• Ainslie Lee

Florida Flashback Series: The Fan's Perspective, LSU goal-line stand

Courtesy of Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

The Gators were “scared”. The Tigers were “greedy”. Jeremy Foley and Joe Alleva were “liars”.

But prior to all the name-calling, Hurricane Matthew continued to churn along the Atlantic Ocean, flattening Haiti before making landfall in the Northern Bahamas on October 6, 2016 -- a Thursday. 

That following Saturday, there was a football game to be played in Gainesville. Yet, it never was. 

That same Thursday that saw the Bahamas get pummeled, shortly before the clock struck 4 p.m., the SEC announced the postponement of the Gators-Tigers matchup slated for noon on Saturday. 

Naturally, Alleva and LSU offered to be gracious hosts for the Gators that weekend. However, Foley never considered playing the game in Baton Rouge as-scheduled due to travel difficulties Florida could have faced.

Following the postponement, one of the most entertaining (and embarrassing) public displays of drama ensued -- dragging the SEC and the names of the respective athletic directors in the process. 

Neither team shared a common open-date. They did, however, each play an FCS opponent on November 19. And it was quickly made obvious that clearing November 19 for both teams was the best option for rescheduling the game. 

And so the SEC paid UF’s opponent, Presbyterian, its $500,000 guarantee and LSU’s opponent, South Alabama, its $1.5 million guarantee. The slates were clean. LSU would travel to Gainesville and play the football game that could have conference championship implications. That easy, right?

Except it wasn’t.

Leaning into Jim McElwain’s moral claims about the lives lost due to Hurricane Matthew, LSU’s Alleva clamored that Tigers fans deserved a home game that Saturday. Sending the Tigers to Gainesville would mark their third consecutive conference game on the road. 

As Foley claimed, Alleva and his athletic department were “never a true partner”. Eventually, the Gators agreed to move the matchup to Baton Rouge -- meaning UF lost a projected $7.8 million in revenue after losing out on two home football games. 

For the Gators, though the move initially looked like a lose-lose. It was later announced that LSU would cough up the 2017 Gators-Tigers matchup and agree to play it in Gainesville. This meant Florida would host their cross-division rival in back-to-back years in 2017 and 2018. 

With that said, the move looked like a lose-win-win. But when all was said and done, it ended up being a lose-win-win-win for Florida football. 

And a couple of brave fans were prepared to weather the storm of hostile Tiger fans in Baton Rouge on that November Saturday. And fortunately, they survived to tell their stories today:

“We were playing away in one of the most hostile environments in the country, and if I remember correctly, it was one of Austin Appleby's first starts as QB1. I remember thinking that the Gators were going to choke it away. LSU had gotten to our 1-yard line, and it was going to be over with. Because Fournette was out (or maybe because Vosean knocked his head into another dimension), they messed up the pitch back to the RB, and he hesitated for that split second, then our D-Line just ate him up. From our seats, we couldn't really see where he landed, but we saw our D-Line celebrating and the rest is history. Right after that play, we were able to just hop down a few rows to go to the fence bordering the end zone, and all the players were walking around, taking pictures, celebrating. It was one of the best sports moments I've ever had in my life, and I'm glad I made it there to witness in person. One of my best friends slept in and missed the game, and I still make fun of him to this day (sucks to suck, Cole).” -- Bruno Lulinski, a senior at UF in 2016

Purdue transfer Austin Appleby connected with Tyrie Cleveland for a 98-yard TD vs LSU in 2016. Courtesy of Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

“It was a crazy game back and forth the whole game.  Didn’t feel like either team played all that well minus a few huge defensive plays and the one massive pass that won it for us.  Going into that final goal line stand, we knew that there was no way we could stop them again at the goal. That was the loudest that the fans were the entire game leading up to that final possession.  It was fairly dead in there (so much louder this year for a night kick). The play happened, and from our perspective we had no clue, but the place went silent and suddenly you saw our guys jump up and we went absolutely nuts.  We stayed up there for a solid 25 minutes hugging and high-fiving every fan. Apparently I nearly knocked my one friends over, which was terrifying given the steepness of the stadium. The best part was then walking down the mile long (or so it felt) ramps chanting “It’s great to be a Florida Gator for at least 15 minutes on repeat.  I felt bad for the one or two lsu fans up there with us who put up their hoodie and put their heads down.” -- Tim Boehlein, an undergrad at UF in 2016

“First, the fight between the teams before the game totally amped up our players and fans. We were ready for blood, and our tiny cheering section was going to cause problems if the game got close. Our offense looked weirdly competent early on, but we couldn’t score. This was the Jim McElwain era, we were starting a transfer from Purdue at QB, and our offense was notorious for being awful. We fell behind early on, hit a field goal, and played really, really good defense. Then, Appleby hooked up with Cleveland for a huge, long touchdown, and I felt like we might have a shot... I mean, you couldn’t feel worse about the situation. They had first and goal at the 7, 30 seconds to go. We wouldn’t get the ball back if they scored, and they had Guice and Fournette just waiting to plunge down our throats. Then, somehow, we stopped them short on second down, and held tough on third. They called a timeout with a few seconds left and I’ve never heard a stadium louder or more amped than in that moment. Despite the players looking like ants from my seats, I felt like I was right on the field. Then the place got eerily quiet before the play. Guice was in—I thought this was good, at least it wasn’t Fournette. Even hampered by an injury, I thought we couldn’t stop Fournette. They handed it off and you could CeCe Jefferson get around the edge and pull Guice back as he jumped. We just didn’t know if he cleared the goal line. When the refs signaled that he hadn’t, our section erupted. I was hugging and high fiving people I’d never met and jumping and screaming and just generally going insane. Meanwhile the rest of the stadium as dead silent. We’d come into Death Valley – in a game that should’ve been at home – and we’d won. I really don’t remember much after that. I remember the long walk down from our seats and chanting “It’s great to be a Florida Gator” the whole way.” -- Sam Lack, a UF junior in 2016

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