Dooley: Spurrier in unique foursome at College Hall of Fame

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"When I got to Florida and South Carolina, fortunately, I didn't have to go too far to be winningest coach at either place. I was blessed to be at the right place at the right time," former Duke, Florida and South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said before Tuesday's National Football Foundation Annual Awards Dinner at the New York Hilton in Midtown. Spurrier is a member of the 2017 College Football Hall of Fame Class. He previously was inducted as a player. [National Football Foundation/Melissa Macatee]

NEW YORK CITY — It was a cold night on the streets of a city that hadn’t even thought about sleep yet. Every 10 seconds or so someone leaned on a horn and steam drifted out of manhole covers like it was a movie set.

Under the 107-year-old Queensboro Bridge, in an event space fit for a royal wedding, the guest list poured in from the chill into a place that couldn’t have been more warm.

There, at Guastavino’s, where black-and-white clad wait staff members walked around with trays of hors d’oeuvres on perfect white plates, it was truly a night of too many stars if you were a college football fan.

Is that Dabo Swinney over there? Doesn’t he have something better to do?

Not really. Because even as the Clemson coach gets ready for his third consecutive College Football Playoff Game against Alabama, he wouldn’t have missed this for the world.

Even if it meant hearing the guest of honor during his speech say, “Upsets happen, Syracuse beat Clemson this year.”

Swinney took time off from a busy schedule. So did new Florida coach Dan Mullen. Bob Stoops was there with his wife Carol. Is that Doug Dickey regaling a couple of media boys with stories?

“I always said Duke has the smartest people,” the former UF and Tennessee coach said. “Florida fired Steve, Georgia Tech fired Steve, Duke hired Steve. That proves it.”

Dickey, in his final year at Florida in 1979, hired an unknown coach who needed a job. My, what he started. Spurrier turned his first coaching job into a double Hall of Fame career.

On Tuesday night, the Head Ball Coach was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame for the second time. Spurrier was one of the 12 inductees at the stuffier black-tie affair in New York, but none of them can breathe the rarefied air shared by only four people in the history of the sport.

Spurrier, now 72, was inducted as a player in 1986. Only three other men have made it as both a player and a coach — Bowden Wyatt, Amos Alonzo Stagg and Bobby Dodd.

So it was a pretty big deal Monday night, big enough for the University Athletic Association to throw this glitzy bash and invite a Who’s Who of football, especially Gator football.

Danny Wuerffel gave a nice talk that included the joke he has told about 500 time about Spurrier once telling him, “It’s not your fault, it’s my fault for putting you in the game.”

Scott Stricklin, the UF athletic director, was the emcee for the evening’s brief talking portion of the event (how viral would a picture of Stoops and Stricklin talking have gone two weeks ago?)

Perhaps the most poignant speech came from former Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley, who talked about the culture at Florida.

“It all changed when Steve Spurrier walked through the door in 1990, actually December of 1989,” Foley said. “It affected the entire athletic program. He was a winner and I’ll never forget him canceling a football practice so his players could go watch our women play for a tennis national championship.

“He’s the reason our culture is what it is.”

It may be simplistic to give Spurrier that much credit, but Florida won nine national titles before he became the coach and 30 since.

The culture threw a heck of a wing-ding for him Monday night and the huge room was filled with former players, former coaches, friends and families, all wearing name tags that bore his signature.

He had 10 of his 14 grandchildren there, all of his four children and they all got together for a picture near the end of the evening with the No. 1 Spurrier, Steve’s wife Jerri whom Wuerffel said should be in her own Hall of Fame.

If there was a Hall of Fame for hugs, she’d be in it.

As the night wore down and the Florida-FSU basketball game flickered on big screens around the room, the staff at Guastavino’s began to encourage people to move toward the doors. Nobody really wanted to leave because there were more stories to be told.

In the background, you could barely hear the song coming over the sound system. “Dreamville” by Tom Petty, the favorite son’s homage to Gainesville.

“And the air smelled good

In Dreamville.”

Born in Miami Beach, raised in Johnson City, Tenn., played in San Francisco, coached in Durham, N.C., Atlanta, Tampa and Columbia, S.C., and now honored again in the Big Apple.

But there is nobody more Gainesville than Stephen Orr Spurrier.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at pat.dooley@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

Editor’s note: Article has been updated to correct where Spurrier grew up.

13 COMMENTS

  1. Well written up to the end. Then you made a fact error! Spurrier was raised in two towns in Tennessee. Tim Tebow grew up in Jacksonville. Had our professor Buddy Davis caught your fact error he would have scribbled indecipherable red comments all over the first page of your copy and handed you a recorded tape to interpret those words. End result: a fat “F” for failure! Hope that brought back a good memory, Pat. I sure remember getting one of those tirades in cassette from Mr. Davis about a “Deer Peepul” Editorial I wrote. It only took one such scolding. Best wishes for complete success with your upcoming knee replacement.

  2. Great article, I attended the University of Florida When Steve played quarterback and allways saw him most of the other gator sports events. He sat on the front row at all the basketball games. Always a winner as a player and coach and always supported gators in all sports! Great tribute to someone who did change Florida sports. I was a long suffering gator fan before For left his Legacy at the University of Florida. Go gators!

  3. I remember my only encounter with SOS. It was on a plane from Atlanta to RDU. We were loading in Atlanta when I spotted him making his way back. I remember thinking, Coach was flying coach. He was coming back to Duke for his son’s graduation. While we were waiting for our luggage in RDU I had a chance to shake hands with him and make a little small talk. He was very gracious and polite. Very nice man. He is absolutely the #1 Gator.

    • Dead on. The old ball coach started as a slight from Phat Phil, and some of the ESPN idiots continued it. Anyone using that instead of his proper nickname, THBC, doesn’t have real Gator roots.

  4. SOS: #1 Gator! I loved how he would segue into “and we had to whoop them ‘cuz back in 1969…” The Patriarch of the Gator Nation.

  5. That’s one of the reasons I enjoy reading the Sun and Gatorsports. There’s a deeper level of background and understanding of Gator sports by the senior writers.

    I’m very proud as a Gator to have been a witness of some of the legendary events associated with Steve Spurrier and his storied career as a Florida player and coach. It would be hard to give too much credit for all he has done.

  6. Myself and 4 other Honeywell techs drove all night to Jackson, MS to see him play Miss. St. as a sophomore in ’64. Beat ’em16-13 with a 4th qtr. rally of SOS to Charley Casey down the sideline…Been a Gator a looong time.

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