John Hornibrook talks about Gator Flop
One important voice was missing from Page 2's recent "Behind the Highlights" feature about the infamous Gator Flop game from 1971: Nobody knew where to find former Miami quarterback John Hornibrook, who scored the uncontested touchdown on the flop play.
But thanks to some help from one of Hornibrook's former housemates, Page 2 finally tracked down the elusive quarterback in Morehead City, N.C., where he's now in semi-retirement after a career in bar and restaurant management. Here's what he told me about the Gator Flop game:
Page 2: One thing I've asked everyone is this: Were you aware of Florida's John Reaves being close to the NCAA passing record, either in the week leading up to the game or during the game itself? Was that something you were thinking about?
John Hornibrook: I don't think we even discussed it. I don't really recall that. Actually, I wish I had known about it, because I wouldn't have run into the end zone [on the infamous flop play] if I'd known.
One thing the Florida players all told me was that your team was trying to run out the clock on that final drive, in order to keep the ball away from Reaves.
No, that's not what happened.
Well, what they say is that you were running the ball during that final drive, instead of passing, even though you were losing the game.
No. We were just so bad that day, and that season, that it might've looked like we were running out the clock. We really didn't throw the ball that much, anyway. Our offense was geared around running the ball with Chuck Foreman and Tom Sullivan. We basically just ran the option a lot. I didn't have much success as a drop-back pocket passer back then.
Florida called three timeouts during that final drive. Do you recall that, and do you recall what you were thinking as they did that?
To tell you the truth, I think I was just so disgusted by the way the game was going, and the fact that my parents were in the stands seeing how terrible we were, that I just wanted to get it over with. That's all I was thinking about.
So you just wanted to get off the field and be done with it.
Right. But my roommate, Bill Perkins, was one of our receivers. And before the play where I scored, he came back to the huddle and said, "John, they're just gonna fall down."
Wait, wait -- how would he know that?
He must've been coming back to the huddle and heard them talking about it or something like that.
Really? So he actually tipped you off that the flop was going to happen?
Yeah. But at the time, I just said, "Bill, just shut up and get in the huddle."
According to written accounts of the game, some of the crowd was actually chanting, "Let them score! Let them score!" Do you think maybe that's where he got the idea that they'd fall down?
I don't know. I don't really remember anyone chanting anything, but maybe I was just too out of it to care.
So then you ran the play, and the Florida players did fall down, just like Bill Perkins said they would. Do you recall what you thought as the play unfolded? Like, did you even realize what was happening, or were you thinking, "Hey, Bill was right!" or what?
I remember sprinting out to my left, and I saw what was happening and I thought, "What the ... ?" It was weird. I almost just stopped. And then I basically walked into the end zone.
One of the Florida players, John Clifford, didn't fall down. He stayed upright, and you ran right at him -- he could've tackled you. But he held up and let you go by, and he told me, "When John Hornibrook ran past me, he had the most disgusting look on his face I had ever seen. He was definitely not happy."
He was absolutely right. I was disgusted. He couldn't have put it any better. And then after the game, the Florida players jumped into the dolphin pool at the end of the Orange Bowl, like they'd won the national championship or something. I think that bothered me more than the lying down thing. It really bothered a lot of our players.
One thing a lot of people said at the time -- and some people still say it -- is that Reaves' record was tainted by the flop play. I'm wondering what you, as a fellow quarterback, thought about that? Did you feel it was tainted? How would you feel if you had achieved a passing record because of a maneuver like the flop play?
That aspect of it didn't really bother me. And like I said, we didn't throw the ball a lot, so I wasn't going to be setting any passing records myself.
Were you a senior that year?
No, I was a junior. But I screwed up my arm soon after that, so I couldn't play again. It's too bad, because I was really looking forward to playing Florida again.
So that uncontested touchdown was the final play of your college football career?
Right. At least I went out scoring a touchdown. My famous touchdown.
Paul Lukas is a columnist for Page 2.
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