What if I told you that there was a game that consisted of a single play, lasting all of 10 seconds? In summer 2018, I took it upon myself to speak to a bunch of people involved in this silly game — that day, they were Idaho athletic director Rob Spear, Florida associate AD Chip Howard, Florida special teams coordinator Coleman Hutzler, and Idaho special teams coach Jason Shumaker. I know, I know — just give me my Pulitzer now.
It was Aug. 30, 2014, and in Gainesville — known as “Rainesville” to Alachua residents in the spring and summer months — the weather can be quite unpredictable.
Both teams warmed up on the field as scheduled.
The game was slated to kickoff 7 p.m. ET, but lightning in the area forced both sides off.
“It was a sunny day. You know, like some light clouds around, and they’re like, ‘You have to get off the field ‘cause there’s lightning,’” said Shumaker. “It didn’t feel like lightning at all, [or] that there was any danger of any storm. And then we went into the locker room, and shortly thereafter — 30, 45 minutes later — it started pouring.”
“It was kind of one those Florida days,” Hutzler said. “Afternoon, evening deals, where in the daytime it’s a beautiful day and then, you know, the thunderstorm, lightning-type deal rolls in kind of out of nowhere.”
What was thought to be a 45-minute delay turned into three hours.
Per NCAA rules, play can’t resume until 30 minutes after the last lightning strike, and SEC rules call for a suspension if lightning is within six miles of the stadium.
A lot that goes into coordinating during a delay.
“We have pretty precise protocols that we institute as soon as that happens,” Howard said. “So, all that stuff just kind of happens by plan. What doesn’t happen is, ‘OK, how long is it going to be?’ So while we’re watching the clock, I’m also getting texts that we got another lightning strike. Alright, so now it’s another 30 minutes, so couldn’t get out of the first delay for the longest time because we kept getting lightning strikes, and it’s automatically another 30.”
“Our players hadn’t eaten for a long period of time, so we had to get ahold of Jimmy John’s,” Spear said. “And they were true to their advertising — they showed up on bikes and got us those sandwiches.”
Florida benefitted from being able to use its own facilities.
“Our strength staff, kind of putting guys through active warm-up,” Hutzler said. “Which, everything to old-school jumping jacks to getting in the locker room and getting them a stretch and those kind of things. That was the hard part of just, ‘OK, we’re getting ready to go,’ so you get them warmed up, you get them sweating again, and then boom, you’re back down to, ‘OK relax guys, we got another 30.”
Fans were asked to clear the stadium, but they could gain re-entry with their ticket stubs. Some students chose to ride out the storm:
Andrew Scattizi, a 24-year-old junior at UF, stayed chilled and soaked in the north end zone and watched while students brought pizzas to two policemen standing out in the deluge. There was a gator chomp in return from the boys in blue “that was pretty awesome,” he said.
Then the band played under the cover, as hundreds of people packed like sardines swung and swayed to “We are the Boys.”
Danny Gibble started the “week of weird” running. He left the stadium after the game was suspended the first time to go home and eat some instant noodles. He heard the game was back on, and sprinted back two-and-a-half miles to the stadium just in time to miss what would be the game’s only play.
“There were times when I went in to talk to Coach [Will] Muschamp, and said, ‘Coach, I think we’re going to be good. There’s cells around us, there’s lightning moving away, and I think we’re going to be able to go out and start warmups,” Howard said. “And then boom, those guys are getting fired up and they’re getting revved up. And then boom, another lightning strike, and you gotta walk in the room.
“It got to the point where neither one of those coaches wanted to see me or [Florida home game manager] Bryan Flood. I mean, they would see us coming, and literally, physically, they would slump.”
But finally, at 10 p.m., we had kickoff!
“We were obviously all excited to go play in The Swamp,” Shumaker said. “It’s always a great environment, and it was the first game of the season, so guys are excited, and you know, we traveled a long way to get down there. So we kind of just thought, ‘Well, we had a long fall camp, and now we just have to wait a couple hours to play.’”
That kickoff resulted in a 64-yard return from Florida’s Valdez Showers. As far as I can tell, that SEC Network camera angle is literally the only broadcast evidence of this entire game’s on-field action.
“Our whole plan had been to make sure No. 10 didn’t get the ball,” Shumaker said. “And so instead, we kicked it low, line drive kick — it was supposed to be a sky pooch kick — and I think [Idaho kicker Austin] Rehkow might’ve had his only [bad] kick as a Vandal, kind of came off it was more of a line drive. So we got the worst of both worlds, we got No. 10 catching it on a sprinting start, and so then, they made a couple good blocks, and we really over-pursued.
“When he turned the corner on Rehkow — he was a really good athlete and just couldn’t make the tackle — I thought the worst was about to happen. But then we somehow got the angle to him.”
“You anticipate that they’re going to kick opposite and try to keep [return man Andre Debose] Bo away, execute what we call a sky kick,” Hutzler said. “And so we needed to have our answer to that, and it was actually supposed to hit up the left side where they kick it up the left side numbers. And Valdez made a great cut, and cut back across.
“You know still, to this day, I give Valdez crap for not scoring on it, getting caught from behind! We could’ve won that one-play game, 6-0.”
Another lightning strike cleared the field again, and the game was suspended indefinitely around midnight.
“The biggest factor after all that rain was our field was not good,” Howard said. “I’m walking the field with the referee, and the referee’s saying, ‘You know, this is not safe.’ You know our field drains great, but there’s only so much water you can put on the field. So at that point, that’s really when we started to talk about, you know, hey, we’re just going to need to pull the plug.”
“The last time, after that play, the fans kind of knew who we were,” Howard said. “And when the lightning strike hit after that play when we walked onto the field, the fans started booing. And I’m like, ‘That’s like a first, no one knows who we are.’ We’re discreet. No one knows the game management people! They literally started booing.
“And then I remember Coach Muschamp, he’s just kind of like almost slumped down, I’m like, ‘I’m sorry man, I wanna play too.’”
After I’d sat in the press box all night, my job had been substantially less involved than I was expecting. On my way back to my apartment, I highly considered joining my friends who’d spent hours at the bars across the street from the stadium. The only thing that swayed me: the long lines weren’t budging whatsoever.
Overheard: "I prolly won't remember this, but great fuckin' day."— Alligator Army (@AlligatorArmy) August 31, 2014
Gators receiver Demarcus Robinson, who was suspended, got to come back the following week. Guess a one-play game counts for a one-game suspension!
The Idaho game ended up being Florida’s most encouraging game in a long time.
Rescheduling the game ended up impacting Florida’s 2018 schedule in a strange way.
“We both had a bye week at the same time, but it just didn’t seem to work with everybody’s schedule, and given what Florida had going on within their conference season [for years, Florida’s taken off the week before playing Georgia],” Spear said. “So there was talk about postponing it, playing it again, playing it the next day, playing it at another venue, and then just canceling the game.”
During Florida’s other bye week, Idaho had a game, and vice versa.
“The Sunday scenario, we’ve kind of went around that block a couple times since then, as it relates to hurricanes,” Howard said, referring in part to 2016’s Florida-LSU game. “That’s really hard to do. It seems simple, but it’s very, very difficult to pull off. And so, getting everybody back up, getting that back together again, that was really not even an option. It was asked by Coach [Paul] Petrino, but not really Coach Muschamp, from what I remember.”
Florida paid Idaho its guaranteed $975,000.
“I will say that Florida, [AD] Jeremey [Foley], and Will, they were great,” Spear said. “They treated Idaho awesome, and how we ended up navigating through this unique circumstance, they were so above board in how they treated us.”
Florida agreed to bring Idaho back to Gainesville in 2018, but the Vandals moving down to FCS made it a little tricky to make the game happen.
“Here’s the kicker, though. We worked really hard for them to get back out here,” Howard said. “All of the sudden in 2017, Idaho decides to go down to the FCS. So now this game that we worked our butt off to get back here, we have to petition the NCAA [to let the game count toward bowl eligibility], because we have two FCS games on our schedule.”
The Gators didn’t end up needing that petition, and the Vandals and Gators will kick off at noon on Saturday, Nov. 17. Hopefully they’ll run a second play after that.