Thursday was Steve Spurrier’s 72nd birthday so here are five memories of the greatest Gator ever.
1. It was the final game of Spurrier’s sophomore season in 1964 and the Gators were playing at LSU. Originally, the game was to have been played on October 3 but Hurricane Hilda postponed it until December 5. LSU was already penciled in for the Sugar Bowl while the Gators would have to stay home in this era of only a handful of bowl games. It was a cold, miserable night at Tiger Stadium and LSU was heavily favored but the Tigers couldn’t contain Spurrier. Spurrier connected with Jack Harper out of the backfield for two touchdown passes and Florida’s defense completely shut down LSU’s vaunted running game. Had the game been played in October as originally scheduled, Tom Shannon would have been the starting QB. Spurrier didn’t become Florida’s starter until a couple of weeks later when the Gators played Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Spurrier was 3-0 against LSU in his Florida career.
2. Spurrier was already considered one of the great players in all of college football but he officially became a Florida legend on Thanksgiving weekend of 1965 when he calmly led the Gators down the field for the go-ahead touchdown against FSU in the final minutes. Trailing 17-16 with 2:10 to go Spurrier took the Gators 71 yards in six plays in only 58 seconds, completing 4-5 passes for 65 yards on the drive. With first down at the FSU 24, Spurrier rolled to his right looking for Charlie Casey on an out pattern. Casey had beaten the FSU corner and Spurrier saw there was no safety help, so instead of throwing he waved Casey into the end zone. Casey cut back to the middle of the field and Spurrier lofted an easy pass for the go-ahead score with 1:12 to go. Just 53 seconds later, the Gators scored again when Allen Trammell picked off an FSU pass and ran it back 46 yards for the TD that made the final score 30-17.
3. The play that not only clinched the Heisman Trophy for Spurrier but cemented him as one of the all-time legends in college football was a 40-yard field goal in the closing seconds to beat Auburn 30-27 on Homecoming day in 1966. To get into field goal range, Spurrier led the Gators on a 10-play drive that got the ball to the Auburn 18, but a penalty moved it back to the 23 which made for a 40-yard attempt, well out of the range of Wayne Barfield. Barfield was 1-2 all season with a 26-yarder and a miss from 34. “We called time out and I pointed to myself and asked Coach (Ray) Graves if I could kick,” Spurrier told UF SID Norm Carlson. Legend says that Spurrier had never kicked a field goal before, but he had actually kicked two earlier in the season when the Gators beat Northwestern, 41-7. When the snap came back, holder Larry Rentz couldn’t get the ball spun around so Spurrier kicked it straight on the laces. In the era of straight ahead kickers this was usually the cause of a bad miss but hit it straight through the uprights to give UF the win. Prior to the kick, Auburn assistants were in HBC Shug Jordan’s ear, warning him of a fake. Jordan replied, “If Spurrier tries it, he’ll make it.” He did.
4. The date was September 8, 1990 and it was Spurrier’s first game as Florida’s head coach. Nobody knew what to expect since the Gators would be going with unproven quarterback Shane Matthews, a redshirt sophomore with three snaps to his credit in his career. During the summer months leading up to the first game, Spurrier was asked by Jack Hairston who would be the All-SEC quarterback and Spurrier replied, “Whoever quarterbacks the Gators.” Matthews was that guy and he served notice that Spurrier was about to change the way football was played in the SEC by throwing for 322 yards (20-29 passing) as UF rolled to a 50-7 win over Oklahoma State. Matthews completed his first three passes on the game’s opening drive for 65 yards. The Gators were good for 567 yards that day as Matthews threw for one touchdown and ran for another. After the game, Spurrier said, “It was nice, but I’m smart enough to realize Oklahoma isn’t nearly as good as some of the other people we’ll face.” Florida went 9-2 in that first season.
5. The easy thing to do would be to list the national championship game win over FSU in 1996, but maybe the greatest coaching job for a single game in Spurrier’s career was the FSU game in Gainesville in 1997. On the Wednesday before the game, Spurrier made the decision to alternate quarterbacks Doug Johnson and Noah Brindise every play. Thirty minutes before the game began, the Seminoles stomped the F at midfield and a near brawl erupted. Once the game got underway, unbeaten and 2nd-ranked FSU bolted to a 17-6 lead but the Gators came back to take an 18-17 lead at the half on a Johnson to Travis McGriff touchdown pass and a 4-yard run by Fred Taylor. FSU led 26-25 in the third quarter and took a 29-25 lead on a Sebastian Janikowski field goal with 2:38 to go. Florida needed three plays and 48 seconds to score. Johnson audibled on the first play to Jacquez Green, who ran a hitch route that turned into a 63-yard completion to the FSU 17. Fred Taylor went around the left end for 16 yards on the next play and then scored from the one for the game-winner. Duane Thomas intercepted Thad Busby on FSU’s ensuing possession to seal the win. Johnson completed 13-25 passes for 218 yards and a touchdown while Brindise was 5-9 for 100 yards. FSU was denied a chance to play for the national championship. Florida went on to beat Penn State in the Citrus Bowl.
FAEDO PITCHES GATORS INTO SECOND PLACE IN SEC EAST
Alex Faedo (6-1, 2.47 ERA) gave up only three hits and struck out nine in 8-2/3 innings Thursday night as the 10th-ranked Gators (26-12, 9-7 SEC) grabbed a 1-0 win over 18th-ranked South Carolina (23-14, 8-8 SEC) to move into second place in the SEC East Division.
The way Faedo was dominating it didn’t take much support to come away with the win and it came in the bottom of the fifth inning when Christian Hicks doubled off the left field wall and Keenan Bell drove him home with a single up the middle. From there Faedo was in complete control. He was lifted for Michael Byrne after a 2-out walk in the top of the ninth. Byrne got the final out on a fly ball to center field as the Gators took the first of the three-game series.
Brady Singer (4-2, 1.68 ERA) will take the mound for the Gators tonight for game two at McKethan Stadium (7 p.m., SEC Network).
THEY HAVE A COMEDIAN AT UCF
UCF football coach Scott Frost ought to give stand up comedy a try just in case his day job doesn’t work out. Wednesday, Frost said, “Orlando’s the best college town in this state.”
Florida averaged 87,846 per home game in football and FSU averaged 76,800. Miami averaged 58,572. South Florida averaged 37,539.
Then there is UCF, which averaged 35,802, which means they missed filling their erector set stadium by a little more than 10,000.
For the sake of argument, let’s forget everybody but Florida and UCF for everything other than football. Florida sold out its basketball games at the re-done O-Dome this year. UCF got a sellout. One. That was the quarterfinal game of the Nobody’s Interested Tournament and it was the very first sold out basketball game since UCF opened its 9,500-seat arena nine years ago.
For the most part, the Knights played before crowds that averaged less than 4,500. Why Florida’s gymnastics team averaged more fans than that. And lest we forget, Florida baseball, softball, soccer and lacrosse all play to substantial crowds for their venues.
I can’t blame Scott Frost for touting UCF. After all, he’s the football coach and should be touting all the sports teams, but before making a ridiculous remark like calling Orlando the “best college town in this state,” perhaps he should see how the other schools in the state support their programs.
Especially since none of them have as many students as UCF.
NICK SABAN HAUNTED BY THE CLEMSON LOSS
Nick Saban still hasn’t been able to shake off that 35-31 last second loss to Clemson in the national championship game back in January. “I’ll never get over it because you never do with those kind of losses,” Saban told ESPN.
Saban says Alabama didn’t play well against either Washington or Clemson in the playoffs, which was surprising considering the dominance displayed in going 13-0 while winning the SEC Championship.
“Something happened to our team from the SEC Championship Game to the playoff,” Saban said. “You look at the Clemson game and our really good players didn’t play very well. But Clemson was a damn good team. They were the best team we played against with the best quarterback and where we needed to play well, we didn’t.”
Markel Crawford, who averaged 12.8 points and 4.4 rebounds per game for Memphis last season, has transferred to Ole Miss. He graduates in a couple of weeks from Memphis so he will be eligible immediately at Ole Miss.
Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster tested positive for a diluted urine sample at the NFL combine in February. A diluted sample is treated by the NFL as a positive drug test. Foster says he was dehydrated from food poisoning prior to the combine and that, he says, led to the diluted urine sample. Foster, if you remember, was sent home from the combine for arguing with a hospital worker. Now we know why.
Okay, here’s an ego for you. Former Notre Dame QB DeShone Kizer told USA Today that “I have the ability to be the greatest quarterback to ever play.” Kizer claims to have Tom Brady’s football mind and Cam Newton’s body and asks, “Why can’t I be the greatest?” I can think of at least a dozen reasons.
George Raveling, a Nike executive and somewhat of a coaching legend in his own right, told SportsBusiness Journal that LaVar Ball, the father of former UCLA star Lonzo Ball, “The worst thing that’s happened to basketball in the last 100 years.” LaVar has suggested some shoe company can pony up $1 billion for Lonzo and his two younger brothers.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
What are one or two of your best memories of Steve Spurrier as either a Florida player or coach?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
Today I heard Michael Bolton’s version of “When a Man Loves a Woman” and I almost barfed. There are certain songs that nobody should be allowed to sing except the guy who did the original. Percy Sledge had the original version of “When a Man Loves a Woman” and it will always remain one of the songs by which great soul music is measured. Today’s music is that #1 album by the same name that Percy came out with in 1966. Percy died of liver cancer in Baton Rouge a year ago on April 14.