A trio of well-known and highly-successful former Florida Gators football players has passed away in the last two months with fullback Rick Casares, on Friday, becoming the latest to meet his maker. He was 82.
From 1951-53, Casares played football and basketball at Florida but had his career cut short when he was drafted into the U.S. Army during the Korean War. He was the first player in the history of the Gators football program to score a touchdown (and kick an extra point) in a bowl game – doing so in the 1953 Gator Bowl – and also served as a kicker for Florida. He went 13-for-13 on field goals in 1951.
A captain in both sports, Casares won multiple All-SEC honors and was even named an honorable mention All-American. On the hardwood, he led the Gators basketball team in scoring and rebounding in consecutive seasons, averaging 14.9 points and 11.3 rebounds in 1951-52 and 15.5 points and 11.5 rebounds in 1952-53.
“He was the best to ever play here in my opinion,” said program historian Norm Carlson in a conversation with UF’s website. “He was an incredible athlete. If they needed him to play quarterback, he would play quarterback. If they asked him to play linebacker, he would do that and knock somebody’s head off. He was a great fullback. He could do anything on the football field and look so good doing it.”
When he was eligible after his military service was complete, Casares was drafted with the 18th overall pick in the second round of the 1954 NFL Draft by the Chicago Bears. He played for three teams over 12 years (1955-66), racking up career numbers of 5,797 rushing yards, 1,588 receiving yards and 60 touchdowns in 130 games.
Casares was the NFL’s rushing leader in 1956 when he gained 1,126 yards on 235 carries, the second-most single-season yard amassed at the time. He left Chicago as the Bears’ all-time leading rusher but has since been surpassed by Walter Payton and Neal Anderson, the latter also a former Florida player.
The five-time Pro Bowler is a member of the Florida-Georgia Hall of Fame and was inducted as a Gator Great into the UF Athletic Hall of Fame.
Ten years Casares’ junior, former Gators offensive and defensive lineman Larry Travis passed away last Tuesday at the age of 72.
A letterwinner who played at Florida from 1960-62, Travis was an All-SEC and Academic All-American honoree who chose to continue his athletic career as a coach and administrator after graduation.
Travis worked with the Gators from 1964-67 before moving on to coach at Kansas, Ole Miss, Louisville and Georgia tech. He then served in an administration role at Georgia Tech before working as an assistant athletic director at Navy and an athletic director at Kansas State and Western Carolina.
His life of work did not conclude there, however, as he spent his later days the a Mayor of High Springs and later a city commissioner of the town from 2005-11.
Travis was inducted into the UF Hall of Fame as a Distinguished Letterwinner in 2012. His memorial service was held in the Touchdown Terrace at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
An act of God landed Hans Tanzler, who passed away in July at the age of 86, at Florida. Originally committed to play football at Duke, he had his scholarship offer rescinded after his academic record was lost in a fire at his high school.
Instead, the Jacksonville, FL, native accepted a generous offer to play for the Gators but never wound up suiting up there either, at least not on the gridiron. Scheduled to enroll at Florida, Tanzler was called into service by the U.S. Navy during World War II. When he returned to campus, then-head football coach Raymond Wolf thought it was best that Tanzler redshirt during the 1946 season.
In order to stay in shape, he took up basketball, walking onto the team for the 1946-47 season and averaging more than 10 points per game. Tanzler never returned to football and was the Gators’ leading scorer during the 1947-48 season. A team captain, he also became the first Florida basketball player to eclipse the 1,000-point mark, registering 1,221 points in his career.
After graduating from UF with his law degree in 1951, Tanzler became a lawyer and then a judge. He is best known as a former Mayor of Jacksonville who first won his seat in 1967 on a platform of consolidating the City of Jacksonville and Duval County governments. He ran unopposed when a new election was necessary the following year and became the first-ever mayor of “consolidated Jacksonville.”
“He really saved Jacksonville,” said former mayor John Delaney. “We probably would have been akin to a Detroit with the way we were going at that point in time. We wouldn’t be who we are today.”
Though Tanzler won reelection in 1971, he lost a bid to become Governor of Florida in 1978 and stepped down from his post in 1979 after serving as mayor for 11 years.
He was later inducted into the UF Athletic Hall of Fame as a Gator Great.
OnlyGators.com sends its condolences to surviving members of the affected families.
Photo Credits: Unknown, family photo, Florida Times-Union