Jenni: Why OSU’s quarterback platoon has nothing on the 1997 Florida Gators

Jenni: Why OSU’s quarterback platoon has nothing on the 1997 Florida Gators

If you think OSU's quarterback platoon is wild, check out what Steve Spurrier did with his 1997 Florida Gators.

Jenni Carlson

By Jenni Carlson

| Sep 13, 2023, 8:09am CDT

Jenni Carlson

By Jenni Carlson

Sep 13, 2023, 8:09am CDT

Noah Brindise listened to Steve Spurrier outline his plan for how Florida was going to use its quarterbacks against rival Florida State. Once the Old Ball Coach finished, Brindise had one thought.

“He’s losing his mind,” the fifth-year quarterback mused.

Spurrier didn’t just want to platoon Brindise and Doug Johnson in the season-ending game, something they’d already done several times in 1997.

The coach wanted them to alternate every play.

Just in case you think Oklahoma State’s quarterback platoon system is wild — two weeks into the season, the Cowboys show no signs of deviating from three quarterbacks each playing a third of the game — Brindise, Johnson and the 1997 Gators are a reminder that the Cowboys are hardly the first team to use more than one quarterback.

Florida quarterback Noah Noah Brindise in 1997 (Jason Howey/University of Florida archives)

Even more importantly, that Florida squad proved platooning quarterbacks can be successful. 

Those Gators went 10-2.

Still … 

“I just remember us really thinking it was kind of a strange setup,” Brindise told me. 

He chuckled.

“We still think it was kind of strange, to be honest.”

Like OSU this season, Florida went into that 1997 season needing a new quarterback. Danny Wuerffel had won the Heisman Trophy the year before and led the Gators to the national championship. Brindise was a fifth-year senior, a former walk-on who had transferred from Divison-II Wingate College in North Carolina and had played sparingly in mop-up duty, while Johnson was a sophomore, a local kid born and raised in Gainesville who had been a hot-shot recruit.

“Doug beat me out to start the year,” Brindise said. “He was playing well.”

So were the Gators. By the end of September, they’d risen to the top of the national polls, winning their first five games by an average of 36.0 points. They had a potent offense with Johnson, tailback Fred Taylor and receiver Jacquez Green and a stingy defense anchored by Javon Kearse and coordinated by Bob Stoops.

Florida was so dominant that Brindise spelled Johnson a fair amount. True freshman Jesse Palmer even got to play a bit.

But soon after Florida lost its first game of the season, a 28-21 defeat at LSU, Johnson was suspended and Brindise was named the starter for the Auburn game. 

The Gators handed the Tigers their first loss.

“I played well against Auburn, and we were winning,” Brindise said. “But Doug, he was the more talented player.”

Younger, too.

“I think Coach knew he needed to keep him available,” Brindise said.

Over the next few weeks, Spurrier used both quarterbacks. Johnson started against Georgia but Brindise played, then Brindise started against Vanderbilt and played the entire game. The next week, Brindise started at South Carolina and opened well.

“I went, like, 5 for 6 and threw a touchdown pass,” Brindise said, “and then (Spurrier) took me out and put Doug in. Kind of pissed me off. I was like, ‘I’m playing well. I don’t get it.’”

But the Gators won easily that day. What’s more, Spurrier’s use of the platoon in that game was a precursor of things to come. 

The next week, Florida was going to face a Florida State team loaded with talent. Travis Minor, Peter Warrick and Laveranues Coles on offense. Samari Rolle, Tommy Polley and Sam Cowart on defense.

Brindise remembers the Seminole defense being so fearsome that it had knocked a quarterback out of almost every game Florida State had played.

Florida quarterback Doug Johnson in 1997 (University of Florida archives)

He talked to his parents a few days before the game.

“You’re playin’, right?” he remembers his dad asking.

“Yeah,” Brindise said.

“Oh, no,” his mom said.

She was legitimately worried about her son.

But that day in Tallahassee, Brindise and Johnson teamed up for arguably the most unlikely path to victory. They alternated plays. They went back and forth. And darned if it didn’t work.

Florida 32, Florida State 29.

“I do think that it played a part in (the win),” Brindise said. “I do think that if one of us on our own would have played that entire game, I don’t think we would have won. I think it really kind of needed that setup, which was very unique at the time. But it worked.”

Brindise believes Spurrier opted for the system because it allowed him to talk to the quarterback before each play.

“If he had us standing on the sidelines next to him, running in with the play call, he could give us a couple of options to look at,” Brindise said. “He would call the play, but then he would be like, ‘If it looks like they’re playing this, maybe switch to that.’

“So basically, I was running in there every time with kind of a menu.”

Still, Brindise isn’t a quarterback platoon advocate. After his playing days, he got into coaching and even spent time in the NFL coaching quarterbacks. Playing multiple quarterbacks wasn’t something he did.

“There is something to be said about empowering one person to know that he’s the guy,” he said. “But you’ve got to find the right person. There’s that saying I’m sure you’ve heard: if you have two quarterbacks, you don’t have any.”

And if you have three?

Brindise chuckled.

“You really don’t have any — or maybe you have three great ones,” he said. “I like the ability to empower somebody that you’re the guy and you need to go and take this thing.”

He doesn’t think sharing time with Johnson at Florida was a detriment to the team. Brindise believes both quarterbacks got enough reps in practice and were respected as leaders in the locker room. 

Even though Brindise, now living in Jupiter, Florida, and doing medical device distribution, isn’t a fan of platooning quarterbacks, he knows what he and Johnson and the Gators did against the Seminoles will always be one of the greatest arguments for it.

“Just happened to work really, really well on one amazing night,” he said.

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Jenni Carlson is a columnist with the Sellout Crowd network. Follow her on Twitter at @JenniCarlson_OK. Email [email protected].

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