Doering Will Always Be Known For "The Catch"

Doering Will Always Be Known For "The Catch"

Even if he hadn't caught that pass from Danny Wuerffel in 1993 that immortalized him in Gator football lore, Chris Doering would be a great story. A lifelong Gator fan from Gainesville that becomes a record-setting walk-on wide receiver is feel good stuff, yet no matter what he does in life, no matter where he goes, one play on a September evening in Lexington, Kentucky in 1993 defines his entire career in the minds of most University of Florida football fans.

He caught 149 passes (fourth best in Florida history) for 2,107 yards (eighth best in Florida history) and 31 touchdowns (best in Florida history and best in SEC history) in his Florida career, remarkable for anyone but especially for a guy who had to earn it the hard way since he came to UF without a scholarship. But those numbers pale in comparison to "The Catch," that game winning touchdown pass he caught from Danny Wuerffel to defeat Kentucky, 24-20, on September 11, 1993.

It is a play so famous that on any game day in Gainesville or on the road, tailgating Gator fans still replay Mick Hubert's call of the play, beginning with Wuerffel taking the snap and ending with ballistic screams of "Doering's got a touchdown! Doering's got a touchdown! Doering's got a touchdown!" Die-hard Gator fans still talk about where they were when Wuerffel to Doering saved a game and saved a season. Wherever Doering goes, Florida fans always let him know where they were and how they reacted.

"It was so early in my career and yet that's what people remember the most about me," said Doering a couple of weeks ago before he was inducted into the University of Florida Hall of Fame. "Anybody that ever meets me for the first time says 'I remember that Kentucky game and I remember exactly where I was.' It was such a defining moment for me and for the Gator program at that point in time."

Florida would go 7-1 in the SEC and beat Alabama, 28-13, in the SEC Championship game in Birmingham, their first of four straight conference championships.

"Coach (Steve) Spurrier likes to say that was the thing that set us on the way to championships," said Doering, who was a sophomore that 1993 season. "If we had lost that game who knows what would have happened? That lifted us ultimately to winning the SEC that year."

Wuerffel to Doering became a staple of the Florida offense. They became almost unstoppable even though neither one was the prototypical athlete at his position. Weurffel was the cerebral master of Spurrier's Fun 'n Gun offense. His passes were pinpoint accurate and they always got there in time even though it seemed they took forever. Doering never had sprinter's speed --- some even called him slow --- yet the fastest defensive backs in the Southeastern Conference got lost a lot when he ran his routes.

Wuerffel became a two-time All-America, winning the Heisman Trophy in 1996, Florida's national championship season. Weurffel passed for 10,875 yards and 114 touchdowns in his career. Doering made second team All-America in 1995 when he caught 70 passes for 1,045 yards and 17 touchdowns.

Doering defers much of the credit for his accomplishments to Wuerffel, who was also his roommate.

"The stuff that Danny did was ridiculous," he said. "You've never seen a guy put up the kind of numbers that he did and you probably never will again. The fact that he was able to do all that and to be such a great student, such a great guy --- the total package --- makes it all that much better."

On this night when Doering was being inducted into the Hall of Fame, it became more special for him because he was going in with Wuerffel, whom he says is still "the same goofy guy that I knew." They roomed together and became best of friends. The unique chemistry they shared off the field may have been better on the field. They were practically unstoppable on the field because they were so close they knew instinctively sensed what the other was going to do.

The bond they formed in their college days made going into the Hall of Fame at the same time an event to cherish.

"Danny and I shared so much together on and off the field and to be going into together makes it all that more special for me," said Doering, who will be with the Houston Texans in his tenth NFL season in the fall.

In the NFL, he's never put up show-stopping numbers. He's been a dependable backup and situational receiver throughout his career. In 2002, his play for pay days were on the verge of ending when Spurrier became the coach of the Washington Redskins, a move that Doering says revitalized his career.

It wasn't the first time that Spurrier gave Doering a chance. Doering grew up in Gainesville. As a kid he dreamed of following in the footsteps of his idol, former Gator great Cris Collinsworth. By the time he reached PK Yonge, Doering was a three-sport star and a hometown hero but there was no scholarship offer from the Gators, just an opportunity to walk on offered by Spurrier.

He could have gone to some smaller Division I or some Division I-AA schools on scholarship, but Doering's heart always pumped orange and blue blood so he took up Spurrier on his offer, redshirted in 1991 and then played enough as a second-year freshman in 1992 to earn a scholarship. Without hesitation, Doering praises Spurrier for seeing something in him and giving him a chance.

On the Friday that Doering was to go into the Hall of Fame, Spurrier, now the head coach at South Carolina, called to congratulate him.

"For him to remember and to take the time to give me a call means a lot," said Doering. "I'm sitting there trying to thank him the whole time and he's telling me 'remember that first pass you caught out there on that Monday night scrimmage and you were a skinny walkon and got clobbered?' He goes on and on, remembers every play that ever happened it seems. I owe Coach Spurrier so much."

He knows his NFL career is winding down --- "Just trying to squeeze one more year in," he says --- so he's already looking forward to weekends in the fall when he'll join 90,000 of his closest friends in The Swamp to cheer on the Gators. He likes what he's seen of Coach Urban Meyer and he thinks the second-year Florida coach has the Gators on the right track to return to glory.

"I'm excited about where they're headed," he said. "They have a tough schedule this year but Coach Meyer and his staff got the guys going the right direction, got them believing. There's no reason why our program shouldn't compete for a national championship year in and year out. I'm looking forward to first getting back to Atlanta, winning some SEC championships and then setting the prize a little higher."

Getting into the Florida Hall of Fame was a special event for Doering, sort of a validation for all those out there that face long odds and are willing to work as hard as it takes to achieve. The fact that the induction was at The Swamp, the place where he made so many memories for so many Gator fans, only made it sweeter.

"Look at where I came from," he said. "To be a lifelong Gator fan and to see all the great players that came through here over the years and now to be considered among those guys it's a huge honor for me."

And, now he is in the Hall of Fame, a true Gator great and a wide receiver, just like the guy he grew up idolizing, Cris Collinsworth. When he was just a little guy, Doering used to run out on the field at The Swamp and pretend that he was Collinsworth.

When he broke the SEC record for career touchdown pass receptions --- a fade into the northwest corner of the end zone in The Swamp against FSU in 1995 --- he got a telegram from the guy he grew up idolizing.

"One of my favorite memories from here was when I broke the SEC TD record," Doering said. "He (Collinsworth) sent me a telegram saying 'I thought you wanted to be like me. You better start dropping more passes!' It was so cool to have have interaction like that with a guy you grew up idolizing and for him to take the time to communicate with me like that was awesome."

So on this night when he went from simply being a great player that was part of Gator lore to official status as a Gator legend, Chris Doering thought about all that had happened and he cracked a smile.

"I have so many memories of growing up and running around on the artificial turf back in the day … catching my first touchdown in The Swamp, then the last one against Florida State that was the record breaker, too," he said. "I have so many great memories. I look forward to the day when I can bring my kids back here and explain what this place meant to me."

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