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Fennelly: John Reaves and Carlos Alvarez had a great connection on, off field

UF’s John Reaves. left, and Carlos Alvarez connected on and off the field.

Times file (1971)

UF’s John Reaves. left, and Carlos Alvarez connected on and off the field.

John Reaves, the former Robinson High and University of Florida quarterback who set NCAA records, who was beloved by teammates, who played on the edge and later sometimes lived on it, is gone at age 67.

"I've been crying a lot," Carlos Alvarez said Wednesday.

Alvarez, 67, one of the greatest receivers in Florida history, can't talk about his career without talking about one of the greatest Gator quarterbacks. Their names will always go together — Reaves-to-Alvarez — as they have since that very first pass and catch, an electrifying 70-yard touchdown on the third snap of their college careers, in a 59-24 stunner over Houston — Playboy magazine's preseason No. 1 — in the opener at Florida Field.

"That's how it began," said Alvarez, an attorney who lives in Tallahassee.

Now there are tears.

Reaves-to-Alvarez remains the most prolific quarterback-receiver connection in terms of completions in Gators history. Alvarez caught a then-record 172 balls for Florida, and he thinks only one of those wasn't thrown by Reaves. The other was a halfback pass.

"I didn't catch a pass from any other quarterback," Alvarez said. "When John went out, I went out."

Long before Steve Spurrier returned to Gainesville in 1990 to unleash the "Fun 'n' Gun" offense, John Reaves threw to Carlos Alvarez, from 1969 to 1971.

"What is any receiver?" Alvarez said. "He can't do a thing without his quarterback."

Reaves and Alvarez were cornerstones of the "Super Sophs," as they were called. Freshmen were not eligible for NCAA play at that time. Reaves threw five touchdowns in his debut against Houston. In one game, he surpassed the Gators' 1968 season total of two.

Florida went on to a 9-1-1 record, then a school best. The loss came at Auburn, when Reaves threw a still-NCAA-record nine interceptions. "John threw 66 times," Alvarez said. "At the end of the game, we were still trying. John was still trying."

Reaves, 6 feet 3 with a supersized right arm, had starred for Robinson. The 5-11 Alvarez had played for North Miami High. They came to Gainesville and made history.

"We practiced so much with each other and we were both pretty relentless about it," Alvarez said. "It was about repetition. And it was about people liking each other. We all loved John. You won't find a teammate of John's who didn't love him."

Alvarez remembers the last touchdown he ever caught from Reaves at Florida Field, against Kentucky in 1971:

"I kept telling John we could go deep on these guys. Finally, he said, 'Let's go deep.' He had some swagger to him. John hit me in absolute stride. I was so excited, I threw the ball into the stands. It was the only penalty I ever got in college."

Their final college connection was, well, different: Reaves to Alvarez as time expired in a win over Miami at the Orange Bowl to give Reaves what was then the NCAA record for career passing yards. It was the "Florida Flop," game, where Gators defenders dropped to the ground and allowed Miami to score so Florida could give Reaves a shot at the record. Miami coach Fran Curci called the flop "the worst thing I have ever seen in football."

Here's what Alvarez saw:

"John being carried off the field on our shoulders. That was our love for him."

Reaves was a first-round draft pick by the Eagles in 1972. Alvarez was chosen in the 15th round of the same draft by the Cowboys but did not play in the league. Reaves played 10 NFL seasons for five different teams. He later thrived as Spurrier's quarterback for three seasons with the wide-open USFL Tampa Bay Bandits. Reaves' last football was as a Bucs replacement player during the 1987 players strike. And, yes, there were Reaves' open struggles with alcohol and drug addiction over the years. His adult life was filled with ups and downs.

"He fought some demons," Alvarez said. "But at least in the latter part of his life, I think he had turned himself around. But, physically, he was hurting from all those hits in pro football. He was still the John we knew. Even while he fought the demons, we pulled for him, we loved him."

Alvarez still holds the career record for receiving yards at Florida. He was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2011. He was later honored at a Florida game.

"The guy standing next to me was John Reaves," Alvarez said. "I wanted him next to me."

Now there are tears.

Fennelly: John Reaves and Carlos Alvarez had a great connection on, off field 08/02/17 [Last modified: Thursday, August 3, 2017 1:30am]
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