I'll never forget Cris Collinsworth walking up to me before my first start at quarterback for Florida. It was in September 1980, and we were playing California. He said. "If we beat Cal, We'll own this state." He was right. The Gator alumni were in a collective fury over the winless 1979 season. If we could show them significant improvement from 0-10-1, we would be treated like kings.
Well, we did. We smashed California 41-10. Nobody in the state could believe it. I went from being an unknown, left-handed sophomore to the No. 3 quarterback in the weekly NCAA rankings.
After two more big victories, we cracked the Top 20. We were on a roll that I honestly believed couldn't be stopped until....
The next Sunday I was in a hospital bed as Brent Musberger on NFL Today discussed the injury to my right knee that was to put an end to my season.
Flowers and cards poured in from everywhere. Bear Bryant called and said to hang in there. President Carter sent a note. Mel Tillis sent a mailgram. This would be the second time I would undergo surgery—the first was on my left knee—but I realized that God must be doing this to see if I could come back.
I did, and I had some very good outings in 1981. But for most of that season and the next, coach Charley Pell was content to start Wayne Peace and make me the 1-A quarterback.
After pulling out a few late-season games my senior year , I won the starting job in the Bluebonnet Bowl against Arkansas. I knew I had to play one of my best games to get recognition from the pro scouts.
Against the NCAA's No. 6 defense, I had one of my finest games:-19 completions. 234 yards and three touchdown passes. It had not been enough to pull out a win—we lost 24-28—but my play had caught the attention of the pros. Dallas's Gil Brandt, Cincinnati's Lindy Infante, the L.A. Raiders' Ron Wolf and Steve Spurrier of the USFL's Tampa Bay Bandits all got in touch and said they were interested in me.
I was told I could be drafted anywhere from Round 6 on down. As it turned out, nobody drafted me, which was disappointing but not really unexpected, considering that mostly I had been a backup and was probably considered slightly damaged goods because of my knee. I wasn't completely overlooked, though. At 3 a.m. the morning after the draft, a scout from Dallas was banging on my apartment door, waking me up. He wanted to sign me right then, as a free agent. I told him it wouldn't be in my best interests to sign a contract in the middle of the night. I wanted to check out the situation with the other teams first.