The Night the Florida Gators Hit a Brick Wall, and Then Were Run Over By It

A Florida Gators’ fan is asked a question–“best college football team ever?” What’s their answer? The 1996 Gators? The 2006 squad? What about the 2008 team? Sadly, it’s not a Florida team. Sadder, the answer is an easy one that brings on instant nausea. They begrudgingly respond with the only logical answer in their mind.

Tommie Frazier - 1995 Nebraska Cornhuskers

“The 1995 Nebraska Cornhuskers.”

In 1995, I was a junior in high school. I had already decided my college destination. Even if I wouldn’t apply for a few months, I had known I would attend the University of Florida for years. For many of those years, I’ll admit that I knew very little of the school itself. I didn’t have a family full of alums or even neighbors that openly touted their affiliation with UF. What I did have was an unhealthy obsession with a football team. And in 1995, that obsession reached new, glorious heights.

The Gators would beat Tennessee and that Peyton Manning guy by 25 points. They would travel to LSU and Auburn on consecutive Saturdays and come away with victories against two ranked opponents. Georgia? Ha! 52-17. No. 6 FSU fell to the mighty Gators 35-24. Arkansas stood no chance in the SEC Championship Game and Florida came away with a 34-3 win, securing their spot in the national title game. That meant the 12-0 (yes, an undefeated season prior to the bowl game) Gators were headed to Tempe, Arizona to face the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the Fiesta Bowl for all the marbles, the whole shebang, all that and a bag of chips, and whatever else you want to use to describe the national championship.

And Florida had stars, plenty of them, but one above all others. Danny Wuerffel was front and center, and rightfully so. His dream of a national championship would be fulfilled just one year later, but it felt within reach following the 1995 season. There he was, with Steve Spurrier behind him, directing one of the nation’s most explosive offenses. Nebraska was favored by three, but many believed Wuerffel and the Gators would be too much for the Cornhuskers’ defense. This, despite the fact that Nebraska had faced three top-10 teams during the regular season and had held them to an average of 16.3 points (admittedly skewed by allowing No. 10 Kansas only three points, but impressive nonetheless).

Wuerffel’s counterpart on Nebraska’s offense was Tommie Frazier (a name ever ingrained in the minds of Florida fans, and not in a good way). Frazier threw the ball half as much as Wuerffel did, wasn’t as accurate, and didn’t account for nearly as many touchdowns through the air. Frazier excelled, though, at managing one of the deadliest offenses we’ve ever seen in college football. The ‘Huskers option offense produced six players that would carry that ball at least 50 times. Only one averaged under 6.2 yards per carry. Two others carried the ball 22 times or more and both averaged over 8.4 yards per carry. By comparison, Nebraska didn’t throw the ball much, but they didn’t need to.

Heading into the game, the Gators were scoring 44.5 points per game, an impressive number. They had never scored less than 28 and had gone over 50 four times (and scored 49 once). I liked it. We all liked it. Very much. Then there was Nebraska. The Cornhuskers were averaging 52.4 points per game, had never scored less than 35, and had scored over 50 five times (with two games in which they put up 49). From a pure points-production standpoint, if the Gators were good, the ‘Huskers were better. There are many other factors to take into consideration when looking at these numbers. For instance, Florida’s strength of schedule ranked in at No. 16 that season. But Nebraska’s wasn’t much further down the list at No. 24.

The game began with hope. Florida scored first and, after allowing Nebraska to get on the board, scored again. The Gators were ahead 10-6 at the end of the first quarter and the outlook was bright. While the ‘Huskers had reached the end zone, so had the Gators and many were still wondering if the Nebraska defense could stop Florida. Then would come the second quarter.

Getting punched in the gut hurts. You momentarily lose your breath and struggle to find it as the pain in your stomach builds. This wasn’t that. This was much worse. This was November 26, 1994 (look it up if you must) all over again with the exception that that game ended in a tie at least (we can salvage that much, can’t we?). This would not end that way. Not even close. This was having Ryu come to life and hadouken you into a new zip code, to the tune of 29-0.

I can’t imagine what was said in the Gators’ locker room during halftime, nor do I want to. I heard my share of angry halftime locker room speeches during high school. I’m sure they didn’t register on the same level as this one. Florida was down 35-10 with a half to play. It wasn’t looking good. Even if the Gators could kick start their offense, how would they stop Nebraska? Well, they wouldn’t. While the fireworks wouldn’t continue as rapidly, the grand finale hadn’t come either. It would, with less than one minute remaining in the third quarter.

Florida had scored to cut (ha) the lead to 42-18. Nebraska got the ball back and on second down from their own 25 unleashed one of the most memorable plays in the history of college football (which is also possibly the most painful for Gators’ fans despite it happening when the game was already out of reach). Actually, Frazier unleashed it. There was nothing spectacular about what the other ‘Huskers on the field at the time did. It wasn’t a case of a perfect play or an amazing block that sprung Frazier into the opening. In reality, five Gators had a more than great opportunity to bring Frazier down (your count may be slightly different depending on how you define a true missed tackle). At the time, it felt like closer to 50.

I just rewatched the play for the first time in many, many years. It doesn’t hurt any less. It was the game’s most dangerous offensive weapon taking over on the game’s most important stage. If the game was out of reach before the play, the mercy rule should have been put into effect after Frazier’s run. Frazier rushed for 604 yards during the 1995 regular season. He rushed for 199 against the Gators.

When it all came to an end, Florida had fallen to Nebraska 62-24. What could have been the biggest moment in the program’s history became one of the worst. Attempting to put a cap on what had been a great season, the Gators ran into the best team in the history of college football. Some will say 1971 Oklahoma and others will mention 1972 USC. For this fan and many others out there, there is no debate. Even without suiting up in orange and blue and being on that field, we felt the shear power that Nebraska team had. It was painfully amazing and at the same time amazingly painful.

Exactly one year later, the Gators would accomplish what they hoped they would have on January 2, 1996. There would be three national titles in all following the destruction in Tempe. We like to think that loss propelled the Gators into the 1996 season with a chip on their shoulders. That 38-point championship game loss became a 32-point championship game win. As much as we’d love to have that game back, the result may not have been different. Whatever fuel it gave the Gators to power them to the 1996 championship is all we can take from it. That has been good enough for us for many years and will have to be for many more.

My Most Gut-Wrenching Sports Moment

GAINESVILLE, FL - NOVEMBER 13: A Florida Gators fan looks on dejected during a game against the South Carolina Gamecocks at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on November 13, 2010 in Gainesville, Florida. The Gamecocks beat the Gators 36-14. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)I was listening to The Scott Van Pelt show the other day and he and Ryen Russillo were discussing Boise State’s overtime loss to Nevada and Kyle Brotzman’s missed kicks. Van Pelt and Russillo were talking about how the end of that game has to be a Broncos’ fan’s most gut-wrenching sports moment ever. I can agree with that. While it seems unlikely that Auburn or Oregon will lose, there is still a chance either could slip up, but if they do, Boise State will no longer be the team taking their place in the National Championship game. After all the talk about how the Broncos belong in title discussions, they didn’t get through the regular season.

Van Pelt and Russillo went on to talk about their own most gut-wrenching moments. Van Pelt recalled Duke and Jay Williams blasting Maryland and Russillo went on about two of the usual Boston Red Sox moments – Bill Buckner and Aaron Boone.

This of course made me think about my own moment. I, like most people, am a fan of a number of teams across a variety of sports. I could point to one of the Orlando Magic’s NBA Finals appearances, but I’m a passive Magic and NBA fan (which is funny because I used to LOVE everything about the NBA) so while Nick Anderson’s missed free throws will always be remembered, they were far from gut-wrenching. Ray Rice provided many moments that might make any USF fan puke, but it’s hard – when looking at the entire picture of those seasons – to determine how much of an impact they really had. So I turn to the team I’m most passionate about – the Florida Gators.

The moment is easy to pick. It’s actually a series of moments put all together that repeatedly kick me in the stomach even almost 15 years later. But while it can all be combined for a night of pain for Florida and Gators’ fans, one moment stands above the rest. One moment is burned into my mind so much so that I can accurately replay it in my head without needing to watch the highlight.

By now you already know which moment I’m talking about. It happened on January 2, 1996. The #2 Florida Gators faced the #1 Nebraska Cornhuskers in the Fiesta Bowl for the National Championship. These were two dominant teams throughout the course of the season. The Huskers’ closest game was a 13-point victory. The Gators’ was 11. Nebraska was the favorite according to Vegas, but many thought Florida had a good chance to win because of Danny Wuerffel and the Gators’ ridiculously efficient passing game. The result was a 62-24 Huskers’ win. That’s right, 38 points. The Gators took a 10-6 lead into the second quarter. 15 minutes later, Florida was down 35-10 at the half. And it didn’t stop there.

Like I said, the game as a whole is still tough for me to swallow. I was a high school senior at the time only a few months away from starting classes as a freshman at Florida. I had been a Gator my entire life and that was it. Remember, USF wouldn’t even play their first ever game for another 20 months and those of you that have been around this site before know my passion levels for the two aren’t even in the same galaxy. I have an ongoing flirtation with the Bulls. I’m madly in love with the Gators.

This was the National Championship. Add that to the fact that I’m in that minority that actual believes the 1995 Gators’ squad was better than the 1996 team which won the title. That may seem blasphemous given how badly they were defeated by Nebraska, but I’m also someone who believes the 1995 Huskers are the best college football team ever.

On to the moment, like I said, you’ve probably already figured it out. It’s the play that always made me cheer just a little quieter for Rod Frazier even though he was wearing orange and blue. With less than a minute left in the third quarter and Florida just having scored to put the score at 42-18, the moment happened. Tommie Frazier ran for what looked to be about a 10-yard gain. In a flash, it became a 75-yard touchdown run. Frazier broke tackles, avoided tackles, and, oh yeah, broke more tackles. Even more painful was the tackles he was breaking. Right before Frazier broke free, he practically runs over Ben Hanks and drags Lawrence Wright for a few yards. For those of you not well-versed in Florida history, those are two very, VERY good defenders. Two of the better tacklers and hitters the Gators had and probably ever have had. Frazier treated them like they were kids attempting to bring down a Hall of Famer. It was oh so upsetting. In case you missed it, here’s the video…

You’re probably not too happy with me for posting that. I’m not too happy with myself either. The caption for the clip says “one of the greatest Husker QBs ever.” That could be one of the more understated claims you’ll hear. Tommie Frazier is one of the greatest to ever play the sport. Period. When healthy, he was unstoppable. As a fan of college football, watching him in that game was seeing something special, something historic. As a Gator fan, he might as well punched you in the nose and then kicked your dog while you were drowning in your own tears. That run was the definition of gut-wrenching.

I’d imagine many Florida fans have the same moment at the top of their list, but if not or if you aren’t a Gator fan, feel free to add your most gut-wrenching sports moment. We might as well prepare ourselves for the sorrow that is the end of the college football season with some past sports nightmares.

The Long Snapper (1/27/10)

In the news which isn’t really news by any means department, former USF head coach and locker room enforcement supervisor Jim Leavitt has said he will coach again.  You mean he’s not going to call it a career after being ousted by the program he helped create after he attacked one of his players?  It was pretty (and painfully) obvious Leavitt would resurface eventually.  Whether it be this season or next, Leavitt will be back among the coaching ranks.  There were rumors he would end up with Bob Stoops at Oklahoma, but now Leavitt may have his sights set on the NFL.  Good luck getting into the face of a millionaire athlete at the professional level Jim.  Let us know how that goes.
The shining star in USF’s recruiting class – Manatee’s (Bradenton, FL) Brion Carnes – could be looking at all of his options as signing day approaches.  Throughout his recruitment, Carnes has reconfirmed his commitment to the Bulls several times, but now it’s crunch time and he may be uncertain.  A certain former Manatee star that played college football at Nebraska and made a quite name for himself has some pull with Carnes.  That player also just happens to be Carnes’ cousin.  When you think about what Tommie Frazier did with the Cornhuskers and now that program wants you, well, at the very least you listen.  Carnes will take his final visit to Western Kentucky and lists the Hilltoppers as one of his final favorites, but you have to think it will come to Nebraska or USF in the end.
The Tim Tebow Senior Bowl parade continues as the quarterback met with a number of teams while battling a case of strep throat or not strep throat depending on who you want to believe.  One of the more intriguing meetings came when Tebow sat down with former Notre Dame head coach and current Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Charlie Weis.  Talk about a place where I’d like to be a fly on the wall.  Would love to hear Tebow’s thoughts of Weis and vice versa.  Good to see Weis back where he belongs.  As an assistant.
One week from today is National Signing Day.  Hopefully that means everyone will be inked up to their school of choice and we won’t get the Terrelle Pryors and Bryce Browns of the world that extend the process out further.  Signing Day is a diehard’s Christmas.  For the most part, schools have locked up the bulk of their recruiting classes, but there are always some surprises.  Last year, Florida pulled in Josh Evans and Jelani Jenkins on Signing Day.  In 2008, it was T.J. Lawrence and David Young.  With commitments coming earlier and earlier every year, it’s not the marquee day it once was, but it still holds its own.
A look at recruiting and the effects of the process on Todd Chandler.  Chandler – a defensive tackle from Miami Northwestern – dreamed of playing for Miami and went as far as committing to the Hurricanes while he was a junior in high school.  As the process went on, the positive feelings from Miami went away.  Chandler decided USF would be a better fit until Leavitt was shown the door.  Now, with a week left, Chandler is open to where he ends up.  A familiar friend – Charlie Strong – could have positioned Louisville at the top of his list though.  Just another reminder that this is really all a business.

Morning Reading: Is Tim Tebow Truly One of the Greatest Ever?

Another Tim Tebow article?!? Deal with it. We’re one week away from Florida kicking off its 2009 season. And one week away from Tebow’s final year as a Gator. So if people write good articles about #15, I’m going to highlight them. There’s so much written about Tebow out there (as I’m sure you are quite aware) that from time to time you’ll stumble across something interesting to read with a little research behind it. This is one of those times.

Andy Staples from SI.com (I know, again) has attempted to answer the question that’s being asked all over the place. Is Tim Tebow truly one of the greatest college football players of all-time? First of all, let me just say I believe it’s impossible to answer this question and the reason is simple. Stating who is or who isn’t the greatest player ever is subjective. There is no world-wide vote to determine who it should be. There is no specific thing Tebow can accomplish to make him the greatest ever. It’s something each person has their own opinion about. I even have my own at the moment.

To me, he is. But I’ll add this caveat. Tim Tebow is the greatest player I’ve ever seen play the game. I’ve watched some good ones in my years as a fan. Charlie Ward (yes, I would mention him). LaVar Arrington (due to his subpar NFL career, I think many forget just how dominant he was at Penn State). Orlando Pace. Reggie Bush. Vince Young. Tommie Frazier. Now I spent exactly 10 seconds thinking of those names so don’t think it as a definitive list. And, of course, remember these are just players I watched. I can’t speak too much about those like Red Grange or Herschel Walker.

Because there are so many factors that have to be taken into account when trying to determine who is the greatest ever, Staples decided to narrow the field. It’s very hard to compare eras and nearly impossible to compare positions. So Staples looked at Tebow against other quarterbacks from the last 25 years. I won’t get too deep into it (you can read the article yourself), but he devised a formula basically looking at winning percentage and statistics. Staples then put Tebow up against some of the recent greats as well as his two current adversaries – Sam Bradford and Colt McCoy. Tebow’s current score came up lower than only four people – Young, Matt Leinart, Pat White, and Colt Brennan.

The results are interesting in that, as Staples mentions, you tend to forget how good White really was. He’s the only individual that ends up with over 900 points and he absolutely shattered that mark at 983.38. Young should definitely be in the discussion. But the other two, eh. Leinart was good – very good – but so was practically every single member of the USC teams he played for. And Brennan? Give me a break. Inflated statistics due to being a SYSTEM quarterback push him into the discussion. But we can immediately remove him from it.

Now of course, this is just one man’s way of looking at it. But it’s interesting none-the-less. I’m confident in saying that I believe Tebow is one of the greatest ever and definitely the best quarterback of the last 25 years. Although, even I would have Young a very close second. And after looking at Staples’ break down, White jumped up a bunch of spots on my list. (H/T: One-Eyed Willy)