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Only one mistake, but it can be remembered forever

Gator fans still bring up Dallas Baker's penalty last season. But he, and others before him, have tried to move on.

By ANTONYA ENGLISH
Published September 13, 2005


GAINESVILLE - Chris Webber. Bill Buckner. Dallas Baker.

Different athletes. Different eras. Different sports.

Linked by well-known, game-day flubs.

The sports annals are filled with stories of heat-of-the-moment mistakes that altered the course of a game or series - and sometimes the athlete's life.

Baker joined the infamous group last season.

It has been one year since his personal foul for retaliation in the final minute of the game led to a 50-yard field goal and Tennessee's two-point come-from-behind win at Neyland Stadium.

It's Tennessee week again, and by early Monday morning, Gator defensive end Jeremy Mincey already had gotten an earful from his fellow students about that fateful play.

"They keep bringing it up. ... "Tell Dallas Baker not to make any more foolish penalties,"' Mincey said.

Fans find it hard to forget. Even new coach Urban Meyer has used it to remind players about playing smart.

"Sure, that's come up six, seven, a hundred times," Meyer said.

Baker's mistake might be among the biggest with Gator fans, but in the national scope, others trump him.

Among them: Chris Webber calling a timeout in the 1993 basketball final despite Michigan having none and Bill Buckner's error that allowed the winning run to score in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series.

Baker's actions didn't have World Series or national title implications, but for Gator fans, losing to Tennessee is close.

Florida led 28-27 with 55 seconds remaining when Baker was penalized 15 yards for retaliation, a personal foul, after cornerback Jonathan Wade hit Baker on the side of his helmet. The clock should have restarted, and the argument was it should have been offsetting penalties. Neither happened, and the Vols went on to win 30-28.

Tampa native and former Florida quarterback Jimmy Fisher can sympathize with Baker. The former King High star has lived through a similar situation.

On Sept.11, 1976, Fisher was the Gators' senior starting quarterback in a game against North Carolina at Tampa Stadium. The Gators trailed 24-21 and drove to the Tar Heels 3, poised to score with three seconds left in the game.

Fisher had been hit on the head a few plays earlier in the drive and was having trouble focusing, but he refused to take himself out.

"We got to the goal line. There was a penalty, and we were rushing around stopping the clock," Fisher said Monday. "We were trying to get the plays in. I got up on the line of scrimmage, looked at the scoreboard real quick, and that's one thing you shouldn't do. You're the field general. You should know where you are and what you're doing.

"I wanted to get the ball out of bounds so we could get a play in, and I just zipped it (intentionally) right out of bounds."

It was fourth down.

"I didn't really realize it until I saw everybody run out on the field," he said. "The head coach came straight to me. He looked at me and said you realize you threw it out on fourth down. ... It was probably the low point of my career, that's for sure. It was the very, very worst thing that could happen in my first game."

Florida played Houston in Gainesville the next week, earning a 49-14 win with Fisher at quarterback. But Fisher remembers, "It was a tough, tough week," (leading up to the game).

Every athlete ever involved in that situation discovers one thing: You have to find a way to move on.

Fisher got up every morning the next week and tried his best to focus on the upcoming game.

Baker attempted the same last year. He'll do it again this week.

"The biggest thing is you don't think about what you've done in the past," Baker said. "It's all about maturing, really. That's all it is.'

Life goes on, but ... somehow "the play" always lingers.

"Especially in the latter part of the game, when anything like that happens, it'll always be remembered." Fisher said. "If it happens early, you can get through it. But if it happens late, people will remember that one for a long time."

For coaches, the key is trying to find the balance between making sure a player learns from his mistake yet doesn't spend the rest of his life feeling bad about it.

"You have to trust the kids are going to be out there doing the very best they can," Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said. "There are a lot of mistakes made in the ballgame, and a lot of them are going to lead to winning or losing. It usually doesn't get down to just one mistake. But if there's one at the end of the ballgame that's very obvious, then you're not going to make it too big a deal on the kid to ruin his life or anything like that.

Baker is among the lucky ones. He has another chance to redeem himself Saturday.