There’s 26 seconds to go in the game. Auburn trails Florida 7-3, facing a 4th down and 11 on the 30 yard line. Quarterback Reggie Slack drops back to pass and hits 5′ 7″ Shayne Wasden in the corner of the end zone to defeat Florida 10-7. Pandemonium breaks out as legendary Auburn announcer Jim Fyffe yells over the airwaves. “Touchdown Auburn! Touchdown Auburn! Touchdown Auburn! Unbelievable! I’ve seen the impossible happen! I have seen a miracle!” That moment on November 4th, 1989 will forever be frozen in the corners of the minds of the 87,000 in attendance at Jordan-Hare Stadium. It was the most loudest, most exhilarating, most exciting ending to any game I have ever witnessed at Jordan-Hare.
That play epitomized the essence of the Auburn-Florida football rivalry. There have been many more just like it on both sides over the years.
And this week the two schools will renew the rivalry at 6 p.m. back on the Plains of Auburn where it all began in 1912. Yes this is Florida week – a time to reminisce and a time to put our game faces on for this worthy old opponent.
Excluding Bama and Georgia, Florida historically has been Auburn’s top rival through the years and with the exception of Georgia, Auburn is Florida’s oldest SEC rival. Even when the league split into two divisions in 1992, the two still played each other until 2002 when the SEC passed a rule requiring schools to keep only one permanent cross divisional rival.
Now the two meet twice every five years. A travesty this writer hopes will be remedied by Auburn being placed in the East Division when the conference expansion dust settles.
The highs, the lows, the drama, and the heartbreaks of this rivalry have been some of the most exciting of any in the country. Their have been so many close hard fought games through the years. Games that will live on in immortality.
Time and space does not permit a full listing of those games but twelve games are offered as a sampling in a PostScript at the end of this column.
The last meeting between the two rivals was in 2007 in Gainesville. As time expired, Auburn Freshman and Florida native Wes Byrum was forced to re kick a 45 yard field goal (because time had been called by Florida). Byrum’s kick gave the underdog Tigers a 20-17 victory over the N0. 4 ranked Gators. Afterwards, Gainesville Sun Sports writer Pat Dooley may have given the best description of the rivalry when he wrote,
“Florida-Auburn delivered another game that made one side ecstatic and one side heartbroken. That’s what (this rivalry) does.”
These games are not usually over till the clock is at zero. It’s a close rivalry that has seen thirty-three of the games decided by seven points or less. Some games over the years have been played at neutral sites but Auburn has a 21-7-1 record in games played at Jordan-Hare and Florida is 22-9 in games played at Ben-Hill Griffin Stadium.
Interestingly both current head coaches made names for themselves while serving as Defensive Coordinators at Auburn under Tommy Tuberville.
Gene Chizik played his college ball at Florida and was the National Assistant Coach of the Year during Auburn’s 2004 undefeated season. He then took the job at Texas and Florida native, Will Muschamp took his place a year later at Auburn. Muschamp again took Chizik’s place at Texas when he left to be a head coach. Now the two meet for the first time as head coaches.
Auburn – Florida is also the second most evenly matched SEC rivalry in the league with Auburn holding a 42-38-2 advantage. The Tigers have won seven SEC Championships and two National Championships while Florida has won eight SEC titles and three National Championships.
The fact both programs have been struggling of late does not diminish the significance of playing each other. Both have had quarterback questions, both have had to deal with injuries to key players, and both enter the contest at 4-2, seeking a win to right their ship and be a relevant SEC program from here on out. Both teams are mired in uncertainty, Auburn more so than Florida. Moreover, Florida is expected to be the favorite entering the game.
Yet if there is anything that followers of this rivalry know for certain – it’s you can never count the underdog out. In fact looking back over the years I kind of like being the underdog.
And now it’s time … time to get ready, time to get behind ‘Big Blue’ as they do battle with an old foe. Win or lose, the Auburn faithful have to hold up our end of the bargain and make the atmosphere great.
Put your game faces on Tiger fans – It’s Florida Week in Auburn!
(PostScript of 12 Auburn- Florida games after the jump.)
Selected games from the Auburn-Florida Football Rivalry.
1939 and 1973
1939 was the first football game played at Jordan-Hare Stadium (then called Auburn Stadium). The game ended in a 7-7 tie when Auburn’s Babe McGehee caught a fourth quarter touchdown pass.
Florida would not win a game in Auburn for the next 34 years till they upset the Tigers 12-8 in1973. Florida Athletic Director Ray Graves said at the time the ’73 upset was one the greatest moments in University of Florida football history.
In 1958, the Defending National Champion Tigers took an intentional safety to preserve their undefeated season with a baseball like score of 6-5 over the Gators.
Many believe that Florida quarterback Steve Spurrier’s game at Auburn won him the 1966 Heisman. He completed 27 of 40 passes for 259 yards, one touchdown, with no interceptions, and also rushed for a touchdown. But it was Spurrier’s foot that won the game. With the game tied and two minutes to go, the Florida QB kicked a 40 yard field goal to win the game 30-27.
Plenty of people have seen the picture of the 1996 Georgia mascot UGA trying to bite WR Robert Baker but few remember that in 1976 Auburn’s War Eagle jumped off his perch and started clawing the shoulder pads of Florida receiver Wes Chandler after his touchdown in the ’76 game. War Eagle had to be the first college mascot in CFB history to receive a yellow flag as the Tigers were given a15-yard penalty against the mascot on the following kickoff. The Gators won the game in the fourth quarter.
Bo Jackson had an 80 yard run to overcome a furious Florida comeback to win in Jordan-Hare Stadium 28-21 and keep the Tigers’ SEC Championship hopes alive.
Kerwin Bell came off the bench and led the Gators over one of Pat Dye’s most talented teams, denying Auburn a second SEC Championship. Bell threw a five-yard scoring pass to Ricky Nattiel with 0:36 left on the clock. He then ran for the two-point conversion to win 18-17. Many Gator fans still see the game as the greatest comeback in Florida history.
Reggie Slack’s fourth down and a mile touchdown pass to Shane Wasden gave the Tigers the victory as time ran off the clock and kept the Tigers on track to win their third consecutive SEC Championship.
The ‘93 game was a classic see-saw battle in the second half as the lead changed back and forth. The outcome was finally settled when Scott Etheridge kicked a 41-yard field goal with 1:21 left in the game to upset 4th ranked Florida 38-35. Too bad the nation did not get to see this one as it was not broadcasted. Many Auburn fans that were there (including Greg Goodwin a.k.a War Eagle Atlanta) swear to this day that it was their all time favorite game at Jordan-Hare.
1994 was another back and forth battle. In the 4th quarter Florida quarterback Danny Wuerffel, was intercepted by Auburn defensive back Brian Robinson with a minute and 20 seconds to go. Auburn QB Patrick Nix stepped up, took the Tigers down the field, and threw an eight-yard touchdown pass to Frank Sanders to win the game. Auburn fans can still hear Jim Fyfe yelling “Nix to Sanders! – Nix to Sanders!’
Auburn was unranked in 2001 and a 21 point underdog going into the game against No. 1 Florida. Florida QB Rex Grossman completed 25 passes for 364 yards. But he also threw 4 interceptions and the game was tied 20 – 20 with 10 seconds to go when Damon Duval kicked a 44 yard field goal to upset the No.1 Gators 23 – 20.
In 2006 Auburn’s Tre Smith returned a third quarter blocked punt for a touchdown doing a flip into the end zone as he crossed the goal line. The Tiger’s ‘D’ forced three turnovers and did not allow a point in the second half as underdog Auburn upset No. 2 Florida, 27-17 at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Some say it was the loudest moment in the history of Jordan-Hare but I still think the 1989 game is at the top of that list.
The Tigers were underdogs to the N0. 4 ranked Gators in 2007. Once again the game came down to a last second field goal attempt. With the score tied 17 -17, Freshman kicker and Florida native Wes Byrum nailed a 45-yard field goal. However, Meyer had called a timeout in an attempt to get in Byrum’s head. Byrum had to make a second attempt, he did so, splitting the uprights for a 20-17 victory.
Meyer and Tebow won two National Championships during their time in Gainesville but like Emmit Smith before them, neither ever had a victory against Auburn.