The Gators’ signing class of 1987 included a running back from Pensacola Escambia High School named Emmitt Smith. His Gator debut was an unheralded one at Miami on Sept. 4. Smith carried the ball five times for 16 yards.
The following week, however, Smith broke off a 66-yard run and finished the day with 109 yards on just 10 carries. The SEC opener on Sept. 19, 1987 was at Legion Field in Birmingham, and Florida coach Galen Hall announced that Smith would get his first start.
And, as they say, the rest is history. Here’s the Associated Press dispatch on the game:
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Freshman Emmitt Smith, making his first collegiate start, ran for a school-record 224 yards and two touchdowns as Florida upset 11th-ranked Alabama, 23-14, Saturday in the Southeastern Conference opener for both teams.
Smith broke a 6-6 tie with a 30-yard run through the middle with 5:39 left in the third quarter and gave the Gators a 17-point lead on a 1-yard plunge with 7:50 left in the game.
Smith got his total on 39 carries and the 224 rushing yards were six more than what Red Bethea gained against Chicago in 1930.
It was Florida’s first victory over the Crimson Tide since 1963, ending an eight-game losing streak in the series since Florida upset a Joe Namath-led team, 10-6, that season.
Alabama, which upset defending national champion Penn State last week, fell to 2-1, taking its first loss under new coach Bill Curry.
Florida (2-1) also got three field goals from Robert McGinty covering 26, 21 and 37 yards, all after he had come up short on a 50-yard attempt on the Gators’ first possession of the game.
Florida’s defense applied pressure throughout the game on quarterback David Smith, sacking him five times for losses of 39 yards. The Gators also bottled up Tide star Bobby Humphrey, holding him to 73 yards.
Alabama’s scoring came on field goals of 36 and 25 yards by Philip Doyle, the first after a short Florida punt and the second after the Tide picked off a Kerwin Bell pass.
Smith, who finished his high school career in Pensacola last year as the third leading rusher in high school history, was the workhorse throughout the overcast day for the Gators, taking the pressure off the strong Alabama rush on Bell.
The Gators would go on to a disappointing 6-6 season which ended with a loss to UCLA in the Aloha Bowl. Emmitt Smith, however, had a record-breaking season for the Gators. He became the first freshman to run for 1,000 yards by the end of his seventh game, beating the record held by Herschel Walker and Tony Dorsett.
The Gators had six players on the All-SEC first team: Smith, Clifford Charlton, Jarvis Williams, Louis Oliver, Rhondy Weston and Jeff Roth.
In all, Florida has played nine times on Sept. 19 and the Gators are 5-4 in those games on This Day in Gator History.