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November 2, 2010

Czyzewski recalls his game-winner

Arden Czyzewski watched anxiously at a party in Orlando as Florida's Chas Henry lined up to attempt a 37-yard field goal in overtime against Georgia last Saturday night. After the kick sailed through the uprights to give the Gators a 34-31 win, he celebrated with friends.

It wasn't until later that someone told Czyzewski an interesting fact.

Florida hadn't had a walkoff winner since Czyzewski beat LSU with one 21 years earlier.

"I was surprised when I heard that," Czyzewski said Tuesday. "I had no clue about that stat. But I kept thinking back to the [Steve Spurrier days as coach] and there really weren't that many close games."

Czyzewski, a 41-year-old father of two, vividly recalls his game-winner, a 41-yarder that came as time expired to give Florida a 16-13 victory in Baton Rouge in 1989. When the game began, he was the backup, but when starter John David Francis struggled, head coach Galen Hall and his staff inserted Czyzewski.

"I put a kickoff out of bounds, then got hollered at," Czyzewski said. "Then I squibbed an extra point through. I hit one from 34 or 35 yards in the third quarter, but that wasn't impressive either."

As Florida mounted its final drive, Czyzewski wasn't sure if he'd be the coaches' choice for the potential winning kick. A lot, he said, depended on the distance.

With time winding down, the game appeared to end when a pass attempt by Florida quarterback Kyle Morris sailed out of bounds. Fireworks went off, fans booed and the scoreboard went dark.

But then the officials ruled there was still time on the clock.

Czyzewski was sent onto the field, but LSU called timeout in an attempt to ice him. During the break, the Tampa native walked back toward the 50-yard line by himself and stared at the goalposts. Then he slowly walked with his head down back to where he would kick.

"When I looked up, it looked like a 22-yarder," Czyzewski said. "I approached the ball. My holder [Johnny Nichols] was also my roommate, so there was a certain comfort level. He looked at me, I looked and him. We knew this was our shot to make an impact and do our thing. When I hit the ball it was probably as pure as I could hit it."

Czyzewski's kick, from the right hash, made it inside the left upright by about a foot.

"The second it went in, I turned to the bench and the entire team was sprinting over," Czyzewski said. "I got mobbed. I was literally on the ground under a pile. You think you're going to die. It's actually quite scary. But it was all a really neat experience."

Czyzewski would kick two more years for the Gators. In addition to being a standout placekicker, he also punted one season out of necessity.

"I had to punt," Czyzewski said. "I could kick it straight up in the air and that's about it. But they wouldn't get returned because they were high and short."

Today, Czyzewski, who lives in Central Florida, is director of marketing and operations for a company that represents athletes. He's still an avid Gator fan. All these years later, people still remember his kick.

"When people meet me, some of them say, 'Hey, I remember that name,' " Czyzewski said. "So many people tell me they were in the stadium. It's been the neatest thing. I often think about, what if I would have missed? I may never have stepped on the field again."

As significant as his own kick was, Czyzewski thinks Henry's was bigger.

"It was such a big game," Czyzewski said. "For him to be able to do that was awesome. It was Florida-Georgia. Mine was pretty good. But he did it with the bigger stage. And with the Internet, TV … there's much more media attention now."

Czyzewski and Henry, two players from different eras, are now part of an exclusive club.

"You really don't think about it at the time, but there are millions of Gators across the land wishing that ball through," Czyzewski said. "It's really a neat thing. He will be remembered for that for the rest of his life."

Czyzewski would love the chance to speak to Henry.

If it happens, he knows what he will tell him.

"Thank you," Czyzewski said. "It was special. I'd love to sit down with him and go through his head, and thank him for being a Gator."


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