There will be hundreds of articles written in the next several days about Steve Spurrier. I have already read words from Tony Barnhart, who is of course Mr. College Football. I have read the best headline, Even at Duke, Steve Spurrier Made Opponents Quake, well it is my favorite.
As I sit here to start this article my words will not measure up against many other because I do not have that gift of prose. Heck, even my punctuation can leave something to be desired, but one thing that no other writer can equal is my passion to tell a story. When I was in the eighth grade my teacher, Miss Nancy Steadman, fresh from the University of Southern California did what no other teacher had ever done, she encouraged me to write.
During that same year Miss Steadman was being my favorite teacher, Steve Spurrier was in Gainesville, Florida becoming my favorite football player/coach/celebrity, ever. That is fifty years that I have, as a sports fan, followed Steve Spurrier.
Let me say, that like most sports fans, I did not follow Steve Spurrier as some sort of father figure, hero or anything other than what he was, a football player. However, even keeping someone at that level does elevate the time and energy we spend on that person. Shoot, we will even spend money to follow that player. While I never did spend a nickle on any Steve Spurrier memorabilia when I was twelve years old, I did convince my dad to subscribe to the Jacksonville Journal, which was the afternoon version of the morning paper.
Steve Spurrier for a few years, became Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris…a hero of my youth. Roger has long been gone, same with the Mick, but now is the time to bid Spurrier a fond farewell from the playing/coaching field.
Or is it?
As I have written before, it was difficult to keep up with sports in the time that Spurrier was at the University of Florida. I would think that 90% of what we knew about sports was fed to us through the writers of the local sports pages. If that were to be the case today I am not sure I would want that information, but in the 1960′s it did not seem to be such a bad way to keep up with sports. We did not know any better, because there was not a better way.
When Spurrier left to go to the NFL he was the third selection im the 1967 NFL Draft. He was chosen behind Bubba Smith and Clint Jones. Spurrier was the first quarterback taken.
The San Fransisco 49ers drafted Spurrier in spite of having a good quarterback with 10 years of experience and would be with the 49ers another seven seasons.
Spurrier had better success as a punter than he did as a quarterback punting 230 times for a 38.3 average.
Except for the one season when Spurrier came to Florida in 1978 as a quarterbacks coach there was not a lot to follow with Spurrier, but the 1980s and the USFL changed all that and Steve Spurrier found his niche and for the next 35 years he excelled like few others.
Spurrier and the USFL
In 1983 I discovered something opposing fans know about Steve Spurrier. When he is your coach he is a jewel, the best, the one you want calling the plays for your team. When Coach Spurrier is not your coach, you sort of hate his guts.
I was a Jacksonville Bulls fan when the USFL started. I was a season ticket holder, charter member of the Jacksonville Bulls Boosters and all that goes with being a fan. I was excited when Coach Spurrier was hired by the Tampa Bay Bandits, it was good to see him getting some love from the public again.
Heck in 1983 I was an adult with a wife and family. I could look at Spurrier with discernment and impartiality as the coach of a team we would play a couple of games a season.
Well, after about one game, I hated him. What an arrogant jerk he was. I did not even like watching him on the opposing sidelines during the Bulls’ games and as a matter of fact I would not pull for the Bandits when they were not playing the Bulls.
But….taking a look back what a magnificent venue that was for Steve Spurrier to hone his craft. To see what his offense could do with a few players would could be playing in the NFL playing with a bunch of players who could not.
When the USFL shut down, Steve Spurrier was at last an accomplished coach in a level of professional football.
Duke Blue Devils
When Charley Pell was dismissed as the University of Florida Gators football coach in 1984 there were small rumblings about Spurrier becoming the Gators head coach. Interim coach Galen Hall was subsequently hired and shortly before that Spurrier announced he was not interested in the job.
So, after the demise of the USFL Coach Spurrier was hired as the Duke Blue Devils Head Coach for the 1987 season. As has been stated in the last couple of days, Coach Spurrier became Dukes most successful coach leading then to a bowl game for the first time in 25 years and a shared ACC title in 1989. Their first in 27 years.
The iron that was Steve Spurrier was hot in 1989 and there was a storm brewing in Gainesville.
The Fun and Gun
From the time that Coach Hall was fired until Steve Spurrier was hired something unusual happened. That storm that came through Gainesville in 1989, through the hiring of Spurrier and the caveat that he want that unnatural turf dug up…..as they dug up that rug and got the real grass planted, up from the depths of Florida Field a Swamp was created. Florida football would never be the same.
Mediocrity may visit upon the Gators in certain years, but for 25 years now the cries of wait until next year are silenced with Gator Bait. Mediocrity and complacency are no longer acceptable. Steve Spurrier ignited the passion like no one else and fears of the late Bear Bryant were realized.
Florida had a coach.
I was living in Georgia when Spurrier took over and I witnessed the change in Georgia fans in the 90′s. I arrived in Waycross in 1985,the season we let Georgia run all over our newly ranked No. 1 team. Then we won in 1986, but lost the next three years. While that was nearly 30 years ago I did not have to look those games up. Georgia games are burned in an old Florida fan’s brain like how to ride a bicycle. You don’t forget.
Neither did Steve Spurrier. He remembered 1966. Georgia would have been a lot better off if they would simply have conceded that game to the Gators…Steve Spurrier had the memory of an elephant.
There was a fairly obnoxious fan in Waycross (well there were dozens of them, but this one is well remembered) his initials were BG. For the five seasons I had been in Waycross I listened to him yimmmer and yammer about UGA year after year.
Spurrier shut him up, he and scores of others that I had listened to year after year. One of my good friends, Ronnie Hickox (a Dawg), asked me about Spurrier and his arrogance one day and I explained it to him this way.
Imagine one of your former players becoming your head coach and he had an axe to grind AND the ability to do something about it. Then imagine that the former player had the fan passion of BG (the obnoxious one) and used it. Then Steve Spurrier is your coach.
Steve was not a typical coach speak coach like Vince Dooley (who I will now just call VD) or the hypocritical arrogance of a Bobby Bowden, who will watch a coach under his leadership intentionally hurt, kick, stomp, twist limbs and then come out with all that good old boy crud. Steve Spurrier talked trash, but he never cheated. He never sent a player out to harm or allowed a coach to do so. When Doug Johnson threw the errant pass in pregame, Spurrier called to apologize. Bowden, to my knowledge, never apologized for the late hits on Danny, twisting Grahams leg or stomping the QB’s hand. If you don’t believe those were late hits on DW, watch 52-20.
Spurrier was an honest and fair warrior. There were other fair warriors, but they hid behind coach speak and saying the right thing.
Steve Spurrier did it his way.
Steve did it the right way.
In a perfect world the HBC would have been our coach for these past 13 years. I have no idea if we would have the two additional SEC and BCS titles, but I think we would have. Even without them, I would trade them for 13 years more of OBC in a second.
It would be so much more satisfying if Steve was retiring from the Gators today. It would have been season number twenty-six.
I wish it was like the NFL where he could announce his retirement but to come back to Gainesville, slip on the visor and walk the sidelines one more time. Retire as a Florida Gator, live out retirement, if he does stay retired, as a Florida Gator.
The OBC does not need it, but we do. We need as the fans of Spurrier for over fifty years to be able to have that. It is not that we deserve it, but we need that closure as fans. When Steve Spurrier walked off of the Orange Bowl turf following that victory over Maryland we did not realize it was good bye, we thought it was just wait until next year.
We took him for granted, we treated him like he had become Derek Dooley, the son of VD. Like a 1000 times in life we did not love what we had until we lost it…when Urban Meyer retires I will write so long…I will shed no tear and have no remorse. He was a man hired to do a job and he did it well.
Steve Spurrier is a Gator.
Steve Spurrier did his way. He turned our field into a swamp and our opponents were no long just referred to as Gator Bait, they were Gator Bait.