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Greatest of all-time (GOAT) Florida-FSU games, Part III

Matt Zemek



Matt Stamey-USA TODAY Sports

The Greatest Florida-Florida State Games Of All Time — 1964 and 1966


The 1960s?

No — you’re reaching. Florida-Florida State games weren’t special then. The coaches, the talent, the stakes — they weren’t the same. They weren’t in line with the 1990s. This is a bad take.

Valid point? Yes. I can see why this combo selection of two games in the 1960s — taken together as a 2-for-1 package — is out of step with the other great Florida-Florida State games of all time.

You might think this is an act of charity, a transparent attempt to step outside the 1990s and throw a bone to a previous point in this series just so that it’s not ALL about the 1990s.

I can see that line of thinking. It makes sense. It is reasonable. Viewed purely through the lens of raw quality, I wouldn’t necessarily say that the 1964 and 1966 UF-FSU games are clearly better than, for instance, the 1991 or 1999 games. The 1991 and 1999 games featured tremendous athleticism and teams which entered the bowl games in the top 10 of the national rankings. The 1964 and 1966 games can’t hold a candle to those games in terms of sheer physical prowess and caliber of athlete or coach. If you are viewing these games through a few specific prisms, you will vigorously disagree with this selection.

I justify this particular choice by saying that the 1991 and 1999 games — while emotional, important, and fiercely fought — were not especially well played. They were messy and uneven — not that other great UF-FSU games weren’t, but ’91 and ’99 lacked the same weight of quality and weren’t nearly as memorable for the level of football played on those two days. The 1991 game was certainly significant because it announced Florida’s arrival in this rivalry and cemented the Gators’ sense of superiority at The Swamp.

The 1999 game was obviously huge because it vaulted FSU into the BCS National Championship Game and set the table for Bobby Bowden’s masterpiece, his unbeaten championship season at Florida State. Yet, those games didn’t crackle the way the 1993, 1994, 1996 and 1997 UF-FSU games did.

That lack of electricity enables me, in my mind, to look elsewhere for games which also weren’t classics in terms of quality of play, but carried importance and drama and — most of all — planted seeds for this rivalry which grew into its greatest moments.

The 1964 and 1966 Florida-Florida State games are linked yet also separate in their importance within the Gators-Noles rivalry.

The 1964 game is important because it was Florida State’s first win against Florida as a Division I school. (FSU was classified as a “non-major” program when it won a 1904 game between the schools, which did not play again until 1958.) The 1966 game was important because it was part of Steve Spurrier’s Heisman Trophy season. Had the Gators not won that game, who knows if Spurrier would have made history and — 30 years later — become the only man to win the Heisman and then coach a Heisman winner, when Danny Wuerffel took home the fabled trophy in 1996?

These games can stand on their own as history-makers in the Florida-Florida State series, but they also exist in connection with the larger historical unfolding of this rivalry.

I’m going to start with 1966 and then work back to 1964.

The 1966 game’s denouement was characterized as follows by Garry Smits of the Florida Times-Union in a 2015 article:

“Lane Fenner was in bounds in 1966. FSU fans know it. Florida fans know it – but won’t admit it. His apparent 45-yard TD catch from Jacksonville’s Gary Pajcic with seconds left was ruled incomplete by referee Doug Moseley because he said Fenner didn’t have control of the ball before rolling out of bounds. There’s a famous photo showing the contrary – posted in several Tallahassee watering holes.”

This controversial ending formed a bookend with 2003 as a UF-FSU game decided by atrocious officiating. If Florida State was shafted in 1966, Florida was similarly jobbed in 2003’s “Swindle In The Swamp,” a nightmare for the ACC officiating crew led by Jack Childress. (Florida fans would tell you the ACC crew had it in for the Gators.)

The parade of officiating errors was so pronounced and impactful on that evening in Gainesville that college football made the change which has forever altered the way we process the sport. Ask most people who have covered college football for at least 20 years if not more. They will tell you that we have instant replay in college football because of the 2003 UF-FSU game. The 1966 game offered a first snapshot of what happens when replay isn’t there to fix a mistake.

Fans of teams in other rivalry games — I offer the specific example of Oklahoma in the 1984 Red River Rivalry clash against Texas — could also cite specific game-deciding calls which were badly missed by the on-field officials and unable to be reviewed on replay. On that day, something similar happened to Lane Fenner in 1966: Oklahoma’s Keith Stanberry, on a rain-soaked field in Dallas, intercepted a Texas pass before sliding out of bounds on the saturated turf. Yet, the on-field call was incomplete.

Texas was able to forge a 15-15 tie on a day when it got outplayed. In 1966 and again in 2003 — with both sides of the rivalry feeling the pain of bad officiating — Gators-Noles offered powerful reasons for the installment of instant replay in college football.

As important as the 1966 game was in relationship to the sometimes-tortured history of college football officiating, the 1964 Florida-Florida State game is even more significant — albeit in a more symbolic way — because of two figures who were part of that contest.

If you are an older Gator or Seminole, you probably already know this, but if you are a younger Florida or FSU fan, you might not: In the 1964 game, Florida State had a humble assistant coach — he taught the wide receivers for the Noles — who had not yet burst onto the coaching scene. Florida had a quarterback who was learning the ropes and was two years from enjoying a season which catapulted him to national prominence and led to a decade-long NFL career, albeit as a punter more than a thrower.

Yes, folks: In the 1964 FSU-Florida game won by Florida State for its first Division I win in the series, Bobby Bowden and Steve Spurrier were on the opposite sidelines. Back when this rivalry was in its initial stages, trying to develop a personality and texture, Bowden and Spurrier were there. They knew what this rivalry was like. They directly experienced the push and pull of emotions as representatives of Florida State and Florida. When they met in 1990 as head coaches, the encounter was NOT a first-time meeting in the context of the series. It was a first-time meeting as head coaches, but not in the Gator-Nole series. The 1964 game was that first moment.

It is noteworthy that Florida State won the 1964 game, chiefly because FSU snapped an 0-5-1 winless string since the 1958 opener of this rivalry in a D-I context. However, the significance of FSU winning in 1964 also emerges from a different vantage point: It gave Spurrier a chance to avenge a loss.

So much of Spurrier’s greatness as a figure in Florida football history comes precisely from his long memory and an ability to gain revenge for recent losses or long-ago insults. He carried with him the anger from the way Georgia humiliated Florida in the late 1960s — after Spurrier had graduated from UF and moved to the NFL — to slaughter the Bulldogs as Florida’s coach in the 1990s, losing only once in 12 tries.

As noted in an earlier installment of this series here at FFI, Spurrier’s complaints about Florida State’s hits on Danny Wuerffel in the 1996 game bled into the 1997 Sugar Bowl, when Spurrier adjusted and used a searing setback as a way to get better.

The resilience of Spurrier is one of his trademark qualities. One of Spurrier’s most remarkable feats as Florida’s coach was to continuously get his team off the canvas after Florida State stole its soul in the 1990s. Three times, Florida suffered a devastating, deflating loss or tie at the hands of FSU — in 1993, 1994 and 1996. Three times, Florida shoved aside its dejection and frustration to beat a quality Gene Stallings-coached Alabama team and win the SEC championship.

That signature Spurrier resilience came from many sources. One was the bitter taste of a 1964 loss to Bobby Bowden and Florida State. Florida won the next two installments of the Gator-Nole series. That would become a template for the 1990s Golden Age of this rivalry… which occupies most of the entries on the UF-FSU Greatest Hits list…

… except for this one.

Now, these 1964 and 1966 selections might make more sense, if you were a skeptic at the outset.

Matt Zemek is the co-editor of Tennis With An Accent with Saqib Ali. Matt is the lead writer for the site and helps Saqib with the TWAA podcast, produced by Radio Influence at Matt has written professionally about men's and women's tennis since 2014 for multiple outlets: Comeback Media, FanRagSports, and independently at Patreon, where he maintains a tennis site. You can reach Matt by e-mail: You can find him on Twitter at @mzemek.

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