This is the first part (winning portion) of a two-part look at 20 games that have come to define the Florida Gators football program. I am using 1990 as the starting point, simply because I'm not old enough to be an old school Gators fan. I can appreciate the history of Florida football, and I might look at those games down the road.
The second part (losing portion) will follow later in the day.
10. 1990: Florida at Alabama
The passing of the torch in SEC football: This game ushered a change from the run-oriented and tradition-rich Alabama Crimson Tide to the wide-open passing offense of the upstart Florida Gators. In a defensive game throughout, the Gators turned the momentum for good with a blocked punt returned for a touchdown, from which the Tide could not recover.
9. 1991: Florida vs. Kentucky
This is the game in which all of Florida's demons were exorcised, as the first official SEC championship in school history came at the expense of the Kentucky Wildcats. The 1984, 1985, and 1990 teams had finished first in the SEC, but were denied titles due to the probation that plagued the program.
8. 1995: Florida vs. Florida State
After three straight losses to the Seminoles, (well, one was technically a tie), the Gators capped an undefeated regular season with a 35-24 win over their hated rivals from Tallahassee.
7. 2003: Florida vs. LSU
This was the lone bright spot in the Ron Zook era at Florida. The Gators came into the game at a dismal 3-3, facing a daunting task of playing three Top 10 teams in four weeks. To make matters worse, not one game was played in Gainesville. The eventual national champion LSU Tigers were first on the agenda, and lightning struck early when Skyler Green housed an 80-yard punt return for a touchdown.
Somehow, though, the Gators would not be denied, as they withstood six sacks by the LSU defense, kept the Tigers out of the end zone, and managed to put up 19 points to win the ballgame.
6. 1992: Florida vs. Georgia
The Gators came into this game as the underdog after two early season beatings at the hands of Tennessee and Mississippi State. The Gators shocked No. 7 Georgia, effectively costing the Bulldogs a shot at the SEC East.
5. 1996: Florida vs. Tennessee
For Tennessee fans, this was the year. Peyton Manning was going to put UT over the top in likely his last season. Neyland Stadium had just expanded to over 100,000 people. Florida was coming to Neyland Stadium, and the Vols wanted payback.
They got none—Florida raced to a 35-0 lead before coasting the rest of the way to give Peyton Manning the third of four losses he would experience at the hands of the Gators.
4. 1995: Florida vs. Tennessee
The Gators trailed 30-21 at home at the half before erupting in the second half with 41 points on six straight possessions that throttled the Volunteers in a 62-37 win. It was in this game that Peyton Manning left Joey Kent hang out to dry on a pass play, and Lawrence Wright hit him so hard that Kent bit off the tip of his tongue. This was the largest margin of victory over Tennessee before last year's 59-20 win.
3. 2006: Florida vs. Ohio State
Everybody said Florida didn't belong. The spread offense wouldn't work. Ohio State had such a good team it didn't matter who they played—they were going to win the game anyway. Well, for about 10 seconds, those people were right.
After Ted Ginn Jr. returned the opening kickoff for a TD, the Gators destroyed the Buckeyes, 41-14. Ohio State couldn't keep up with their speed, and the Gators ran right past the Buckeyes on their way to the second National Championship in school history.
2. 1997: Florida vs. Florida State
This was Steve Spurrier's finest hour as a coach. He thoroughly out-coached Bobby Bowden (back when Bowden actually coached a game), shuffling QBs in and out on every play. Add in career days by Fred Taylor and Jacquez Green, plus the loudest crowd ever in the Swamp, and you had the perfect storm for an upset of No. 1 Florida State.
1. 1997 Sugar Bowl: Florida vs. Florida State
The first crown jewel in Florida football history, and the culmination of one of the greatest careers by a college QB. Mere weeks after suffering heartbreak against the Seminoles, the Gators exacted a measure of revenge on their rivals by beating them when it counted the most.
52-20 was the final score, as the Gators were paced by Danny Wuerffel and Ike Hilliard to their first National Championship.