Former Florida Gators quarterback John Reaves, who set school and NCAA records as a prolific passer in the late 1960s and early 1970s, was found dead in his Tampa home on Tuesday, as first reported by the Tampa Bay Times on Wednesday.
Reaves was discovered by his son, David, on Tuesday, and his cause of death is under investigation. David Reaves told the Times on Wednesday that his father appeared to have died in his sleep. Chris Harry notes on Florida’s official website that Reaves “had been dealing with health issues for years.”
Reaves was 67.
Reaves was born in Alabama but moved to Tampa as a child, and grew into a great prep athlete at T.R. Robinson High School.
At the end of the decade that also featured Steve Spurrier’s own stellar career as Florida’s starting quarterback, Reaves became a national name by throwing the pigskin even more prolifically than the Gators’ first Heisman winner. He started for Florida from 1969 to 1971, leading the Gators to a then-program-best 9-1-1 record as one of a group of “Super Sophs” that also included wide receiver Carlos Alvarez in 1969, and compiled what was then an NCAA-record 7,581 career passing yards — despite seeing his totals drop from his sophomore season to his junior year, and from his junior year to his senior campaign.
Florida’s quest to get Reaves the NCAA passing record also produced the infamous “Florida Flop” in the 1971 season finale against Miami, in which Gators defenders allowed the Hurricanes to score to get the ball back to Reaves with a change to write his name in the record books.
He did so, capping a season in which he was named a first-team All-American, and awarded the Sammy Baugh Trophy as the country’s best quarterback — and Florida won the game, 45-16, for the record.
That record for passing yardage has long since been eclipsed, as has Reaves’s SEC record for passing touchdowns, and Reaves’s career yardage total is now almost 12,000 yards fewer than the current NCAA record. But Reaves does still hold the NCAA record for interceptions in a game, having thrown a flabbergasting nine picks in a November 1969 contest against Auburn to dash what was then an undefeated season for the Gators.
Interceptions were common for Reaves, who threw no fewer than 19 in any of his three collegiate seasons and still holds the SEC career record for picks, and that problem would follow him to the professional ranks. He threw 34 picks to 17 touchdowns in a spotty nine-season NFL career spent with four different teams. And despite briefly excelling in the USFL as the quarterback for the Tampa Bay Bandits — under the tutelage of Spurrier — he would record more touchdowns than interceptions in just one professional season.
In his post-playing career, Reaves went into coaching, working as an assistant at Florida — under Spurrier, once more — in the early 1990s and then at South Carolina. But Reaves had a knack for finding tumult away from the field, with a 1983 Sports Illustrated story detailing his heavy drinking and marijuana use, and talks about his cocaine use and drunk driving arrests figuring into his work as a motivational speaker.
A 2008 arrest for aggravated assault and cocaine possession also brought Reaves back to the news, and spurred reporting on the legal and personal drama that became the headline of Reaves’s post-football life.
Still, Reaves — who worked for many years in real estate in Tampa — was a beloved member of the Florida football family, as Spurrier’s remarks on him to both the Times and Florida’s site reflect.
"It's a day to remember John, celebrate. That's the way it should be," Spurrier said. "Shed a tear a little bit, more than a little bit, then celebrate what he did while he was here on Earth."
Our thoughts and best wishes are with Reaves’s family and friends.