Cheering AGAINST SOS? Weird But Necessary

COLUMBIA, SC --- This is just weird, that's all there is to it. The Florida Gators are playing a football game and Steve Spurrier not only isn't a Gator but he's the coach of the other team. Now don't get me wrong. I'm very happy that Urban Meyer is Florida's football coach and there isn't a doubt in my mind he's the right man for the job. But now I have to cheer against Coach Steve Spurrier and that's something I haven't had to do in 42 years. Strange? You bet.

Now, I'm happy that Spurrier is coaching again and more power to him and South Carolina. The Gamecocks' college football history isn't exactly burning up with lasting memories. That win Lou Holtz got in the Outback Bowl about four years ago is as good as it gets for the Gamecocks. Conference championships? Well there was that ACC championship they won in 1969 when Pepsodent Paul Dietzel was the coach and Williams-Brice Stadium was a 42,000-seat firetrap and not the gorgeous 82,000-seat double decked palace it is today. But that's it.

They do have a Heisman Trophy winner in their past. George Rogers was the winner in 1980 but if there was justice, it would have gone to either Hugh Green of Pitt or this pretty decent freshman from Georgia, old Herschel Somebody. Rogers won a close vote only because Heisman voters weren't ready to give the Heisman either to a defensive player (Green) or a freshman (Herschel), even if they were better players on better teams.

So when you talk about South Carolina football history, let's just say there's a greater chance than ever before that the Gamecocks will actually have some history worth talking about in the next few years. You get results when your coach is named Spurrier. Just ask Duke. Anyone who doubts Steven Orr Spurrier is one of the greatest college football coaches in the history of the game needs only to be reminded of one thing --- he won at Duke. He not only won at Duke but he beat a very good Clemson team to win the ACC championship at Duke.

Winning at Duke is the equivalent of Jamaica winning the ice hockey gold medal in the Winter Olympics.

Winning and Spurrier go hand in hand. We've learned to expect those things from Stevie Wonder. Some of us old guys remember him waving Charley Casey into the end zone and then making the perfect throw to bring the Gators back against Florida State in 1965 and then there was THE KICK. He only attempted one kick in his college football career. That was the 40-yard field goal he booted as time ran out to beat Auburn in 1966. That kick punctuated his great 1966 season and sealed the Heisman Trophy.

Florida got six (actually seven if the SEC did the right thing about Alabama in 1999) SEC championships during the 12 years Stevie Wonder was our football coach at Florida. We had none that actually counted in the bazillion or so years of football at UF before he came back to coach his alma mammy after three years of coaching purgatory at Duke. For all of the Gators who went to their graves with "Wait Till Next Year" on their headstones and all of us who wondered if our day would ever come, he was the anointed one. Admit it. If you grew up waiting for next year to finally get here, you took a little bit of pride when he ran up the score on the Poodles or when opposing fans called him "The Evil Genius" or "Darth Visor."

And how good was it walking down Bourbon Street that January night after the Gators whomped up on FSU by a 52-20 tune for the national championship?

I guess I'm like most Gators in that so many of my football memories at Florida have something to do with Steve Spurrier. When we think Gators one of the first things we think about is number 11, Steve Spurrier the player, or Steve Spurrier the coach.

And that's what makes today's game the epitome of weird. The Gators are playing and that means the blood whizzing through my veins is a deeper shade of orange and a bluer shade of blue. It's always like that on game day when the Gators are playing and it doesn't matter the sport. If the Gators had a women's whale harpooning team going against the University of Nome in the Bering Sea, my heart would be with our team.

So here I am in Columbia, South Carolina, a place where the Gators always win simply because we're the Gators and South Carolina is … well, South Carolina. I think the last time the Gamecocks beat the Gators in football was when FDR was doing fireside chats on the radio and telling our grandparents that it wouldn't be long before there was a chicken in every pot. I have every expectation that the Gators will win the football game and the Gamecocks will lose. Everything will be normal except for the guy in the visor on the other sideline.

Strange doesn't even come close to describing how different it's going to be to see Steve Spurrier in something other than orange and blue coaching AGAINST and the Florida Gators. I got over the shock of him leaving for the National Football League a long time ago and I don't for one second hold it against him that he's coaching South Carolina, which happens to be in the SEC East, the same division of the conference as the Gators.

He wanted to coach college football again and there were challenges he can embrace at South Carolina that he would have never had to face if somehow he'd come back to Florida. He felt that Florida wouldn't be a good fit the second time around and I understand and respect his reasoning. It could never be as good the second time around when, in effect, he would be coaching against and compared to his own marvelous legacy. Do you think the South Carolina folks will be comparing him to Rex Enright, who won 64 games, most in South Carolina history?

Just because he's here at South Carolina doesn't make him any less a Gator or diminish anything that he did when he played or coached at Florida. He is not a traitor or a moral enemy. It just means that he's the coach of a team that the Gators have to beat, that's all. And I do hope the Gators beat him and beat him bad, not because he's Steve Spurrier but because he's coaching a team that Florida is playing. I always hope the Gators win in a blowout. That's because in my 54 years I have endured my quota of close games and I waited for next year for more years that I care to count. If there is real justice in the world, then the Gators win every game by a blowout because that keeps me cool, calm and collected. There are only so many ticks left in my heart and I shouldn't lose any of them because the Gators are playing a white knuckler.

It will be strange to cheer against Spurrier only because I've never been put in that position. I saw the first game he ever played in a Florida uniform --- a freshman game against FSU in 1963 --- and from that day on he was and always will be one of my real heroes. I wish him well at South Carolina, just not today. Today I hope he loses and as long as he coaches at South Carolina, I hope he loses every time he plays the Gators. The rest of the time, I'll be pulling for him. Why? Because he's a Gator and because all Gators owe him for the things he did for Florida. He put our football program on the map when he was a player and he took us to unparalleled heights as a coach. No one has impacted Florida football more than Steve Spurrier.

Today he's the coach of the other team which means I cheer against him. I never thought I'd see the day I'd cheer against Spurrier in anything but then again there was a time when I thought I'd never see the Gators win the SEC. Next year finally got here and so to is the time that I cheer against Spurrier.

It was weird the first time the Gators won the SEC because it meant after years of waiting, next year had finally arrived. I got used to not waiting for next year. It will seem weird beating Spurrier today but it's something I can and will get used to.

FEARLESS FORECAST: Close for three quarters but in the fourth quarter, the Gators are still running the ball and pulling away to win by something like 10-14 points.

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