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Alligator Army Summer Reading Series: The 1979 Football Season

I thought I was going to do this thing on a schedule, but I have a few already written, some more ideas, so I'm guessing they will just appear randomly. Something along the lines of 2-3 per week. I also plan of all of them being published at 9:15am.

The 1979 football season began with a new head coach as Charlie Pell replaced Doug Dickey. Charlie Pell brought in all new coaches, which in turn brought in new offensive and defensive schemes (sound familiar?) with the main goal of changing the culture of the program from the ground up which had started to slide at the end of Doug Dickey's reign.

Charlie Pell even ended up to have a pretty decent career as the head man in Gainesville. He finished his career with a record of 33-26-3 overall and 14-16-1 in the SEC. The Gators even finished ranked #6 in the country after the 1983 season.

Wait a minute, that coaching record doesn't look or sound all that great you say? The very simple answer to that question is: 1979.

(Disclaimer: I was born a few years after this season, so I have no personal memory of the following)

People pass out cigars for a variety of reasons. Bachelor party, baby being born, victory cigars (Red Auerbach anyone?), or just whenever they feel like it.

Robin Fisher who to this day is still the only Gators defensive lineman to ever lead the Gators in tackles in a single season remembers the cigars of 1979:

Coach (Charley) Pell brought this cook with him from Clemson and he would give out cigars every time the team won. He'd always tell us, 'I can't wait to break out the cigars.' We never got to taste them."

Sometimes, for whatever reason, things just don't go the way you expected them to. The 1979 Florida Gators football team found that out the hard way. A season that started out (by all indications) with optimism ended with a win-less thud. 

The quarterback set to be the starter, John Brantley (the father of the current John Brantley) was hurt in the preseason. He would recover just in time to get hurt before the second game of the season. He remembers:

"So I finally get in there and I'm on a sprint-out and I plant my right foot right on a plastic top," Brantley said. "Blew out my hamstring. They got rid of those plastic tops after that."

Pat Dooley explains the plastic tops:

I had forgotten this until Brantley reminded me, the students had a tradition of taking the plastic tops off their sodas and flying them onto the field. It was an impressive sight.

That is a fine reason for the students to discontinue that practice. Watching the starting quarterback get injured is bad enough, but being directly involved in his injury is on a whole other level.

John's brother Scot, who was the best defensive player on the team, suffered a brain injury after taking a knee to the helmet, and never played again for the Gators. Click here for the original Sarasota Herald-Tribune article on Scot Brantley's injury.

"Side-by-side in the infirmary that night, there we were, me and Scot," Brantley said.

But the Brantley brothers weren't the only one. Starting center John Redmond also succumbed to the freak injury bug. Pat Dooley again, is to the rescue:

Florida opened the season at Houston, and as the team came out on the field the night before the game, Redmond found himself staring at the Astrodome ceiling.

"I tripped and got a rug burn on my chin," he said.

How bad was the offense during the 1979 season? Consider these three things while you draw up your own conclusions:

  • There were 5 different quarterbacks used (including Brantley)
  • The offense only generated 11 touchdowns all season (two by rushing)
  • The Gators punted 83 times that season. Chas Henry had one more punt than that the last two years COMBINED.

However, the season wasn't a total loss. The Gators did have two players named by the Associated Press as honorable mention All-Americans in wide receiver Chris Collinsworth and linebacker David Little.

"I came in thinking that, by myself we could win one game," Collinsworth said. "I learned a lot about dealing with adversity that year. That year was good for me. You go to college to learn in a lot of ways."

Phil Pharr who was a member of that team and currently is the associate executive director of Gator Boosters explains:

"You know, we laughed our butts off," Pharr said. "Everything was funny about that year. Everything was sad about that year."

How "sad" was it? Well, take a look for yourself. But I've have to warn you. It ain't pretty.

Date Opponent# Rank# Site TV Result
9–15–1979* #13 Houston Jeppesen StadiumHouston, Texas L 10–14  
9–22–1979* Georgia Tech Florida FieldGainesville, Florida T 7–7  
9–29–1979 Mississippi State Veterans Memorial StadiumJackson, Mississippi L 10–24  
10–6–1979 #17 Louisiana State Tiger StadiumBaton Rouge, Louisiana L 3–20  
10–13–1979 #2 Alabama Florida Field • Gainesville, Florida L 0–40  
10–27–1979* Tulsa Florida Field • Gainesville, Florida (Homecoming) L 10–20  
11–3–1979 #20 Auburn Jordan-Hare StadiumAuburn, Alabama L 13–19  
11–10–1979 Georgia Gator Bowl StadiumJacksonville, Florida ABC L 10–33  
11–17–1979 Kentucky Florida Field • Gainesville, Florida L 3–31  
11–24–1979* #5 Florida State Florida Field • Gainesville, Florida ABC L 16–27  
12–1–1979* Miami Orange Bowl StadiumMiami, Florida L 24–30  
*Non-Conference Game. #Rankings from AP Poll released prior to game.

The first silver lining that emerged after that 1979 season is that the team went 8-3 (8-4 after the bowl game loss) in 1980 and that turnaround was at the time the NCAA record

The second silver lining is that the Gators have sold out every single home game since that loss to Florida State. That is good for the third longest streak in all of college football behind Nebraska (#1) and Notre Dame (#2).