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The best of the Auburn-Florida rivalry — Spurrier-Bowden and more

The best of the Auburn-Florida rivalry -- Spurrier-Bowden and more
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Steve Spurrier played in the Auburn-Florida game, smack dab in the middle of the once-annual rivalry between the two schools. But ask him about Auburn, and those memories from the 1960s are not the first that come to mind.

“Do you want to talk about ’93 or ’94?” he asks.

There have been plenty of great games and great moments between the two programs, and both 1993 and 1994 rank among the most unforgettable. On the Auburn side, they mark the celebration of two incredible upsets by a program on probation. On the Florida side, they still elicit bitter, raw emotions, all these years later, two games they never should have let slip away.

“It’s been 25 years but, man, what I wouldn’t give to go back in time and erase that memory and right that wrong. Because it was wrong,” former Florida great Kevin Carter said.

That the game between No. 7 Auburn and No. 10 Florida on Saturday marks the first time Gus Malzahn has visited the Swamp in his seven seasons as head coach is an injustice to the SEC scheduling model that has come under fire in recent years.

Especially given the history between these two programs.

Twenty-five years ago, Auburn and Florida played perhaps the most memorable game in their series, and to understand why so much went into the 1994 game, we first need to look back at 1993. Florida was rolling with the Fun ‘N’ Gun offense under Spurrier, and went into Jordan-Hare Stadium ranked No. 4. No. 19 Auburn, undefeated but on probation, was given little chance to win.

Unless you were in the stadium, you could not watch the game. Auburn served a television ban as part of its NCAA penalties over charges that a former player received money from coaches and boosters. With a sold-out crowd and thousands of others outside the stadium tailgating and listening on the radio, it was hard to hear much of anything that day.

Florida jumped out to a 10-0 quick lead, as expected, and was driving in for another score to go up 17-0. But quarterback Danny Wuerffel misread the signal from Spurrier. “Only two times he ever did that. Both times it happened against Auburn,” Spurrier said. Calvin Jackson returned the errant pass 96 yards for a touchdown.

“The place was vibrating,” former Florida wide receiver Chris Doering said. “I don’t know if I’ve ever been in a stadium that was as loud as that was.”

Still, Florida led 27-14 at halftime. In the locker room, then Auburn assistant Jimbo Fisher turned to quarterback Stan White and said, “I hope your arm is loose because we’re about ready to let it loose.” Auburn decided to beat the high-flying Gators, the Tigers would have to pitch it around themselves. White threw for nearly 300 yards and Auburn won 38-35.

“That was the game that vaulted us,” White said. “We, as a team, collectively said if we beat these guys, we can win them all. That was the game that propelled us all the way through the season.”

On the other side of it, Carter said, “We walked out of there losing and I remember thinking, ‘How did we lose that game?'”

Auburn finished undefeated, though Florida would end up winning the SEC title. Heading into 1994, all Carter could think about was payback. Florida, ranked No. 1, was a heavy favorite once again.

But No. 6 Auburn had other ideas. Receiver Frank Sanders, who grew up in South Florida, took the game personally. So did the other players on the team from the state of Florida. Wrap in another year of probation and the motivation to try to go undefeated again. Add in the coaching rivalry between Spurrier and the Bowden family, with youngest son Terry coming to town as Auburn head coach, and you had the makings of a tension-filled game on both sides.

“We were 17-point underdogs playing against Coach Spurrier, one of the greatest coaches of all time, and Terry Bowden being an underdog coach, there’s so many stories inside a story that you look at it and you say we shouldn’t be beating Florida,” Sanders said. “But it’s another situation where we had guys wanting to put Auburn on the map.”

“I was on a bit of a personal vendetta,” Carter said. “The whole time [tackle] Willie Anderson and [tight end] Andy Fuller, they’re running their mouth. They’re talking the worst trash in the world and I’m telling them, ‘I’m going to kill both you guys. You can’t block me, don’t worry if you make it to the NFL, I’ll beat your ass there, too.'”

Tommy Bowden, who served under his brother as Auburn offensive coordinator, explained one of the biggest keys was the way Auburn kept max protection in on offense to slow down Florida’s athletic and physical defense. Terry Bowden told his team if running back Stephen Davis could get 100 yards and their tight ends caught every pass that came their way, they’d win.

But the game was in doubt until the end. With Florida leading 33-29 and 1:20 left, Wuerffel threw on third down, and Auburn safety Brian Robinson made the interception. Wuerffel (again) missed the signal.

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