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SOUTHERN FOOTBALL FRIDAYS: Reaves to Alvarez, Gators’ “Super Sophs”

Let’s party like it’s 1969 for the first installment of “Southern Football Fridays,” which will appear every Friday this fall.

Flashback to Florida Field on Sept. 20, 1969 where the boys of old Florida were coming off a disappointing 6-3-1 1968 season and kicked off in the opener against high-powered Houston.

Coach Bill Yeoman’s Cougars entered the season ranked No. 7 in the Associated Press poll, and they were ranked No. 1 by Playboy, which, of course, you knew because you bought the publication for the articles.

Houston ran a veer offense and the previous year’s squad had led the nation by scoring 42.5 points per game, an average helped along by a 100–6 victory over Tulsa that still stands as the last time a team scored 100 points in a top-division college football game. So they had a well-earned reputation and entered the game as 27-point favorites.

Florida_Gators_script_logoFreshmen were not eligible to play in 1969, so the coming out parties were reserved for sophomores such as John Reaves, who began his reign as the Gators’ starting quarterback in 1969, and wide receiver Carlos Alvarez, who would become Reaves’ favorite target while earning the nickname “The Cuban Comet.”

Upperclassmen on this Gators team included future NFL players Jack Youngblood and Steve Tannen. So they had some talent. And Gators coach Ray Graves boldly employed a pro-style offense.

“Nobody really ran wide-open offenses back then,” said Reaves, who went on to play in the NFL and USFL and is now a Tampa businessman. “We ran a sweep and a trap and a lot of passing plays.”

They scrimmaged against the junior varsity two weeks before the Houston game and took a 93-0 decision.

“We had a lot of confidence,” Reaves said.

They took that swagger into the Houston game, getting the ball first and running twice before facing a third down at the Gators’ 30. What happened next remains a fond memory in Florida football lore.

Alvarez shook free at the 35 and Reaves delivered the football to the speedy receiver for a 70-yard touchdown.

“That set us off to a real good start,” Reaves recalled.

Before the day was over Reaves had thrown for five touchdowns and Alvarez had caught five more passes, including a 21-yard touchdown. The Gators came away with an impressive 59-34 win.

Graves’ young Gators came to be known as “The Super Sophs” and went on to post a 9-1-1 season, including a 14-13 Gator Bow win over Tennessee, which had won the SEC that season. Ironically, Florida replaced Graves as coach — he remained as athletic director — and Tennessee coach Doug Dickey took over the team that had beaten his Vols.

bchastain19@gmail.com

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©2020 by Bill Chastain. Photo credits: Jill Doty Photography