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No more laters for the Gators

College Football
Florida quarterback Danny Wuerffel looks to the Superdome scoreboard with delight during the Gators' 52-20 pasting of rival Florida St. in the 1997 Sugar Bowl. Wuerffel stood tall in the 96-97 season, winning the national championship and the Heisman Trophy while setting a new standard for college quarterbacks.
Wide World Photos

The Florida Gators pulled themselves out of the swamp and captured their first national championship with their 52-20 Sugar Bowl win over arch enemy Florida State. Finally, head Gator Steve Spurrier could breathe. The national title that had long eluded him at Florida was at last in hand.

The absolutely rabid FSU defense that had ravaged the Florida offense with six sacks and three interceptions in their previous meeting, just one month previous, was tamer this time and Florida's Heisman-winning quarterback Danny Wuerffel was able to operate. Operate he did, completing 18 of 34 passes for 309 yards and three TDs while also running 16 yards for one of his own at the end of the third quarter to finally bury the Seminoles in the rare bowl rematch.

That the Gators would even get the chance to play for it all seemed in doubt after their loss to FSU in the second #1 vs. #2 game for Florida in as many seasons. After their loss to the 'Noles, Florida dropped from first to fourth in the polls and had Texas not knocked off third-ranked Nebraska in the Big 12 Championship Game, the Gators may well have been playing against Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl. But Texas head coach John Mackovic showed heavy mettle and made the call to pass on fourth and inches from the Texas 28 with the Longhorns clinging to a three point lead with 2:38 to go. The pass was good for 61 yards, setting up a touchdown that sealed the Huskers fate.

Arizona St., thanks the slippery moves of quarterback Jake Plummer, was in position to deny the Gators as well. All the second-ranked Sun Devils needed was a Rose Bowl win over fourth-ranked Ohio State to cap an undefeated year and stake their claim at the national title. The Pac-10 champs looked like a lock for the national crown after Plummer slithered into the endzone to put ASU up 17-14 with 1:40 to play. But Buckeye backup quarterback Joe Germaine ended any controversy before it could start with his own heart-stopping heroics in Pasadena, throwing a 5-yard strike to freshman wide-out David Boston with 19 seconds left to lift OSU to the school's sixth Rose Bowl win. Ohio State's dramatic Wednesday win put Florida back in control of their own destiny the following night.

If the sons of Spurrier could avenge their Nov. 30th loss in Tallahassee then they would have the title that had nearly slipped through their hands after being ranked number one for 10 consecutive weeks.

Well, as you know by now, they did and it was and fate, this time, did not rain on the swamp.


Information Please® Database, © 2007 Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.

1996-97 SeasonFinal AP Top 25 Poll

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