Spurrier says he knew nothing of Doering's recruitment until he heard about Lingerfelt's rudeness. "That was embarrassing," Spurrier says. Lingerfelt, he is quick to add, "wasn't with us the next year."
P.K. Yonge head coach John Clifford considers that revisionist history. "They saw him," Clifford says. "Chris was at every Gator camp from the time he was 12 years old; he was the [top] camper of the session from 12 until he was 18. But their priorities were to recruit speed, and their evaluation was, 'He doesn't have it, and he's not going to get it.' "
Signing day came and went. Paul Doering heard one sportscaster mention that Chris hadn't yet announced which school he would attend, and Paul's heart dropped like a stone. Announced? Chris had nothing to announce; Division I-AA schools were telling him to walk on. Paul didn't doubt Chris could play at the top college level. So he began working the fax machine, sending letters to any school that had ever dropped Chris a postcard, following up with a 15-minute videotape of Chris's high school triumphs. Only Florida State replied, with an offer to walk on; one weekend Paul and Chris visited Tallahassee with Clifford. "I was bitter," Paul says. "I wanted him to go to Florida State and come back and whip Florida, show what they missed out on. Crazy thoughts went through my mind: What are we going to do with all this Gator paraphernalia? All these sweatshirts and T-shirts? We have to throw all that stuff out. I'm going to have to wear garnet and gold."
Chris mulled the Seminole proposal. But Florida made its own walk-on offer, and after attending the Florida-Florida State baseball game in Gainesville, Chris had seen enough. "I saw the Florida State fans doing their chop thing, and I thought, That's obnoxious," he says. "That's something I grew up hating. I don't want to be part of that."
Still ringing in his ears, though, was his last conversation with Jim Goodman, then Florida's recruiting coordinator. When he first heard Goodman's voice on the phone, Doering was sure his Gator ship had finally come in. Goodman told him he was a great player—and then said that Florida had no scholarship for him. "I took it personally," Doering says. "They didn't want me. I'd given all this time and support over the years, and they just pushed me away." As he would put it in his school essay: My heart froze. I could not believe what I was hearing: This has to be a joke. But it wasn't. For the rest of the conversation, I tried to play that what he told me had no effect. When I got off the phone, I went hack to my room and cried. I fell I had been cheated. Looking back on it now, it wouldn't have hurt quite as much if I would have prepared for the worst, or even opened my eyes. But if we all knew what was going to happen next in our lives, living wouldn't be half as exciting.
All his life, whenever a ball had come Doering's way, he had heard this voice in his head: Make the catch, Chris. Now it was 1992, his redshirt freshman year at Florida, and he was doing scrub duty in a nasty 31-14 loss to Tennessee in Knoxville. Gator quarterback Antwan Chiles lofted a ball Doering's way, and Doering heard the voice and made the catch, his first for Florida.
The year before, the Gator coaches had challenged Doering to prove their initial assessment of him wrong, and he had taken the bait. But he hated being considered just another tackling dummy, buried below nine other receivers on the depth chart. So he caught the tough balls in drills. Quarterbacks began looking for him. Small victories followed. The first was his mere presence that day in Knoxville; he'd made the traveling squad. The second was that catch, the only one he would make all year. His mom, Cheryl, and dad celebrated at home. His sister Tracy called a radio talk show and giggled, "Hey, who was that number 28!"
"I was just watching the tape of that play the other day—a 13-yard pass from Chiles in the pouring rain," Paul Doering says, laughing. "We were so excited that you'd think he won the game." Then again, Paul says, "we used to get thrilled when we'd see Chris next to coach Spurrier on TV—'There he is! There he is!' "
Chris and Paul sit at the kitchen table now, awash in football's good clutter: news clippings pouring to the floor, manila envelopes from agents, stacks of videotapes. The phone rings; CBS wants to do an interview. "What's tough for me is coming to the realization that my career with the Gators is almost over," Chris says. "It's hard. You've got to create a new dream, or something."
In Gainesville the old dream still resonates beyond Florida Field. This is partly because Doering's scrub-to-star ascent makes him the most lovable character on an offense that scores with bloodless efficiency. "There's not a teacher in the community who doesn't use him as the model for what a hero should be," says Gainesville mayor Jim Painter. "To be a walk-on and set all these records?"