The next in my series of flashbacks -- this time to 1992...
19 September 1992
(4) Florida 14 • (14) Tennessee 31
When I rolled into town for the contest between the Florida Gators and the Tennessee Volunteers in September of 1992, things were abuzz. Johnny Majors was in the hospital recovering from heart surgery. "Temporarily" at the helm was a longtime assistant coach who was -- at the time -- untested as a head coach. His name was Phillip Fulmer. As if that were not enough, tensions were still high after the 1991 "fax-gate" incident where disgruntled former Tennessee assistant coach Jack Sells was caught faxing the Tennessee playbook to Steve Spurrier and then Florida defensive coordinator, Ron Zook.
Needless to say there were a lot of questions swirling around as to exactly what could be expected when the Vols and Gators faced off in Neyland Stadium that Saturday afternoon. As uncertain as the situation was, Mother Nature had a few ideas of her own which would push the game farther into the realm of the unknown (and borderline absurd).
This gameday began rather inauspiciously for me -- I didn’t have any tickets. After declining several offers for tickets at $150 a piece (which was an even more absurd price in 1992 than it is today), my Father and I found one "kind" soul who was willing to sell us two seats on the second row of the East side upperdeck on about the 35 yard line for $75 each.
My Dad and I thought we had really made out like bandits ... until we realized about 15 minutes later while getting ready to enter the stadium that the tickets we bought were student tickets and required a student ID -- which neither of us possessed. Undeterred, our plan was to wait until there was a big crowd at the gate, split up, and then try to just slide on in without the ticket-taker noticing we had student tickets.
It worked for my Dad, who handed over his ticket, and walked right on in ... my situation was somewhat different.
I handed my ticket over, and then heard the dreaded words, "Student ID, please?"
I could see my Dad -- 10 feet away, but already in the stadium -- drop his head, knowing that I was caught. Instinctively, however, I reached for my wallet and pulled it out.
"Sure, one sec..." I took my time waiting for the line to get a little longer behind me. "Hmmm, it’s in here somewhere ... hold on. Damn! I must have left it back at the dorm. Do you want me to go run back and get it?"
He looked at me, then to the growing crowd, then to me, then to the crowd.
"Just remember to bring it next time, okay."
"Yessir! I promise I won’t forget it next time..."
And a young boy began the path down the road to a shameful and reprehensible career as an attorney ... (sigh)
In the stadium, we made our way to our seats which were great, except for the fact that "Mister Two-Bits" from Florida was about 15 feet away where the upper level visitor’s section met the student section. While his constant cheerleading did quickly grow old, the ... pointed comments of some of the students -- (along with their friends Jack, Jim, and George) were highly entertaining.
During the first half, Tennessee struck first with an 11 yard run by Heath Shuler, which they would follow-up with a scamper by James Stewart to make it 14-0. When the teams hit the locker rooms at the break, however, Tennessee's lead had been cut to 7, with a score of 17-7 and momentum seemingly swinging Florida’s way.
During the halftime, Col. Tom Elam was honored for his $1 million dollar donation to the university by having the press box at Neyland Stadium formally named after him.
When the teams came back on the field, there was great tension due to the fact that Florida had appeared to "find" itself late in the second quarter, and there was uncertainty in the hearts of many Vol fans as the second half approached.
Then the dynamic changed...
Since the morning, the skies had looked a bit ominous -- heavy clouds hanging in the air. Early in the second half I remember looking over the single deck of the North endzone to see Clement Hall (a place I would call home a few years later), and all of the sudden, I saw the light colored concrete edging the roofline become dark -- and fast. The rain was headed straight toward us.
The rain that hit the stadium came down with such force and intensity, that the upperdeck drains simply couldn’t keep up. Within about 5 minutes after the rain hit, I was standing in water half-way up my calf and the first row had water to their knees. I am not exaggerating when I say that I could not see the west side upperdeck at all -- the only sign of its continued existence was the glow from the powerful stadium lights that had been on throughout the game. I later learned that the ABC broadcast was actually knocked off the air by the storm. Without a doubt, that storm was the heaviest rain I’ve ever seen two teams try to play through. I can also say that I have never been that wet, and not actually been in the bath or a pool.
More importantly to the Florida coaching staff was the fact that -- with the Tartan Turf surface -- all of the water drained to the sidelines. Apparently the Neyland Stadium grounds staff had "forgotten" to pull the drain covers off of the drain grates on the Florida sideline. Thus, a small lake began to rapidly grow in the middle of the Florida bench. I got a great laugh out of watching one of the grounds crew members in his rain coat pointing to a spot obscured by about 2 feet of water while one of the Florida assistant coaches got down on his hands and knees feeling for the cover. ("Yeah, it oughta’ be somewhere in that area .. just feel around. It’s a real shame that you’re getting your nice clothes all messy like that...")
Two points to the grounds crew...
With the amazing volumes of rain, everyone in the stadium assumed that no one would possibly throw a pass -- not only would it be nearly impossible to catch, but the sheer force of the rain would kill the momentum of the ball making the act of aiming immensely difficult. Heath Shuler and Phillip Fulmer, however, had another idea.
Heath Shuler threw a short swing pass out to Mose Phillips who proceeded to run as flat-footed as a duck for a 66 yard touchdown.
Florida was deflated and never got close again -- Tennessee had bested the No 4 Gators. Final score Tennessee 31 Florida 14.
Images Courtesy of: The VIB • Orange & Blue Online / Gainesville Sun • Knoxville News Sentinel • Jack Daniels • Jim Beam • George Dickel • the University of Tennessee
5 Responses to “Flashback: The Great Games — Florida 1992”
Leave a Reply
Additional comments powered by BackType