Dave Reardon

Points East

By Dave Reardon

Monday, November 22, 1999

Gators go belly-up;
Spurrier goes sour

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- No Sugar, and maybe no Orange. Quite possibly, a Citrus - a dreaded Citrus - is in the Florida football team's future after losing to FSU, 30-23.

For Gator Nation, a trip down the road to Orlando for the Citrus Bowl is the equivalent of Dukies settling for the NIT.

Fittingly, someone threw a lemon onto the playing field at The Swamp as time ran down and Florida State killed the clock and Florida's national championship hopes on Saturday.

It was the 21 seconds that the Gators lost that enraged coach Steve Spurrier, as the officials blamed the home team. It wasn't the symbolism.

But yes, a lemon is a citrus fruit. And yes, the Gators played like lemons, throwing away chance after chance to beat the No. 1 team in the land and their most intense rival.

"FSU is not as good as it used to be," Spurrier snapped in a brief postgame conference. "They're pretty good. But they're not as good as they were in '97."

That year, the Gators used a quarterback tandem of Noah Brindise and Doug Johnson to knock the Seminoles out of No. 1.

This time, a rotation of Johnson and Jesse Palmer couldn't do it, despite passing for 380 yards.

The problem was the Florida offense could not find the FSU end zone but once, despite nine trips into Seminole territory.

Bobby Bowden would never admit to doing it on purpose to show up Spurrier (and probably never think of it), but he lined up four different players at quarterback in the first quarter - Chris Weinke, Marcus Outzen, Peter Warrick and Dan Kendra.

Maybe the Gators would've been better off with a five-man rotation.

Spurrier's state-of-the-art, everybody-in-the-pattern philosophy really took a hit this time. It just doesn't work in the red zone, from where Florida failed twice late in the game.

With Warrick taking direct snaps, Bowden reduced the game to kids in the park - hike the ball to your best runner and let him do his thing.

Not very flashy, but effective; Warrick scored FSU's first touchdown that way, reversing his field at the Florida 5.

THE Gator fans were nearly as creative, sporting signs with a "Get Out of Jail Free" card with Bowden's face instead of the Monopoly guy's, and others referring to the "Criminoles" and the "Heistman" Trophy."

Bret Favre's sister got caught shoplifting at a Dillard's last week, the same chain where Warrick got his special discount.

The Dillard's guys have got to love all the free advertising this time of year.

Florida is supposed to be the smart school, the law-abiding school. But the Gators hurt themselves with penalties and turnovers all season.

As they did against Alabama, miscues negated their talent.

"We do some dumb things," Spurrier said. "I can't coach them out of it."

As for the lemon toss, no one was quite sure who did it.

Charlie Ward? Deion? Burt Reynolds? Maybe a Citrus Bowl official?

"Well, I'm going to tell our guys to throw it out next time we need to run out the clock," Spurrier said. "We'll have them pitch it out there."

C'mon coach, when you're given lemons, make lemonade.

And lose the sour grapes.

Dave Reardon, who covered sports in Hawaii
from 1977 to 1998, is a sportswriter at the
Gainesville Sun. E-mail

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