First came the lefthanded Mira-cle, then the infamous Gator Flop and, more recently, Schnellenberger's revenge, all of which culminated last year in the unforgettable last-minute field goal the kid begged to try that hit the left post and plopped through to win the game. Now add this to the storied history of the Florida-Miami rivalry: the impossible, unbelievable, falling-backward one-handed touchdown catch by Florida Fullback James Jones with 1:48 left that beat Miami 17-14 before a crowd of 71,864 at Gainesville's Florida Field last Saturday.
While Florida-Miami may not be made of quite the same stuff as Texas-Oklahoma or even Harvard-Yale, in recent years it has been a marvelously entertaining series, one that has suddenly taken on real significance. Both teams were in just about everybody's preseason Top 20, including SI's, which had Miami 13th and Florida 18th, and Sport magazine picked Florida No. 1. That the Hurricanes came into Gainesville last weekend taunting and teasing as winners of the last four games in the series was even more of an indignity to the faithful Gator fans of north Florida than having to live within the same state borders as the uppity, carpetbagging, ultra-liberal, if not downright sinful, heathens of Miami itself. I'M A GATOR HATER posters were festooned all over UM's Coral Gables campus. Bumper stickers read I BRAKE FOR ALL ANIMALS EXCEPT GATORS. Miami students sported gross T shirts. The Hurricanes' outstanding senior quarterback, Jim Kelly, wore one to an on-camera interview with Dick Schaap of ABC News that read GATORS EAT BOOGERS. "I want everybody to know I hate Gators," said Kelly, in every other respect the all-American boy. "Can you find another shirt?" asked Schaap politely. Kelly obliged. Said Defensive Tackle Tony Chickillo, "The season's not complete unless we get to stomp some Gator meat."
But the insults that most enraged the Gators were cries of "Chicken!" from Miami fans. Florida has indicated that its quest for greatness calls for a review of its schedule. That schedule, which includes six opponents from the Southeastern Conference as well as the state's other big-time football school, Florida State, might not have a spot for independent and private Miami next season, or ever after. It's not that Florida's afraid of Miami, y'understand. Florida wants to play Miami, but it prefers to do what, say, Alabama has always done. That is, load up the non-conference part of the schedule with cream puffs. No, no, not cream puffs, say the Gators. We just want to do what's most beneficial for Florida. Which is why Miami is calling Florida chicken. The Florida game is the biggest by far for UM, while Florida's opinion of the Hurricanes, though no Gator official would be caught dead saying it publicly, is "Who needs these guys?"
Hurricane Coach Howard Schnellenberger, who came to Miami the same year (1979) that Charley Pell took over at Florida, has declared, "We'll play [Florida] anyplace, anytime." Soon after arriving in Gainesville, Pell asked that, starting in 1981, the Miami game be switched from the end of the season—it usually followed Auburn, Georgia, Kentucky and FSU—to the beginning, so that the Gators would be fresh when they played the Hurricanes. Also, because Florida was tired of playing to quarter-full houses in the Orange Bowl, it demanded a flat $100,000 instead of 50% of the gate. Schnellenberger agreed to both demands. Miami then went out and beat Florida 31-7 in the last game of '80, tacking on an in-your-face field goal on the final play in retaliation for Gator fans' pelting Miami players and coaches with oranges, tangerines and ice cubes during the game. The Hurricanes then beat Florida 21-20 in the first game of the '81 season on a 55-yard field goal with 40 seconds remaining, only because Kicker Danny Miller begged for a chance to try it. By the way, the game drew 73,817 fans to the Orange Bowl, and $100,000 was about what the concessions did that afternoon.
Before this year's game, Schnellenberger said, "It's inconceivable in a series like this, that's gone 44 years with a one-year interruption for a major war, that suddenly there's a scheduling problem."
At which Pell snapped, "Howard has never discussed it with me, and I don't like anybody telling anybody else what I think 'cause I'm quite capable of doing that myself." After that retort, Pell deferred all questions on scheduling to Athletic Director Bill Garr, who said, "We traditionally have played six conference games plus two intrastate rivals, and in 48 years we've never won an SEC title. Now, we're doing something wrong, am I right?"
To rankle the Gators even more, Schnellenberger has staked claim to wide territorial recruiting rights in football-rich Florida. "In 1979 we drew a line east to west from Vero Beach and created the state of Miami," he says. "In 1980 we annexed Orlando. Then, last year, in the still of the night, we annexed Tampa." Schnellenberger also brazenly declared that this is Miami's year to "Go for it," meaning the national championship.
Stories of past Miami heroics and dastardly Gator deeds are told and retold by Hurricane fans. The lefthanded pass by righty George Mira that beat Florida in 1961 is in no danger of being forgotten, nor is the infamous Gator Flop of 1971. Florida (3-7) was beating Miami (4-5) 45-8 in the Orange Bowl, with the Hurricanes driving in the final minutes. Gator Quarterback John Reaves needed 14 yards to break Jim Plunkett's NCAA career passing-yardage record. The Florida defense felt the Miami offense was deliberately stalling to deprive Reaves of his opportunity for the record. So with Miami on the Gator eight-yard line, Florida called time out. On the next snap the Gator defense dropped flat to the turf, allowing Miami Quarterback John Hornibrook to trot in for a touchdown. Reaves then got his record, but the stunt stuck in Miami's craw.
This year the pregame hype had been so intense, chances seemed slim that the game would live up to expectations. That seemed the case in the first half, when both teams gave up the ball on a fumble and an interception. Hurricane Halfback Mark Rush fumbled on the Florida one-yard line on Miami's first possession. Pell ran Jones and Running Back Lorenzo Hampton at the young Miami defenders with great success, and early in the second quarter Florida's own Golden Boy quarterback, 6'2", 218-pound Wayne Peace, scored the game's first touchdown on a bootleg from the Miami five.
Miami then immediately marched 78 yards for the tying touchdown. But it was an ugly drive. On first down at the Florida 47, speedster Rocky Belk, the Hurricanes' only experienced wide receiver, dropped a perfect pass from Kelly. On second down, Kelly, who would get excellent protection all afternoon from his superb line, seemed loath to run with an open field ahead of him and all his receivers covered. He made two yards, and Miami might have been in big trouble if Linebacker Wilber Marshall and Cornerback Ivory Curry hadn't taken an extra-big Gator bite out of Kelly. The personal-foul penalty they drew kept the Hurricane drive alive. A pass-interference infraction, against Curry, and an offsides also helped keep the Miami drive going, until Kelly hit Tight End Glenn Dennison with a six-yard pass for the touchdown.
Schnellenberger has had no qualms about placing the entire burden of Miami's season on the 6'3", 215-pound Kelly's broad shoulders. "He's the most productive college quarterback I've ever been around, and that includes Namath," said Schnellenberger, who was an assistant under Bear Bryant at Alabama in the Namath years, 1962-64. "How well we do is basically up to him." No less an authority than Earl Morrall, Miami's quarterback coach, thinks not only that Kelly will be an excellent signal-caller in the pros, but also that "coming out of a pro system like Miami's, he'll adjust to the NFL much more quickly than most guys." Adds Mira, most of whose school passing records Kelly has already broken, "He's got toughness. That you can't teach."
Toughness indeed. By halftime Florida's Jim Gainey had booted a 38-yard field goal to put the Gators ahead 10-7, and Kelly hit the air-conditioned Miami locker room steaming over a mere 56 yards passing on seven completions. His receivers had dropped at least four strikes, but the line had done colossal work in the heat. At game time the temperature on the field was 108°. In fact, Kelly had been indecisive, not in control. "I was letting our team down," he said.
After Miami stopped the Gators on their first third-quarter possession, Kelly, who ended up completing 18 of 30 passes for 170 yards, directed an elegant 86-yard touchdown drive that consumed nearly seven minutes. He mixed handoffs to Rush, Keith (brother of Archie) Griffin and Speedy Neal and completed five straight passes. The last throw, a 27-yarder to Rush, set up a one-yard plunge by Rush that gave the Hurricanes a 14-10 lead.
Miami's defense stopped Florida once more, and the Hurricanes mounted a drive that carried into the fourth quarter. Again Kelly was magnificent, completing four more passes in a row until Curry, with a lot of mistakes to atone for, tipped away a streaker for Belk that might have put the game away. When the Hurricane drive stalled at the Florida 15, Miami still had a chance to go up by seven, but Jeff Davis narrowly missed a 31-yard field-goal attempt. The Gators drove to the Miami 22, but were stopped there with 5:37 to go. "I wouldn't say we had a letdown then," said Peace. "It was more like a sigh, you know, like dang."
"When we didn't make that first down I was very disappointed," said Pell. "I began to think it might be the end. But when I saw the look in the eyes of our defense...well, I thought we might get another shot."
Miami surely didn't think so. Schnellenberger figured that, at worst, any kind of decent punt would put Florida into a desperate hole even though Peace, the third-best passer in Florida history behind Reaves and Steve Spurrier, was almost finished with an 18-for-24, 220-yard day. After the Hurricanes failed to pick up a first down, Greg LaBelle's punt carried only 35 yards, and the Gators took over on their own 39 with 4:02 left.
To this point the Miami defense had played a nearly perfect second half, and when Peace dropped back on the fourth play of the series, Middle Guard Tony Fitzpatrick had a solid hand around his ankle. But Peace shook him and found Dwayne Dixon streaking across the middle. Dixon made the catch, broke two tackles and went 27 yards to the Miami 18. It was time for another chapter to be added to Gator-Hurricane history.
With less than two minutes left, Offensive Coordinator Mike Shanahan called for a 32 naked pass right, a pass-run option for the quarterback. It was the same play Peace had scored on, but the Hurricanes had since shut it off several times. "I was kind of nervous about it," said Peace. "The tackle shot out and cut off my running lane. I looked to the tight end first and he was covered." Jones ran to where he was supposed to be—seven yards downfield toward the right sideline. But when he saw Peace looking elsewhere, he drifted back. In truth, he said, he had no idea where he was. Besides, he was playing without his contact lenses and everything was a little blurry. And, oh yes, he was suffering from the heat. And the pass was wobbly and high.
Jones was backpedaling and stumbling toward the right foam pylon that marks the goal line when he saw the shape of the ball coming. He jumped, and as he fell he threw his arms upward. He felt the flat part of the ball strike the palm of his right hand, so he reflexively pulled the arm in as he went down on his back, dragging both feet along the sideline. His teammates piled on top of him in a delirium of joy. "I looked up through the bodies and saw the referee put his hands up, and I thought, 'Oh, I must have scored a touchdown.' " Pell called the catch a "Willie Mays deluxe."
No one, except the officials, could figure how Jones scored, because he appeared to be down before his momentum carried him across the goal line. That's something the Hurricanes will mull over while they try to figure out how to win the national championship with no better than a 10-1 record—"Our goal hasn't changed," said Schnellenberger—and how to win the Florida game next year, if there is a Florida game next year.