The worst part about the previous 11-1/2 football seasons was the Florida-South Carolina game. No matter who won the game, I lost. My heart ached if the Gators beat Steve Spurrier. My heart ached even worse if he beat the Gators. As much as he wanted to win a championship at South Carolina, I know Stevie Wonder well enough to know he never got any pleasure out of beating the Gators. I can also tell you there are very few Gators who ever got any pleasure out of beating Spurrier. This was as big a no-win situation as you will ever find in college sports.
As awkward a situation as it was – Florida’s greatest Gator ever coaching an SEC East rival – it produced some extraordinary moments.
Spurrier beat the Gators, 30-22, in Columbia that first year of his era at South Carolina. The game itself wasn’t memorable but the loss caused Vernell Brown, Jarvis Herring and Jeremy Mincey to call out teammates when the UF charter landed in Gainesville. For two hours on the tarmac, those three very brave young men wrestled the Florida football team away from a group of holdouts who had spent the last 10 weeks going through the motions because they didn’t like Urban Meyer’s way of doing things. Their “don’t let the screen door hit you in the butt on the way out” speeches were the springboard for the 2006 season. There is no way the Gators win the 2006 national championship if not for that meeting, all the result of a loss to Spurrier.
And, the Gators couldn’t have won the 2006 national championship if Jarvis Moss hadn’t blocked Ryan Succop’s 48-yard field goal on the last play of the game to preserve a 17-16 win over Spurrier and South Carolina at The Swamp. Do you remember the decibel level at The Swamp the moment Moss got a hand on that kick? Maybe the loudest The Swamp has ever been and that includes the 32-29 win over Florida State in 1997, which might be the greatest game Spurrier ever coached for anyone, anywhere.
Tim Tebow all but won the 2007 Heisman in Columbia the next year when he passed for 304 yards and 2 touchdowns and ran for 120 yards and 5 more TDs in Florida’s 51-21 win over the Gamecocks. In the media room after the game, a bewildered Spurrier asked how many TDs Tebow accounted for because he had lost count.
There was that night in The Swamp in 2010 when Marcus Lattimore carried the ball 40 times, gained 212 yards and scored 3 touchdowns as the Gamecocks beat UF, 36-14, in Urban Meyer’s last season at the helm. Meyer delivered two national championships, three 13-win seasons and a 65-15 record in six years, a great record but no matter what he could have done, Urban was never going to mean what Spurrier did to the Gator Nation. Proof of that was Friday. Every Gator rejoiced that Spurrier is coming home to Gainesville. That he coached South Carolina for 11-1/2 years before firing himself midway through the 2015 season has long been forgiven and forgotten. If Urban were to retire at Ohio State and announce he’s coming back to Gainesville would he be welcomed with open arms and cheers?
At Ohio State, no matter what Urban Meyer does, he will always be compared to Woody Hayes. At Florida, there is no one who can be compared to Steve Spurrier. Absolutely no one.
No disrespect to the fine folks at South Carolina, but he their rent-a-coach. They got his body and they got his mind, which was was good enough for a run of 11 straight non-losing seasons, three straight 11-win seasons and for Spurrier to become the all-time winningest coach in South Carolina history. It was enough for South Carolina’s boosters to wake up from their comas to write the checks that have paid for a spiffy athletic park that rates with the best facilities in the entire Southeastern Conference. Thanks to Stevie Wonder, South Carolina has proven that with the right coach, it can compete for recruits and can win in the SEC.
But, as much as he did for South Carolina, Spurrier was only temporary because his heart was always in Gainesville where he twice put Florida on the map. The school was important enough to him that when he came back to take that last class needed to graduate, he donned his cap and gown and walked the stage to take hold of his diploma. It was important enough that the Spurriers never sold their Gainesville home after the 2001 departure. They’ve got a beachfront palace over at Crescent and they’ll probably spend a lot of time over there, but home was, is and always will be Gainesville because this is where it all began.
This is also where it will all end.
In coming home, Spurrier has some fancy title that includes the words ambassador and consultant. It sounds good but titles have never important to Spurrier who has always referred to himself as the “head ball coach” – not the “old ball coach.” He’s 71 and he is 100% Gator. Again. That won’t preclude him pitching in and helping South Carolina every now and then, but during that 12-year run from 1990-2001 he also pitched in and helped Duke out whenever he could. One thing about Spurrier, he will always be loyal to the folks who were loyal to him.
Do you remember that 1990 season? Spurrier was Florida’s coach because Ben Hill Griffin and a few other well-heeled (very rich) boosters shot down the notion that then-athletic director Bill Arnsparger was going to hire his protégé, Mike Archer, from LSU. As legend has it – and there are some folks with serious credibility who say this is true – Mr. Griffin sat across the desk from Arnsparger and politely but with a measure of this is the way it’s going to be force said, “Bill, Steve Spurrier is going to be the football coach here next year. You don’t have to be the athletic director.”
The Gators went 9-2 in 1990 and that was without Emmitt Smith, who departed for the NFL, and with a former sixth string quarterback in Shane Matthews setting passing records. Florida had the best record in the SEC but because of probation from an incident long before Spurrier arrived and even before any player on the team suited up in orange and blue, the SEC made UF ineligible for the SEC title. Spurrier never forgot and the rest of the SEC paid a dear price, particularly Georgia, which had led the charge to make Florida ineligible. The next year Florida won the SEC for the first time, setting off a celebration that lasted well into Sunday.
Spurrier made Florida football a household name when he quarterbacked the Gators from 1964-66. From 1990-2001 the Gators were that sleeping giant awakened that Bear Bryant talked and warned about way back when. Bear thought that if Florida got the right coach the rest of the SEC would be sucking up fumes. The Gators went 122-27-1 during that 12-year run, never failed to win at least 9 games, won the first SEC championship that ever counted as well as five others, and in 1996 won the national championship, beating, of all people, Bobby Bowden and Florida State. Could it have been any sweeter than that?
There are dozens of theories why Spurrier elected to leave UF for the NFL after the 2001 season and maybe he’s the only one who really knows why he did it then. It’s not like this was the first time the NFL had called. Remember how everyone sweated bullets that he was going to coach the Tampa Bay Bucs for a few days after the Gators won the 1996 national title? At any point, Spurrier could have had an NFL HBC job and had he elected to stay, there would have been countless other NFL opportunities. Why then is anybody’s guess, just as it’s why anybody’s guess he chose to work for Dan Snyder and coach the Washington Redskins. Had Spurrier chosen a better owner and organization, he might still be coaching in the NFL, but there is no way to know. We can sit around campfires roasting weenies and marshmallows and talk until the sun comes up and never run out of all the what might have beens there are with Spurrier and the last 15 years.
So instead of asking what might have been, just be happy that Steve Spurrier is back where he belongs. They say that home is where the heart is and Spurrier’s heart has always been at the University of Florida.
To paraphrase Thomas Wolfe, you can go home again.
The finish wasn’t nearly as dramatic as the British Open, but winner Jimmy Walker and last year’s champ Jason Day made the PGA at Baltusrol one to remember.
What is it about majors and Rickie Fowler. He went -4 in the first two days of the PGA and then tanked. He’s still young enough to win one, but my prediction is that it’s only a matter of time before he assumes Lee Westwood’s title of “best player never to win a major.”
Texas A&M assistants Jim Turner (O-line) and Jeff Banks (tight ends/special teams) have been suspended for two weeks without pay for a slideshow presentation at an Aggie fundraiser that included offensive comments to women.
Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors, who probably cost his team the NBA championship by getting suspended for game 5 of the finals against Cleveland, is apologizing once again. This time it’s for posting a photo of his penis on social media site Snapchat. Green says the photo was meant to be a private message. Private or public, it shouldn’t have happened. As my grandmother once said, “Some people have more money than brains.”
Johnny Manziel says he would like to play football in Dallas. Do they have an Arena League team? That’s about as close as he’s going to get to real football for awhile.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
What is your best Steve Spurrier memory from his Gator days whether as a player or as a coach?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
The Vegabonds were founded in 2009 in Auburn, Alabama when two bands merged. They’ve built quite a following on the bar circuit in the southeast. They’ve got a new album out called “What We’re Made Of” which features single that’s gotten good airplay called “Oh My Lord.”