After decades of disappointment, fortune finally seemed to smile on Florida football in 1966. The heroics of a hotshot All-American quarterback named Steven Orr Spurrier had put the Gators on a winning path heading into Jacksonville for the annual tilt with the Georgia Bulldogs.
Florida was riding an eight-game win streak and ranked No. 7 in the nation. Goals in Gainesville included the Gators' first-ever undefeated season and SEC championship. The key to it all was senior signal-caller Spurrier, who had already become a legend among Florida faithful. His passing skills and on-the-field savvy had transformed the Gators passing attack one of the most powerful in the nation.
Spurrier had also earned a reputation as a late game miracle worker. In his three years behind center he had developed a reputation for bringing the Gators from behind in the fourth quarter to secure a win. The week prior to the Nov. 5 game against Georgia, Spurrier led the Florida team on a 71-yard drive in the fourth quarter of the game against Auburn and kicked the game-winning 40-yard field goal himself.
Meanwhile in Athens, Georgia was also experiencing something of a resurgence under third-year coach Vince Dooley. In the three seasons prior to his arrival, the Bulldogs had accumulated a tepid 10-16-4 record. By the time of the Florida game, the Dooley-led Georgia squad had rolled up a 19-8-1 record and hopes among the Bulldog faithful were ascendant.
Going into Jacksonville, Georgia's season boasted a single blemish -- a 6-7 squeaker of a loss against Miami. Although not ranked in the AP top ten, the Bulldog's rushing attack and stout defense had earned Georgia a growing reputation as a power in the SEC. And to beat Spurrier, Dooley was depending on that unit heavily.
Dooley's strategy was to cover Florida's hotshot receivers with man coverage and use his defensive front seven to put pressure on Spurrier. On offense, the Bulldogs focused on controlling the line of scrimmage to keep the running game alive, control the game clock and keep the Florida star off the field.
There were more than 62,800 on hand in Jacksonville’s Gator Bowl for the contest, and it started pretty much as everyone expected. Spurrier led the Gators on a nine-play, 86 yard touchdown drive. But from then on, the Bulldogs strategy to stymie the Florida signal-caller began to show results.
The two teams traded field goals after that and at the end of the first half of play Florida held a 10-3 lead. In the first half, the Heisman hopeful had earned just more than 100 yards passing and the Gators only managed nine first downs. It would only get worse from there.
Late in the third quarter, the Georgia ground game began to take its toll on the Gator defense. The Bulldogs ground out a 65-yard scoring drive without a single pass play. With 1:07 left in the 3rd period the score was tied.
Florida had the ball just two plays before Spurrier threw an interception of the season, just his third for the season. Georgia's ensuing drive ended with a missed field goal and Spurrer returned to the field and promptly threw his second interception of the game. This time Georgia defensive back Lynn Hughes ran it back for a Bulldog score.
Georgia then kept the ball on the ground to grind out the clock and keep Spurrier on the sideline as long as possible. A 33-yard-field goal put the score at 20-10 with less than three minutes on the clock. Spurrier's last ditch attempt to salvage the undefeated season was snuffed out when a fourth down pass from his own 30 yard line as the clock ticked toward the final minutes of the game.
Then the Bulldogs twisted the knife. They mounted a final scoring drive that was capped with a three-yard TD run by Moore Kirby Moore with one single second left on the clock. Final score, 27-10.
As Spurrier left the field, ecstatic Georgia fans gathered in the stands near the entrance to the Gator locker room and taunted the touted quarterback.
"There he goes, Mr. Quarterback," laughed one Bulldog partisan. "Some quarterback."
The Sarasota Herald-Tribune sportswriter John Brockmann described the Bulldogs pass rush as "a pack of wolves" who chased Spurrier down all afternoon. Sports Illustrated's John Underwood likened the Georgia deep men to a "dog yapping at the heels" of the Florida receivers.
Florida managed just 133 yards in the air, just 21 more than the Bulldogs and almost 100 yards less than Spurrier’s average for the season up to that point. The Gators managed just a single first down in the second half of play.
The Heisman front runner had been completing 66% percent of his passes going into the Georgia game. He managed just 55% (16 of 29) against the Bulldogs. After the game Spurrier admitted the Georgia pressure had been formidable but he also cited the wind as a factor.
"I’ve never had a good day in the Gator Bowl and I guess I never will," he said. "It’s a jinx place for me."
On the ground, the contrast between the two offenses was even more stark. The Bulldogs rolled up 213 yards on the ground to Florida's 61.
"We rammed it down their guts," Dooley said.
Spurrier would go on to win the Heisman Trophy, and Florida would finish the season with a 9-2 record and a 27-12 victory over Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl. Georgia would finish with a 10-1 record and share the SEC conference title with Alabama.
Dooley, who some Georgia papers were proclaiming a "living legend" after the Florida victory, would coach in Athens until 1988, earning six conference titles, one national championship and finishing with a 201-77-10 record.
When Spurrier returned to Gainesville in 1990 to become the head coach of the Florida football team, he seemed to take a perverse pleasure in victimizing the Bulldogs. During his 12 years as the Gators’ coach, his team beat Georgia no less than 11 times, including quite a few humiliating blowouts.
In 1995, when construction of Jacksonville’s stadium prompted the game to be played in Georgia’s Sanford Stadium, Spurrier had Florida quarterback Eric Kressler go for a touchdown in the game’s final minute to push the final score to 52-17. Instead of taunts as he left the field, Spurrier was doused with a cup of tobacco spit.
"A lot of our coaches have mentioned to me that no one had scored 50 points in here before, so we wanted to do that," he said after the game. "We wanted to try to make it a memorable game for the Gators. And it was."