University of Florida

John Reaves, record-setting Gators quarterback, dead at 67

In this Nov. 29, 1971, file photo, Florida quarterback John Reaves waves the trophy he won for being named Most Valuable Player in the Florida-Miami football game in Miami. Former Florida and NFL quarterback John Reaves, who finished his college career as the NCAAâs all-time leading passer and later struggled with drug and alcohol issues, has died. He was 67. Reaves was found dead at his home Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2017, according to the Hillsborough County Medical Examiner's Office. The cause of death is being investigated, the office said.
In this Nov. 29, 1971, file photo, Florida quarterback John Reaves waves the trophy he won for being named Most Valuable Player in the Florida-Miami football game in Miami. Former Florida and NFL quarterback John Reaves, who finished his college career as the NCAAâs all-time leading passer and later struggled with drug and alcohol issues, has died. He was 67. Reaves was found dead at his home Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2017, according to the Hillsborough County Medical Examiner's Office. The cause of death is being investigated, the office said. AP

Before Steve Spurrier brought his “Fun-and-Gun” offense to Florida in the 1990s and before players like Danny Wuerffel, Rex Grossman and Tim Tebow dazzled in The Swamp, there was All-American quarterback John Reaves.

The former Gator, who went on to play in the NFL, was found dead in his Tampa home on Tuesday. He was 67.

His cause of death is still under investigation.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, Reaves’ body was discovered by his son, David, at around 2:30 p.m. David was prompted to visit his father after not being able to reach him by phone since Saturday.

Robert Salmon, manager of operations with the Hillsborough County Medical Examiner, told the Miami Herald that Reaves’ autopsy was being performed Wednesday. But he added that results probably won’t be released for anther four to six weeks.

Back in the mid-1960s, Reaves was a high school star at Tampa’s Robinson High, where he was named the state’s player of the year in 1967. He led the Knights to the state championship game that same year, where they fell to Coral Gables.

His efforts took him to the University of Florida, where he became the Gators’ starting quarterback as a sophomore.

From there, he became the most prolific passing quarterback in UF history at the time, amassing a then-NCAA record 7,581 yards through the air and a then-SEC record 54 touchdown passes over his three-year college career.

Today, he ranks seventh and eighth at Florida in those two categories. He still holds the all-time NCAA record for interceptions thrown in a game with nine.

But Reaves’ time at UF is perhaps best remembered for the “Gator Flop.”

Playing Miami at the Orange Bowl in the final game of the 1971 regular season, Reaves was was close to breaking the all-time NCAA passing record, but it didn’t look like he would have the opportunity with Miami driving late in the game.

That’s when Florida’s defense laid down in the grass, allowing Miami to score in the blowout game and giving the Gators the ball back with enough time for Reaves to break the record.

Soon after that game, he was taken No. 14 overall by Philadelphia in the 1972 NFL Draft and started seven games for the Eagles in his rookie year, compiling an 0-7 record.

His NFL career was largely derailed after that, as he started only 10 more games in nine NFL seasons.

He did find some success in the USFL from 1983-85 with the Tampa Bay Bandits and their up-and-coming head coach, Steve Spurrier.

Reaves threw for 10,011 yards and 62 touchdowns during those three seasons with Tampa Bay, leading to his enshrinement as a “key player” on the USFL website.

His time as a pro was also muddled by controversy involving drugs and alcohol.

And years after that original controversy, he was charged with aggravated assault with a firearm, possession of cocaine and introducing contraband into a detention facility in 2008 before entering a substance abuse program in 2009.

Reaves spent his post-playing days as a realtor in Tampa.

“All of us Gators were sad to hear about the passing of John Reaves,” Spurrier said in a release. “John was one of the all-time best quarterbacks to play here.”

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