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College football

Choke at Doak still a landmark

Ten years later, it's one of the most memorable games in the history of the UF-FSU rivalry.

By KEITH NIEBUHR
Published November 17, 2004

[Times photo: Maurice Rivenbark, 1994]

Rock Preston's 4-yard TD run and the subsequent extra point capped Florida State's improbable comeback in the Choke at Doak.

As they entered the fourth quarter that cool and overcast afternoon at Doak Campbell Stadium, Florida center David Swain and his teammates weren't thinking about holding on against Florida State.

Ahead 31-3, they smelled a rout.

"We wanted to embarrass them as badly as we could," Swain said. "We all talked about scoring as many times as possible. Everything was clicking."

On the other sideline, emotions varied.

A few Florida State players just wanted it to end. Others hoped the Seminoles could at least make things respectable. Linebacker Derrick Brooks was among those who kept the faith.

"The whole time we were down, I never felt we were going to lose," said Brooks, then a senior and now a star with the Bucs.

During the final quarter, the unthinkable happened.

Florida's offense went south and its defense went in the tank. Florida State, suddenly energized as if the first three quarters never happened, mounted an electrifying comeback the likes of which may never be witnessed again. The resulting 31-31 tie will live forever in Florida-Florida State lore as the Choke at Doak.

"Oh that was bizarre," FSU coach Bobby Bowden said.

One reporter may have captured it best by writing: "It was the best of ties. It was the worst of ties."

For coach Steve Spurrier and his Gators, it felt like a loss. To the Seminoles, "it felt like we won," Brooks said.

The date was Nov. 26, 1994.

Ten years later, Florida's gag and FSU's rally remain firmly entrenched not only in the minds of the players, but those who witnessed the drama.

The always-bitter rivalry reached a new intensity that year in large part because of two things: FSU's dramatic win in Gainesville the previous season, which helped launch the Seminoles to their first national title, and a well-publicized Foot Locker incident involving FSU players. The latter led Spurrier to call FSU "Free Shoes University."

Both teams entered 9-1.

FSU's loss was to Miami. Florida's was to Auburn, a crushing defeat that knocked the Gators out of the No. 1 ranking. Many, though, still believed Florida was the country's most talented team, and for three quarters the Gators looked like it.

"It was typical Steve Spurrier," said FSU graduate assistant James Colzie, then a sophomore cornerback for the Seminoles. "He did some things we didn't work on all week. He came out in five wide receivers, and they hadn't really done that all season."

As the Gators rolled, the Seminoles struggled. Behind quarterback Danny Wuerffel, Florida moved up and down the field. But FSU quarterback Danny Kanell had lost a fumble and thrown an interception against an aggressive Gators defense led by All-American tackle Ellis Johnson. Some FSU fans had seen enough and as the fourth began there were several thousand empty seats.

"If Spurrier would have stuck to his guns," Colzie said, "they probably would have scored 60. We were on our heels."

But with things seemingly in hand, Florida let up.

The Gators went conservative on offense and then-defensive coordinator Bobby Pruett chose to go prevent. FSU, playing with Kanell in the shotgun, took advantage and went on the attack.

The Seminoles started the fourth at the Florida 46 and scored nine plays later, at one point converting on fourth and 10. After a Florida three-and-out, FSU needed only three plays to make it 31-17 with just over 10 minutes remaining.

"They started getting our offense off the field," said Florida offensive lineman Anthony Ingrassia.

Suddenly there was hope. And fear.

Florida's next drive stalled at the Gators 28. FSU began at its 27 and it was 31-24 two minutes later after a Kanell 2-yard keeper.

As the drama unfolded, the voice of the Seminoles Gene Deckerhoff told his audience, "For those of you who left early, sorry."

With 5:14 left, Florida took over at its 33. A 15-yard pass from Wuerffel to Reidel Anthony gave Florida hope. But two plays later, Colzie intercepted Wuerffel, sending the crowd into a frenzy.

Once again, FSU had no trouble finding the end zone. Rock Preston's 4-yard run made it 31-30 with 1:45 remaining. Bowden elected to go for the tie. (There was no overtime back then.) With Florida reeling, he figured FSU would have another chance to score. But he also didn't want such a comeback to end with a loss.

FSU made the kick and later got the ball back.

But with 22 seconds left, there wasn't enough time to score again.

When it ended, FSU players celebrated and Florida players slowly walked off the field with stunned looks on their faces.

"It was like two separate games," Swain said. "Ten years later and you still can't believe it."

5 memorable chokes

1993 HOUSTON OILERS: In the AFC Wild Card, Buffalo scored four touchdowns in the third quarter and rallied from a 35-3 deficit to down the Oilers 41-38 in overtime, marking the greatest comeback in NFL history. Backup quarterback Frank Reich led the charge.

1994 LSU BASKETBALL: Kentucky completed its greatest comeback in school history, rallying from 31 points down in the final 15:34 to defeat LSU, 99-95. The Wildcats hit 11 three-pointers and outscored the Tigers 62-27.

1996 GREG NORMAN: Nick Faldo won his third Masters golf tournament with a 67 on the final day after Norman shot a startling 78 to lose a 6-stroke lead in the worst collapse in Masters history.

1997 LATRELL SPREWELL: As if a 1-12 start wasn't bad enough, the Golden State star grabbed first-year coach P.J. Carlesimo by the neck and tried to choke him after the coach asked the player to leave practice early. Sprewell was suspended for one year by NBA commissioner David Stern.

2004 NEW YORK YANKEES: The Yanks led the Boston Red Sox three games to none in the AL Championship Series before the hated Sox rallied to become the first team in baseball history to rally from such a deficit.

- GREG AUMAN and KEITH NIEBUHR

[Last modified November 17, 2004, 00:03:19]


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