Dooley’s Dozen: Florida football’s 12 most electric season-openers

As opening day gets closer, we know one thing about the first Florida football game of Billy Napier’s first season as a Gator.

This will be turned up.

In fact, I can make the argument that it might be the most electric atmosphere for a first game that we have ever seen for this program.

There are a lot of reasons. One is that Napier is starting what Florida fans hope won’t be a fourth straight short tenure for head coaches at UF. But more than that, the Gator Nation wants to see what they have and the test is going to be darn close to as difficult as you can make it.

Utah will probably be ranked in the top 10 when the first Associated Press poll comes out. If the Utes do crack the top 10, it will only be the fourth time that Florida has opened the season against a top-10 team.

One of those did not make this version of the latest Dooley’s Dozen: Houston in 1969.

I’m going by the buzz going into the game, not the one coming away from it. And the stands were far from full for that Houston game because expectations were not high.

Remember, fans started showing up at halftime to buy tickets after listening to Otis Boggs on the radio.

So, let’s see how you feel about these 12, the Dooley’s Dozen of the most electric atmospheres heading into an opener.

Rice Owls (1953)

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

OK, I wasn’t alive for this and I really don’t know if there was any buzz in Houston for this one, but this is the first time Florida ever played an opener with both teams ranked. Florida was 15th, Rice was 12th and the Owls won the game 20-16.

Duke Blue Devils (1970)

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

It might have been more noise than actual buzz, but it was Doug Dickey’s first game as head coach and not everybody was happy with the selection. Still, we all wanted to see what this coach who slid into Ray Graves’ slot could do. (Carlos Alvarez saved the day).

Illinois Illini (1967)

Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

[autotag]Steve Spurrier[/autotag] had put Florida football on the national map with his Heisman win. Now, we’d find out if Florida could stay there with a local guy, Gainesville High’s Jackie Eckdahl. If it is as steamy for Utah as it was for Illinois that day, the Utes are in trouble. Eckdahl did score in the 14-0 win but did not score again that season.

Kentucky Wildcats (1992)

Scott Halleran/Allsport

It wasn’t that Kentucky was anything special, but this was a rarity – an SEC opening game. And the first time Florida had taken the field as defending SEC champs. There was also this. Florida had lobbied to get Kentucky moved to earlier in the season and out of the cold and this is what the SEC did.

Ole Miss Rebels (2020)

Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Well, atmosphere-wise it may not have been the best because of limited attendance. But the buzz around this was there because it was scheduled in the summer when the SEC decided to play during the pandemic. And it was Lane Kiffin back in the SEC.

Miami Hurricanes (1985)

AP Photo/Chris O’Meara

There was a stretch when this was a tradition, opening with Miami, and this one was a collection of some of the greatest players on the same field in front of a sellout (yes, sellout) crowd at the Orange Bowl. Florida won. Miami didn’t lose again until its bowl game. The environment was epic.

Southern Miss Golden Eagles (1997)

Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

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

Michigan Wolverines (2017)

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The crowd for this game in Jerry World was almost like a Florida-Georgia crowd. Expectations for both teams — Florida was 17th and Michigan 11th — were through the roof and Florida fans were ready to get back at the Wolverines for the bowl loss two years prior. Didn’t work out.

Miami Hurricanes (2019)

Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

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

Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (2007)

Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

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

1990 Oklahoma State

John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

Neither team went into this game ranked. Okie State was actually dealing with probation. But it was almost like UF fans were there to say, “OK, this is it. If Steve Spurrier can’t get it done here, maybe it can’t be done.” They were standing on their heads for the start of this game. Oh, and he got it done.

Miami Hurricanes (1984)

AP Photo/Chuck Luzier

This didn’t end well for the Gators, but the biggest reason I put this at the top was that both teams were in the top 20 (Miami was 10th) and the Hurricanes were the defending national champs and had already beaten No. 1 Auburn in a Kickoff Classic game the week before. Which was Jimmy Johnson’s first game as Miami’s coach. Also, Florida had this former fifth-string walk-on as their quarterback and a coach with the NCAA breathing down his neck. The sellout crowd in Tampa saw a doozy.

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