This Day in Gator History: Sept. 20

When John Reaves stepped back in the pocket and hit Carlos Alvarez with a touchdown pass to start the 1969 season, it started what may have been one of the most unpredictable and unexpected seasons in all the years of Gator football.

All some fancy-speaking writer once wrote, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

But in 1969, it started off oh so good, as this Associated Press dispatch will disclose:

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) – John Reaves turned in a sensational performance In his college football debut Saturday, equaling a Southeastern Conference record with five touchdown passes in leading underdog Florida to a crushing 59-34 upset of seventh-ranked Houston.

Reaves, who played only three quarters, hooked up with another super soph Carlos Alvarez for six completions and 182 yards including two touchdowns.

Reaves hit 18 of 30 for 342 yards, a school record. It erased the 289 yards by All-American Steve Spurrier in 1965 against Auburn. Alvarez’ 182 yards also beat the old mark of 172 by Charley Casey.

On the third play of the game Reaves tossed a 70-yard scoring pass, with Alvarez taking the perfectly thrown ball over his shoulder on the 32. He was already

two steps behind Houston’s deepest defender and scampered into the end zone untouched.

While 53,807 spectators watched in disbelief, the sophomore laden Gators romped to a 38-6 halftime lead and were never in trouble.

Reaves threw two touchdown passes to Tommy Durrance and one to Garry Walker as well as the pair to Alvarez. Durrance, also a sophomore, ran six yards for a score and sophomore Jimmy Barr romped 37 with a stolen pass.

The vaunted Houston offense, best in the nation the past three seasons, was blunted by two fumbles and an interception in the first half and didn’t pick up momentum until Florida had salted the game away. Elmo Wright caught three touchdown tosses and Mike Parrott caught one in a second half as both teams abandoned defense entirely.

Reaves’ five touchdown passes put him in the SEC record book with Bill Wade of Vanderbilt, Babe Parilli of Kentucky and Fred Dempsey of Tulane. Each of them also hit five aerial scores in a game, the latest Dempsey in 1952.

Silence fell over Florida Field midway in the third quarter when Reaves fell writhing to the ground after completing a seven-yard pass to Paul Maliska at the Houston 13. The injury turned out to be only a muscle cramp. After treatment, Reaves stayed in the game.

Jack Eckdahl, a left-handed senior who lost the starting quarterback job to Reaves, took over in the fourth quarter and became Florida’s leading runner with 60 yards in eight carries. He contributed a nine-yard pass completion to Florida’s aerial total of 409 yards on 23 connections.

The Gators’ dream of an SEC title did not happen in 1969, but the memories of those players and those games have lasted a lifetime for us older Gator fans.

Ray Graves coached, this his final season for the Gators. After the Gator defeated Tennessee in the Gator Bowl it was announced that the Vols coach Doug Dickey, himself a Florida grad, would become the Gators head coach. This was in spite of the fact that it had been denied over and over by all parties leading up to the game.

The Gators enjoyed much success under Graves for 10 seasons and he is fondly remembered by Gator fans for his class and the demeanor that he brought to Gator Nation.

He deserved better.

The Gators have played 10 games on Sept. 20 and have a 7-3 record on This Day in Gator History.