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Tampa, NCAA records and cigars: The last time the Gators played Cal

In honor of the just-announced home-and-home football series, we looked back at the 1980 Florida-Cal game at Tampa Stadium. It’s awesome.
In this 1980 file photo, Charley Pell celebrates his first victory as Florida Gators' coach, against Cal at Tampa Stadium. [UNKNOWN  |  St. Petersburg Times]
In this 1980 file photo, Charley Pell celebrates his first victory as Florida Gators' coach, against Cal at Tampa Stadium. [UNKNOWN | St. Petersburg Times]

The Florida Gators continued to add to their future Power Five non-conference football schedule late last week with a 2026-27 home-and-home series with Cal.

Here’s hoping those games are as interesting as their last matchup. That one involved Tampa, two NCAA records, three exclamation points, custom-made T-shirts, most importantly, a lot of lit cigars.

Related: Four final signing day thoughts on Florida, FSU

Florida entered the 1980 season opener at Tampa Stadium on a 13-game winless streak. That included losses to Florida State and Miami to end 1978 and an 0-10-1 inaugural season for Charley Pell in 1979.

Cal had a hot-shot quarterback, Rich Campbell, who went on to become an All-American and the No. 6 overall pick to the Packers. Against Florida, he completed 43 passes, breaking an NCAA record that was set in 1965. He set another NCAA record with 19 completions in the second quarter.

But the Gators were the better team. They took the game from a 13-13 halftime to a 41-13 triumph that led the Tampa Tribune to use this headline: That’s 41 Points In ONE Game!!! The three exclamation points were warranted, because the Gators needed seven games to reach 41 points the previous year. And you thought the Will Muschamp era was bad.

In this 1980 file photo, Florida Gators quarterback Bob Hewko shows some fancy footwork as he slips by California defender during game action at Tampa Stadium. [UPI]

What was even more impressive is how Florida scored those 41 points. Star receiver Cris Collinsworth only had two catches and watched the fourth quarter of the blowout from the bench. He didn’t seem to mind.

“Hey,” Collinsworth said after the game,” I like to sit and watch the pretty girls as much as everybody else.”

Anyway, the Gators celebrated the long-awaited victory in style, and in an anachronistic way that only happens now with championships. They smoked cigars.

“Victory stogies are a tradition with Charley Pell,” Times sports editor Hubert Mizell wrote in his column. “Until now, nobody in Florida knew that.”

Mizell kept going: A wiseguy reporter asked Pell if this was his biggest win as Gator coach. Pell reeled back, slamming himself backward into a wall. His eyes rolled. Then he said “Touche” and shook my hand for asking the question.

Related: It’s time for the Florida Gators to start challenging for championships

The cigar thing was apparently a big deal, because reporter Mike Tierney also led his game story with stogies:

TAMPA — Young men everywhere were puffing on lit cigars. Who had a baby?

The University of Florida football team, that’s who.

The Gators gave birth to a new era and recharged hope Saturday afternoon by jettisoning California 41-13 as coach Charley Pell hatched his first UF victory despite a record-smashing aerial show by Golden Bear quarterback Rich Campbell. And in the maddening locker room afterwards, the victors pulled on T-shirts that read California: The First Step Forward and sucked on stogies.

“I haven’t smoked one in so long,” said nose guard Robin Fisher, “but it sure is good.”

A fully clothed Pell was treated to a celebratory shower, but it failed to douse his rampant enthusiasm.

“It was the greatest victory I’ve ever been associated with, and that’s no bull----,” Pell shouted to reporters as he dripped with water and sweat.

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