32nd Annual Sugar Bowl Classic ~ January 1, 1966
#6 Missouri 20 (Final: 8-2-1, #6)
Florida 18 (Final: 7-4-0)
How Missouri and Florida Met in the 1966 Sugar Bowl
This could have been the Mother of All Comebacks.
Didn’t quite make it, but it was a rousing display – a two-minute drill that lasted 15.
Down 17-0 at the half, 20-0 in the third quarter, junior quarterback Steve Spurrier and the Florida Gators made the fourth quarter a sparkler.
“We figured,” Spurrier recalled of Florida’s late strategy, “we could only score three times in the last quarter. What we had to do was keep Missouri from getting a touchdown. But they might have gotten close enough for (another) field goal, which would have given them 23 points. So, to win, we would need 24 points.”
For a team that could manage almost zero offense to that point, and would finish with minus two yards rushing, that was a mighty tall order.
Early, overcoming Florida’s offensive and defensive units must have looked relatively simple to Missouri coach Dan Devine, at least on the blackboard. The Tigers utilized a wide tackle – or an eight-man line – to put pressure on Spurrier.
Should the Gators withstand the increased Missouri rush, the task of stopping Spurrier would fall to secondary coach Clay Cooper’s unit, which was formidable with safety Johnny Roland roaming the perimeter.
The Tigers felt that eventually the Gators offensive line would give way under the hammering Missouri assault. “It couldn’t have worked better,” Spurrier reflected later. “For a while I couldn’t breathe out there.”
Two long drives in the first quarter were one of Missouri’s best weapons. On its lone series in the period, Spurrier hit on a 9-yard pass, but two running plays lost a yard and the Gators had to punt. That was Florida’s offense for the quarter.
Gary Lane, a methodical craftsman, put the Tigers ahead with a 59-yard drive. Charlie Brown, a 5-foot-8, 185-pound half-back who looked more like a professor than a student, dove into the end zone inside the flag on a 10-yard play. Missouri took definite command after converting a fumble recovery at the Gator 11 into a touchdown. Devine rushed in Roland who executed a perfect halfback pass to Early Denny, who was open at the goal.
“It wasn’t a usual play,” Cooper said. “Roland had been an offensive back until last year, and we used the play during the regular season. We just caught ‘em asleep, I guess.”
Before the half was over, Bill Bates also kicked a 37-yard field goal for a 17-0 lead. Even with that cushion, however, Devine sensed his team weakening, both from following the game plan and from the 78-degree heat.
Florida changed things in the locker room. The offense, and its non-existent running game, was modified by placing a halfback wide as a receiver. If Florida was going to win, it would be by air, and Spurrier was instructed to roll away from the pressure and to look for targets in the flat.
First, though, Missouri added to its lead with a 34-yard field goal.
That’s when Spurrier went to work.
Scrambling away from the Tiger pressure points, Spurrier took his team downfield, completing six passes in six attempts, culminating with a 22-yard touchdown to Jack Harper just inbounds in the end zone. Coach Ray Graves sent in instructions to go for two points, but the pass was off target.
A Missouri fumble on the ensuing kickoff at the Florida 10 gave the Gators heart. “That looked like manna from heaven,” said Spurrier, who ran in from the 2. Harper threw an incomplete halfback pass on the attempted two-point conversion. A simple kick would have put the Gators just seven points back.
“Looking back on it,” Spurrier reflected, “I wish we had done something different.”
After forcing a Missouri punt, back came the Gators going from their 19 to the Tiger 21. There, on third down, Spurrier spotted Charlie Casey in the end zone and tried to float a pass to him. Defender Gary Grossnickle came up and covered Casey perfectly, deflecting the ball. In a tremendous effort, Casey drove headlong and caught the ball just off the ground.
For the third consecutive time Florida’s two-point attempt went astray. Given up for dead at the start of the fourth quarter, the Gator trailed just 20-18. But there was just 2:08 remaining. The Tigers ran out the clock.
In the last period, the junior Florida quarterback swept his team to three touchdowns in barely 11 minutes of play. He completed 16-of-23 passes for 198 yards and two touchdowns, and scored another himself. To put it in perspective, the Sugar Bowl completion record for an entire game had been 17, set by Davey O’Brien in 1939.
“Yep, it was pretty impressive, all right,” said Clay Cooper. “They were a real good team, and we knew that sooner or later they would hit a couple on us. They hit more than a couple, but you noticed who won the game?…Missouri.”
Recap excerpted from the book “Sugar Bowl Classic: A History” by Marty Mulé, who covered the game and the organization for decades for the New Orleans Times-Picayune.