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Alligator Army Summer Reading Series: The Gator Flop

Would you purposely let the opposition score a touchdown?

Well, if you ask the 1971 Florida Gators football team, they would likely say yes. When quarterback John Reaves needed just a few yards to break Jim Plunketts all-time NCAA career passing yard record, the Gators defense was more than happy to give him once more chance.

The set-up: November 27, 1971 at the Miami Orange Bowl in Miami, Florida. Heading into the contest, Florida Gators quarterback John Reaves needed 343 yards to pass Jim Plunkett's (7,544 yards) and set the NCAA record for most career passing yards. With a little more than a minute to go in the game, the Gators were leading by the score 45-8. After John Reaves threw an interception, Miami was now in control of the ball, Reaves remained 14 yards away from the NCAA record and the Gators defense had an idea. 

The play: Miami has the ball on the Gator 8 yard line and according to legend, are looking to run out the clock. While there is video of the play (see below), sources differ as to what happens next. I count two defenders in the video who remain standing, but Morris McLemore who is reporting in the video says it is the entire defense, and Joanne North of the St. Petersburg Times says all but defensive back John Clifford flopped down to allow Miami quarterback John Hornibrook to walk in "unmolested" into the end-zone for a touchdown, giving the ball back to the Gators barring a successful onside kick recovery by Miami.

The aftermath: After recovering Miami's onside kick attempt, John Reaves would complete a 15 yard pass on second down to Carlos "the Cuban Comet" Alvarez to set the record. Reaves would go on to complete one more pass (3 or 4 yards depending on what source you are looking at) for good measure. But that isn't all. The entire Gators team would then jump into the Orange Bowl fountain which was used for the live Miami Dolphins mascot Flipper. There was no post-game handshake between coaches as Miami coach Fran Curci refused to shake Gators coach Doug Dickey's hand.

What the participants say: A few years ago when the Gators played Miami for the first regular season match-up since 2003, ESPN had an outstanding piece about the incident and it even included some fantastic interviews with some of the players and coaches involved.

John Clifford, former Gators defensive back:

"Harvin said we were gonna lay down, and I said, 'No we're not!' And everyone turned and looked at me like they wanted to kill me. So I went, 'OK, well …' I didn't have any problem with us trying to break the record. The problem I had was that there were three guys on the field at the time -- two of 'em on the other team -- who I'd played with at Coral Gables High School. And my parents were there, and everything else. That had more to do with it than anything else. I was prepared to unbuckle my chin strap and get run over and have my helmet fly off to make it look good, but that's different than standing still or laying down."

Harvin Clark, former Gators defensive player:

"I laid on my back instead of my chest, because I hurt my neck and I couldn't lift it up enough to see what was goin' on. I saw the quarterback as he ran by -- he kinda looked at the back judge, and the back judge kinda shrugged, like, 'I don't know what they're doin'.' And he went on into the end zone."

Fran Curci, former Miami head coach:

"I was appalled. I just couldn't believe it. I thought this was so much against the spirit of the game that I came back out later and said it was a tainted record. I was very, very angry. My players, they were just incensed. A couple of 'em were crying."

The video below explains it all. I especially found interesting the response from George Mills who reports at the end of the video. I'm going to just go out on a limb and say he was working in Miami at the time.

(via wolfsonarchive)