My first Gators game was one that set all kinds of records. I was lucky enough to make my first pilgrimage to The Swamp on a warm September night in 1997. The opponent was Central Michigan and it ended up being the most lopsided win the Florida football history. It was a true romp in The Swamp as the Gators demolished the Chippewas 82-6. Doug Johnson threw for 310 yards and seven touchdowns before halftime. The Fun ‘N Gun was in full effect that night and I had a ticket to the beauty that was Florida’s offense.
The Gators were coming off winning their first national championship in school history the previous year when they bested bitter rival Florida State in the Sugar Bowl, 52-20. You may remember that. Florida lost their Heisman winning quarterback Danny Wuerffel after the championship and some questions about who would replace him remained. The Gators struggled in their season-opening win against Southern Miss, but all that was answered the next week with the annihilation of Central Michigan.
Florida managed to rack up 708 yards, second-most in school history, 82 points and a 76-point win that were both UF records. Johnson, then a sophomore, answered any questions Steve Spurrier and the rest of Gator Nation had about him after he struggled the previous week. The Gators rushed for 318 yards. Freshman running back Bo Carroll carried the ball only seven times and rushed for a team-leading 159 yards and two touchdowns. They even scored in the special teams when they blocked a punt which Jacquez Green returned 13 yards for a TD. They just could not be stopped. The Florida cheerleaders were exhausted by the end of the first quarter with all the push ups they had to do. On top of that, the Gators defense held Central Michigan to just 44 rushing yards and 280 yards overall.
Seeing that offense in person was a sight to behold. Sitting up behind the “THIS IS…GATOR COUNTRY” sign was the stuff of legends. In any of my other ventures to Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, I haven’t seen anything like it. There have been some pretty good offenses over the years and I’ve been able to see a game live every single year since that demolition of the Chippewas. Kurt Roper gives me hope. The last time a Duke coach came to Florida, it was Spurrier and he revolutionized the game. Now Roper has a chance to develop players and get the Florida offense back up and running. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t expect the Gators to score 82 points any time this year. But give this offense a year or two and Roper could really have the offense humming. I’m looking forward to seeing the Gators improve. Reminiscing about my first game at Florida Field gives me hope that hopefully one day soon, the Gators will be mighty once again.