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AIR TO THE CROWN // UF, Wuerffel clearly better

Florida's Gators were decidedly superior. Under the explosive command of Coach Superior. Stadium noise kept cranking, bursting to heavy-metal crescendos. Football has no louder, more electric stage. FSU's Seminoles were clearly between a croc and a hard place to play.

'Noles kept on trying. Kept on launching. But the Gators were far too good. Steve Spurrier bagged himself another coaching Bowden. Florida won by 11, but it really should've been 21. Could so easily have been by 31.

No killer comeback this time.

Danny Wuerffel will not win the Heisman Trophy, but the 443-yard, four-touchdown excellence by Florida's quarterback against FSU should have us asking, "Are those media-anointed Heisman front-runners -- Eddie George (Ohio State) and Tommie Frazier (Nebraska) -- really more accomplished in 1995 than this mild-mannered aerial killer from the Gators?"

Behind the south end zone, as time ticked out on Florida's victory, was a familiar football smile. Emmitt Smith was jumping up and down. Holding hands high. A remarkable old Gator running back, now well into rings and riches with the Dallas Cowboys, had come back his school's glory Saturday.

Smith didn't appear to be hobbling with his injured knee, hurt on Thanksgiving Day against Kansas City. But, in the final minute, Wuerffel threw a pass deep into the end zone.

Danger came calling on Emmitt.

Wuerffel's pass went too long. But both a lunging Florida receiver and FSU defender slammed hard to the ground, sliding over the line and barely missing Smith. There was almost another big Florida Field story. Smith almost got chopped in two. "Dodged another bullet," he said with a grin.

Nonsensical ABC-TV programing prohibited 39 percent of the United States from seeing the Gators, their coach and their quarterback, but nonetheless there was deep national media exposure Saturday.

ESPN did its Fowler-Corso-James studio show from a Florida Field parking lot. In the stadium's overflowing press box were reporters from newspapers in New York, Washington, Los Angeles, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Chicago, Dallas, Pittsburgh, Fort Worth and Atlanta.

They got a big eyeful.

Wuerffel, despite being sacked six times by FSU, was wonderful. So were his extraordinary blue-shirted receivers, Chris Doering and Ike Hilliard. Spurrier, in his own drawling vernacular, must've called some good "ball plays." But the decisive hammer for the Gators was their long-criticized but lately blooming defense.

A year ago, FSU rallied from 31-3 down in the fourth quarter to tie the crestfallen Gators. This time, Florida's defense was far more heroic than giving. Keeping an effective all-day leash on 'Noles passer Danny Kanell who humiliated the Gators in 1994 during that astonishing Tallahassee comeback.

But this was clearly Gator Saturday.

During a cool, gray, catapulting afternoon, Florida shot higher into the college football heavens. Spurrier made like Mr. Two Bits, leading tens of thousands in post-game cheers. He paused to sing the UF alma mater. Then the Gators' coach went into his locker room and immediately began loading a double-barreled shotgun.

Big-game hunt gets bigger.

Coach Superior's team, now 11-0, soon to be No. 2 behind Nebraska in Poll World now that Ohio State has shrunk, is one shot away from another SEC trophy. If the Gators don't get fat, snoozy and sloppy next Saturday in Atlanta, they should rub out an outgunned Arkansas in the league final.

Stakes keep rising.

If the Florida record gets another bump to 12-0, the Gators will then vault ahead to the Fiesta Bowl and their most glittering, high-profile challenge in the school's 90-year football history. Spurrier will get to try that remaining barrel on king of the jungle Nebraska in a national championship spectacular.

Florida should beat Arkansas. Can the Gators handle Nebraska? They'll be underdogs. Smart money will bet on the 'Huskers. But the Big Red has encountered no offense with the demolishing dynamics of Florida's. Yes, the Gators can win it all. They can go 13-0. They can become the last of Florida's big-three college football teams to wind up ranked No. 1.

Can doesn't mean will.

Before this thus-far-unblemished Florida season, Superior was whipping just about every opponent except those coached by fellows with the Bowden surname. In 1993 and 1994, the Gators stumbled only against FSU and Bobby Bowden plus the Auburn Tigers, coached by Bowden's son, Terry.

This time ... Spurrier's revenge.

Coach Superior went to Auburn and his Gators dominated Terry's Tigers. Now comes this beating of FSU that seemed more lopsided than the 35-24 score. "He killed me," the forever glib Bobby Bowden said of Spurrier. "He killed me and my boy in the same year."

After it was over, the midfield scene at Florida Field was good. Gators and 'Noles, winners and losers, met with rampant respect. There were hugs. Smiles from both sides. No cheap shots. No taunting.

Twenty athletes, wearing the colors of both universities, knelt at the 50-yard line to share a prayer. Spurrier gave a strong back pat to FSU's marvelous tailback, Warrick Dunn.

Doering, the local Gainesville kid who went from non-scholarship walk-on to record-setting wide receiver, gave dozens of high fives. He left the arena, but then wheeled around and came back. The lithe senior went into the stands, sharing the moment with Gator fans.

It was a Florida high, and still rising.