The 12 best season openers in Gators history

The 12 best season openers in Gators history

As Opening Day approaches, we know one thing about the first Florida soccer game of Billy Napier’s first season as a Gator.

This is turned up.

In fact, I can argue that for a first game it might be the most electrifying atmosphere we’ve seen for this program.

There are many reasons. One is Napier beginning what Florida fans are hoping there won’t be a fourth short straight tenure for head coaches at UF. But more than that, the Gator Nation wants to see what they’ve got, and the test is going to be as damn tough as you can get.

Utah will likely be in the top 10 when the Associated Press’s first poll comes out. If the Utes crack the top 10, it will be only the fourth time Florida has opened the season against a top 10 team.

One of them didn’t create this version of the latest Dooley’s Dozen: Houston in 1969.

I orientate myself on the enthusiasm that comes into play, not on the one that comes out of it. And the stands were far from full for this game in Houston because expectations weren’t high.

Remember fans showed up at halftime to buy tickets after hearing Otis Boggs on the radio.

Let’s see what you think of these 12, Dooley’s Dozen of the most electrifying atmospheres heading towards an opener.


Rice Owls (1953)

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OK, I wasn’t alive and I really don’t know if Houston had any enthusiasm for that, but this is the first time Florida has played an opening game with both teams. Florida finished 15th, Rice finished 12th, and the Owls won the game 20-16.


Duke Blue Devils (1970)

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It might have been more noise than excitement, but it was Doug Dickey’s first game as head coach and not everyone was happy with the selection. Still, we all wanted to see what this trainer that slipped into Ray Graves slot can do. (Carlos Alvarez saved the day).


Illinois Ilini (1967)

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Steve Spurrier put Florida football on the national map with his Heisman win. Now we would find out if Florida could stay with a local, Jackie Eckdahl of Gainesville High. If Utah is as hot that day as Illinois is, the Utes are in trouble. Eckdahl scored in the 14-0 win, but did not score again this season.


Kentucky Wildcats (1992)

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It wasn’t like Kentucky was special, but this was a rarity — an SEC opener. And the first time Florida entered the field as the defending SEC champion. There was that too. Florida had lobbied to get Kentucky pulled earlier in the season and out of the cold, and the SEC did just that.


Ole Miss Rebels (2020)

Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Well, atmospherically it might not have been the best due to the limited attendance. But the buzz about it was there because it was slated for the summer when the SEC decided to play during the pandemic. And it was Lane Kiffin in the SEC.


Miami Hurricanes (1985)

AP Photo/Chris O’Meara

There was a stretch when opening with Miami was a tradition, and this was a gathering of some of the biggest players on the same field in front of a sold-out (yes, sold-out) crowd at the Orange Bowl. Florida won. Miami didn’t lose again until their bowl game. The setting was epic.


Southern Miss Golden Eagles (1997)

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Like Eckdahl before him, Doug Johnson was given the task of being a local product following a Heisman winner. And this team also defended UF’s first national title. I remember Gainesville was alive the night before the game. Unfortunately, what I remember most about that night is the death of Princess Diana.


Michigan Wolverines (2017)

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The crowd for that game at Jerry World was almost like a Florida and Georgia crowd. Expectations for both teams — Florida finished 17th and Michigan 11th — had skyrocketed, and Florida fans were poised to return to the Wolverines for the Bowl loss two years earlier. Didn’t work.


Miami Hurricanes (2019)

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i will be honest This was a scary environment. It was loud and hot and loud, and did I mention loud? When Miami ran onto the field, it was like the “U” was back. GameDay was there for this one and previewed it for about nine hours. It was beyond intense.


Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (2007)

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I can’t name a player on this Hilltoppers team. I remember they were still an FCS team. But that didn’t matter. This was Tim Tebow’s first start. It was like Elvis starting at quarterback. More than 90,000 were there and little did we know it was going to be the start of a Heisman season.


1990 State of Oklahoma

John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

No team went into this game counted. Okie State actually addressed parole. But it was almost as if UF fans were there to say, ‘Okay, that’s it. If Steve Spurrier can’t do it here, maybe he can’t.” They started the game on their heads. Oh, and he made it.


Miami Hurricanes (1984)

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