Florida Coach Galen Hall knew all along that his good, long run could not go on forever. And that's what he said again and again after his best hope and dream had come tumbling down in a terrific heap today before 82,327 at the Gator Bowl, the largest crowd ever to see a football game here.
Red-faced and with a pair of eyes like isinglass, Hall was standing with his hands in his pockets, rocking on the heels of his shoes, trying to make sense of what's known in these parts as "The World's Largest Cocktail Party," the Gators' annual confrontation with the Georgia Bulldogs.
What took the big state school in Gainesville an entire lifetime to accomplish, No. 17 Georgia did away with in 60 minutes, storming off with a 24-3 Southeastern Conference victory over the top-ranked Gators, who lost for the first time since Hall took over as coach with eight games left in the 1984 season. When it was all over, Hall said he was proud of his boys, they'd played hard enough to win, but, "Georgia played one of its greatest games ever today. And we really couldn't do anything right."
In a crowded room at the other end of the great cement bowl, Georgia Coach Vince Dooley was saying, "I thought we had a chance to win, but never did I think that we'd win by such a large margin . . . To say I'm proud is an understatement. We came out and took the attack to Florida."
To win, the Bulldogs used big plays from freshman running backs Keith Henderson, who scored on breakaway runs of 76 and 32 yards, and Tim Worley, whose 89-yard sprint off a quick pitch with 3:58 left tied the Georgia record set by Johnny Griffith 39 years ago and put the game way out of reach.
Adding to Georgia's spectacular effort was a defense led by linebacker John Brantley and defensive end Greg Waters, who put constant pressure on Florida's star quarterback, Kerwin Bell. The Bulldogs limited Florida to 28 yards rushing.
Georgia (7-1-1) has won seven of the last eight meetings with Florida and nine of the last 12. The Gators, strapped with an NCAA probation that prevents them from playing on live television and in bowl games and contending for the SEC title, fell to 7-1-1. To add to their disappointment, the Gators, who were unbeaten in 18 games, no longer can lay claim to the nation's longest winning streak.
"You want to know how it feels?" Florida fullback John L. Williams said. "It's a terrible, hurting feeling, especially so when it's the first time you've ever been there."
After Florida's Jeff Dawson kicked wide right from 33 yards with a little more than six minutes left in the first quarter, Georgia hustled out on the field with a solemn resolve that would set the tempo for the day. On the second and last play of the drive, Henderson took a handoff on the straight-ahead dive and ran 76 yards for the touchdown. He crossed into the end zone trailed by the entire Florida secondary, and tumbled over either out of sheer exhaustion or exhilaration. For whatever reason, there was a party of red shirts dancing around under a rain of paper cups and programs. Steve Crumley made the point after, giving the Bulldogs a 7-0 lead.
"We had some of our guys fighting off the blocks pretty good," said Gators linebacker Scott Armstrong. "But when we finally got to the ball we couldn't make the tackles. That's when you looked behind you and saw their guys flying by."
Henderson scored on his second big hit with 11:39 left in the first half, when he took the dive off right tackle and ran past the pursuit for 32 yards and his second touchdown. That put Georgia up, 14-0.
"There's no question," Hall said, "that Georgia's big-play capabilities combined with the mistakes we made was the overwhelming factor. Our kids played extemely well, as hard as they could. They wanted to win the game as bad as Georgia. But the Bulldogs shut down every last phase of our game plans." It was a frustrating time for Bell, who completed 33 of 49 passes for 408 yards, the most yards passing in a game for a Florida quarterback. But he was not able to push his offense when it counted most, down close to the end zone.
One example of the Gators' futility on offense came after Ricky Nattiel returned a punt 31 yards to the Georgia 30, giving Florida a chance to make up half of the Bulldogs' 14-point head start. Tailback Neal Anderson gained one yard, then Bell threw two incomplete passes under pressure from Waters. That's when Dawson trotted out to miss his second kick of the day, this time from 46 yards.
Here were the same Gators that had manhandled Miami, Louisiana State, Tennessee and Auburn, carrying on as if they'd rather be home barbecuing chicken on a patio grill. Why couldn't the Gators' offensive front control the great surge of the Georgia ends? Hall said his people had fought hard, but the line still needed experience. "Sometimes we didn't do as good a job as we could," he said, "but we're going to get better. You got to remember they're still young up there."
Bell completed passes of 11, 28 and 17 yards to set up the Gators' only score. Starting at his 30, Florida drove to the Georgia 16 before somebody failed to pick up Brantley stunting up the middle. That four-yard loss knocked the air out of the drive, and Dawson came out again. His 36-yard attempt did not sail wide left this time, but went good down the pipe. There was 2:04 remaining in the second quarter, and Georgia led, 14-3.
The Bulldogs used a run of 40 yards by tailback Lars Tate to set up the final score of the half. Passes of eight and 17 yards from quarterback Wayne Johnson to Ronny Smith and Fred Lane also added to the effort, and put Georgia in position for Crumley's 32-yard field goal with only 15 seconds on the clock, ending the 76-yard, nine-play drive and giving the Gators a 17-3 deficit to think about at halftime.
"What we couldn't stop," Hall said, "were the fullbacks hitting up the middle and the toss sweeps to the tailbacks. They made their big plays count every time, and we weren't consistent in attacking as we should have been."
Neither could score in the third quarter. Florida's best shot at getting into the end zone ended with about five minutes left in the game, when Williams' fumble at the Georgia seven was recovered by Steve Boswell for the Bulldogs.
Two plays later, Worley broke through a hole off the right side and ran 89 yards for a touchdown. It was that kind of day.
"I thought our winning streak would have to end sometime," Hall said. "I just wish it hadn't happened today."