Steve Spurrier's white visor lived to see another day, but it's going to need a bleach dip. The poor thing took a beating Saturday, but at least it had company.
Spurrier's third-ranked Florida Gators defeated the seventh-ranked Tigers, 49-38, and it could have been, in fact, it should have been, worse. But first Florida had to commit its annual fumble/interception-fest against Auburn, which explains the grass and mud stains on Spurrier's signature visor.
"We just kept messing up," Spurrier said.
He'll get over it. That's because the Gators are 6-0 for the first time since 1969, they're still alive for a national title, they're near shoo-ins for the Southeastern Conference championship and they're temporarily rid of the tag-team curse of Auburn and the Bowden family tree.
In each of the last two seasons, Spurrier's team entered the Auburn game with a 5-0 record. And left it 5-1. Goodby, national championship.
In all, Spurrier was 1-2 against Terry Bowden and 1-4-1 against Terry's father, Florida State Coach Bobby Bowden. Luckily, no one reminded him of it more than, oh, 100 times a week.
"Ah, I didn't take a hit," Spurrier said. "I don't read all those newspapers. It ain't that big of a deal to me."
Is there a polygraph in the house?
Florida, which began the day as the nation's eighth-best total offense, gained 577 yards, averaged eight yards a play and had two touchdown drives that took less than 17 seconds, two that took less than 1:57 and two that took less than 2:33. By game's end, the Gators had scored the most points against an Auburn team since 1952.
"Every time we scored, they kept scoring," said Bowden, whose team dropped to 4-2 and lost for the first time at home in three seasons. "They kept going and kept going."
That's not exactly true. For a while there, Spurrier was flinging his visor to the rain-soaked ground more often than Gator quarterback Danny Wuerffel was fumbling center snaps or throwing interceptions. Then Wuerffel regained his composure and the Gators regained control.
What was once a first-quarter 10-0 Auburn lead became a 42-20 Florida advantage moments into the third period. The 85,214 fans who filled Jordan-Hare Stadium didn't know whether to sulk or gasp. In the end, they settled on looking as if they'd been zapped with a stun gun.
"We never worried about them stopping us," wide receiver Reidel Anthony said. "They had a lot of weaknesses. We knew we were going to put up big numbers."
This isn't new for the Gators. Against then-No. 8 Tennessee earlier this season, Florida was down, 30-14, in the second quarter, scored 48 consecutive points and won, 62-36. Compared to that game, Saturday's victory over Auburn hardly qualified as a comeback.
Reidel, who was knocked nearly back to Gainesville on the first kickoff and then dropped the first two passes thrown to him, started the Gator scoring with a 90-yard kickoff return with 11:50 remaining in the first quarter. He cradled the ball near the Florida side of the field, veered toward the middle, juked kicker Matt Hawkins at about the 50 and that was that.
"I don't pay him any mind," Reidel said. "Once I'm on to the kicker, I'm expecting to score a touchdown."
It was a team theme. The Gators took advantage of an Auburn defense short six starters from a season ago. Cornerback Larry Melton was scorched so many times (three touchdowns at his expense), he'll need to be treated at a burn center. And so ineffective was Auburn's defensive line, that Wuerffel often had time to complete a pass and sing, "We Are the Boys of Old Florida," all at the same time.
"We had no rush at all today," Tiger linebacker Jason Miska said.
Wuerffel completed 20 of 34 passes for 380 yards, four touchdowns and one interception, but he almost didn't make it out of the first quarter. He was zero for his first seven attempts and one for his first nine, including that interception. Spurrier, known for his trigger finger when it comes to pulling quarterbacks, started thinking replacement.
Wuerffel survived. He completed eight of his next nine passes, and backup quarterback Eric Kresser quit looking so anxious.
"I think we all started out slow," said wide receiver Chris Doering, who caught three of Wuerffel's touchdown passes. "He calmed down, and we all followed his lead."
In all, Florida lost three fumbles, had one interception and gave up two sacks. That usually means death to the Gators, who lost the previous two games against Auburn by committing nine turnovers.
But this time Auburn made its share of mistakes. Quarterback Patrick Nix was only 15 of 37 for 219 yards, one touchdown and two silly interceptions. Hawkins dropped a punt snap and the offensive line gave up two sacks.
"Florida forces you to play a perfect game," said Tiger wide receiver Hicks Poor.
Guess who didn't play one?
Trailing, 42-20, Auburn tried doing what it did last season, which was stage another fourth-quarter comeback. The Tigers scored three touchdowns in the second half, but failed to convert their two-point tries each time. Had Bowden chosen for the point-after kicks, Auburn would have trailed, 49-41, with 2:01 left in the game.
Instead, Auburn needed 11 points to tie after its last touchdown--Stephen Davis' 46-yard run--and when the Tigers didn't kick the ball far enough on an on-side try, Florida took over.
"We had a lot of bad plays today, but we had a lot of big plays to make up for the bad plays," Spurrier said.