game. “Just to be mentioned in the same breath as Herschel Walker, it’s extremely humbling and a little bit breathtaking because it’s Herschel Walker. How am I going to be in the same league as Herschel Walker? I still can’t understand it. It’s pretty cool and it’s really special.”
2. Grossman’s drive to spoil Georgia’s undefeated season, 2002
Rex Grossman should have won the Heisman Trophy in 2001, but a year later, Spurrier was gone, Ron Zook had taken the reins, Grossman was nursing a sprained knee and Florida limped into the Cocktail Party unranked with a 5-3 record.
Meanwhile, Georgia entered the game unbeaten and ranked in the top-5, with only Florida truly in between the Bulldogs and a chance to play for the program’s first national championship in two decades.
Dawgs fans rolled into Jacksonville on Thursday night, filled the beach bars and talked for two days about how with Spurrier gone, the Gators’ run was over and order would be restored to the Cocktail Party universe.
The Dawgs were wrong.
In the only night game in recent Georgia-Florida memory, Grossman and Florida received the ball on their own 11-yard line trailing 13-12 late in the third quarter. Grossman promptly marched the Gators 89 yards and found tight end Ben Troupe in the end zone to give Florida a lead midway through the fourth quarter.
On the night, Grossman completed 36-of-46 passes for 339 yards, handing Georgia what would be their only loss in 2002 and denying Mark Richt what would be his best chance at a national championship in his 15 years as head coach in Athens.
1. Brandon Spikes lights up Knowshon Moreno, Florida’s revenge, 2008
This was the last meeting between the two programs where each team entered in the top 10 (until Saturday), but it was events from the game the year before that defined the conversation leading up to the 2008 game.
A year prior, of course, Georgia had cleared the bench and stormed the field to stomp in the end zone after taking an early lead over the Gators, a statement of intent and will in a game the Dawgs would dominate and win 42-30.
A year later, Florida remembered.
On just Georgia’s second play from scrimmage, Florida All-American LB Brandon Spikes blew threw a gap and flattened Georgia’s All-American Knowshon Moreno.
The hit set the tone for the game, and coupled with an 88-yard interception return from Joe Haden early in the third quarter, helped the Gators corral a potent Georgia offense until the offense finally got loose in the second half, turning a 14-3 halftime lead into a rout.
Late in the game, with Florida leading 49-10, Urban Meyer and the Gators exacted revenge for the “Georgia Stomp” by stopping the clock and using multiple timeouts, allowing the team — and Florida’s fans — to soak in the blowout victory a little longer.
The win remains the second-largest margin of victory for Florida in the series, and set Florida well on its way to winning the program’s third national championship.