He was Dougie again. Sophomore quarterback Doug Johnson stood
outside the empty Florida locker room last Saturday night and
tried to explain what it all meant to him: the Gators' 32-29
upset of 10-0 Florida State, his first good performance since a
one-game suspension in October, and the success of the screwball
rotation of Johnson and fifth-year senior quarterback Noah
Brindise, which showed again why Florida coach Steve Spurrier
has more guts than any 10 of his peers. Johnson didn't need a
Telestrator. "When Coach calls me Dougie, that's a good sign,"
Johnson said. "When he calls me Doug, that's a bad sign."
After the Gators lit up the No. 3 defense in the nation for 499
yards, Spurrier switched to all Dougie, all the time. He used
the nickname when he referred to Johnson's 63-yard
fourth-quarter pass to Jacquez Green, which set up the winning
touchdown: "Dougie checked to it. He saw it looked pretty good."
Then Spurrier used the name again--and again: "Dougie has been
through a lot. We've never given up on Dougie."
Johnson, who grew up minutes from Florida's Ben Hill Griffin
Stadium, had his hair slicked just so, and there was a hint of
the old cockiness in his eye. Just a hint, though. "The last six
weeks have been the worst I've ever experienced as an athlete,"
he said. "I had no confidence. That's never happened to me."
Against the Seminoles, Johnson completed 13 of 25 passes for 218
yards and one touchdown in 41 snaps. Brindise, the former
walk-on, went 5 for 9 for 100 yards in 26 snaps. (They
alternated on almost every play in the first two quarters, but
Spurrier sent Brindise in less frequently after halftime.)
Johnson didn't outshine teammate Fred Taylor, who ran for 162
yards and four touchdowns against a defense that had allowed
40.8 yards rushing per game, much less make anyone forget Danny
Wuerffel. But for one day at least, he made everyone forget the
Doug Johnson of Florida's previous five games. After having
guided the Gators to a 5-0 record and the No. 1 ranking, Johnson
had thrown four interceptions in a 28-21 loss to LSU on Oct. 11,
then sat out the Gators' game against Auburn the following week
after Spurrier discovered he'd missed curfew on the Thursday
night before the loss. In the two games Johnson had played since
then (he was benched for a game after throwing two interceptions
in a 37-17 loss to Georgia on Nov. 1), he had thrown for 134
yards, three interceptions and no touchdowns.
December 1, 1997
On Nov. 17 Spurrier showed his quarterbacks and receivers a
videotape of the Gators' 52-20 victory over the Seminoles last
January in the Sugar Bowl. "I was trying to show them a
quarterback [Wuerffel] who could throw on time and look off the
secondary," Spurrier said the next day. "We eyeball our
receivers up and down the field on just about every play. We're
just not quite as good as last year. We're using all the same
As gloomy as he sounded, Spurrier soon would conjure the kind of
idea that has caused Seminoles fans to call him the Evil Genius.
Though Spurrier said in his Tuesday press conference that
Brindise would start and "hopefully play the whole game," the
decision was etched in sand. The quarterback debate spilled over
into the 8:30 a.m. coaches' meeting on Wednesday. "As many
people as you ask, you get that many opinions, even within the
meeting room," running backs coach Carl Franks said after the
"We kept going over plays and saying, 'These are good for Noah.
These are good for Doug,'" Spurrier said. "Finally we said,
'Let's just run them in and out every play.'"
Spurrier saw several advantages to this. A shuttle would quell
his worries that the Seminoles might steal the Gators' signals.
Spurrier could coach his quarterback before each down. Johnson
and Brindise could play to their strengths: Johnson throwing
fades and crossing routes; Brindise handing off to Taylor.
Spurrier considered tossing freshman Jesse Palmer into the
rotation, too, but the logistics of juggling three quarterbacks
scared even him.
"If [the shuttle] works," Franks said to Spurrier in that
Wednesday coaches' meeting, "it adds to the length of great
things you've done."
"If it doesn't work, we'll look like a bunch of dummies,"
Brindise bought the idea immediately. Johnson was skeptical.
"But then I saw what Coach was trying to do," Johnson said. Last
Friday in their room at the Holiday Inn West in Gainesville,
Brindise and Johnson stayed up an hour after the 11 p.m. curfew
and went over the rotation. "We were in the room, so we didn't
miss curfew," Brindise said. "We thought everything through."
Spurrier had been doing the same. "I didn't know if we could get
them in and out of the game," he said of his quarterbacks after
it was over. "I had to think quickly tonight. Always think a
The Gators would get only one flag for delay of game, and the
one glitch their offense experienced came from an unlikely
source. In the first quarter, after Taylor scored to give the
Gators a 6-0 lead, he fumbled twice deep in Florida territory.
The first fumble was returned for a touchdown; the second led to
a Florida State field goal. Soon the Gators trailed 17-6.
"One of my teammates, Alex Willis, suggested I say a little
prayer," Taylor said. "Every time I came off the field, I would
say, 'Give us strength. Let us continue to play our hearts
out.'" Not exactly the Song of Songs, but it seemed to work.
Taylor's four-yard touchdown in the second quarter gave Florida
an 18-17 halftime lead. His 61-yard burst off right tackle early
in the third quarter put the Gators ahead 25-20.
Florida didn't score again until it got the ball with 2:38 to
play, trailing 29-25. The Seminoles' Sebastian Janikowski had
just kicked his third field goal of the game, a 20-yarder, and
for the sixth time in seven kickoffs he forced the Gators to
start from their 20. Johnson came to the line expecting to see
the Florida State secondary in a zone. Instead he saw cornerback
Samari Rolle and rover Shevin Smith lined straight up against
Green and Darrell Jackson. Johnson didn't hesitate. He switched
out of a slant over the middle to Green and signaled him to go
deep. When Green blew past Rolle, Johnson hit him at the
Seminoles 45. Green cut behind free safety Dexter Jackson and
raced across the field to the 17. Taylor got the rest in two
The win will probably put Florida in the Florida Citrus Bowl,
which is something of a shotgun wedding. Spurrier has ridiculed
the bowl ever since 1992, when it took 9-2 Georgia instead of
the 8-4 Gators. He has joked often about Tennessee's two
straight appearances in the Citrus while Florida was playing in
more prestigious venues. Now, though, it's Tennessee that's
within two victories of going to the Orange Bowl while Florida
seems destined for what Spurrier has referred to as the
After Saturday all will be forgiven, if not forgotten--a lesson
that Dougie Johnson has learned well.