Gators respect Florida legend
Published: Tuesday, October 16, 2012 at 5:09 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, October 16, 2012 at 9:18 p.m.
Like most of his Gator teammates, sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel is too young to have any memories of Steve Spurrier being the head coach at Florida.
“I don't think so,” Driskel said when asked if he remembered Spurrier's coaching days at UF. “I think I was more worried about cartoons at the time. But you see the film of him being a Gator and you see his visor and stuff like that.
“I was too young for that. I wasn't a football fan at the time.”
He may not be able to remember Spurrier, but Driskel, like all Gators, can sense his presence on campus. The Florida playing and coaching legend left his footprints all around the football program.
“I drive by his statue every day,” Driskel said.
Spurrier's statue is just outside the west side of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, wearing a 1966 uniform and throwing a pass with Spurrier's distinctive motion. His statue stands between the Gators' two other Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks — Danny Wuerffel and Tim Tebow.
But it's much more than just a statue when it comes to Spurrier.
He was the first UF coach to lead the Gators to the SEC title and a national championship. His Fun 'n' Gun offense revolutionized how football was played in the SEC. He gave The Swamp its name. Of the eight SEC titles listed on the stadium wall, six belong to him.
He was loved, cherished and idolized by Gator Nation.
And on Saturday, he will be back in The Swamp wearing a South Carolina visor and trying to coach the Gamecocks to a crucial SEC victory over the Gators.
While this scenario may still seem surreal to the longtime Gators, the current players seem to have no problem with it. Spurrier used to be a great player and coach here, and now he's gone, just another coach on the opposing sideline.
“He's definitely a Gator great,” Driskel said. “But it's not really anything that's going to bother us. All of our players here didn't play for him or weren't here when he was around.
“So, it's definitely a media-type and fan build-up thing. It's definitely bigger for the media and the fans.”
Even with the media and the fans, it's not as big as it used to be — Spurrier coaching against the Gators. This will be Spurrier's fourth trip to The Swamp with the Gamecocks and the eighth time he's coached against his alma mater, which is 4-3 against him.
The novelty seems to have worn off.
“The University of Florida is always going to be my school,” Spurrier said Tuesday. “We're Gators, but we're Gamecocks now.
“I hope the Gators finish second in the East. That would be a good season for them. And hopefully we finish first, certainly.”
When Spurrier first returned to coach against UF in The Swamp in 2006, it was a huge deal with lots of national hype. This Saturday's game may have even more hype — and it has much more to do with No. 3 UF facing No. 9 USC in an Eastern Division showdown than Spurrier vs. his former school.
“At the end of the day, we're about winning championships on and off the field here at Florida,” UF coach Will Muschamp said. “And it's another step to Atlanta (for the SEC title game). That's the way I look at it.
“But I knew about him winning the Heisman Trophy, not just being a Florida fan but being an SEC fan. And then the job he did as coach here was pretty amazing.”
The current UF players have heard about it, but don't remember any of it.
Spurrier has now been gone (11 years) almost as long as he was here (12 years) as the head coach.
Time has marched on, and Florida football has moved right along with it.
“With him being an alumni from here and basically all of the great accolades with the Heisman and everything and championships he's done for this university, it's definitely a certain type of … you feel a certain type of way (about him),” senior wide receiver Frankie Hammond Jr. said. “But hey, we've got to prepare, and we've got to somehow get it done, so (Spurrier being on the opposite sideline is not a factor).”
Many of the Gators do have one memory of Spurrier. It is not a good one, and it is fresh in their minds. They can still see Spurrier and the Gamecocks celebrating on Florida Field two years ago after South Carolina defeated Florida 36-14 to win the Eastern Division.
Spurrier got a Gatorade shower and a ride to midfield on the shoulders of his players.
“That's a feeling you'll never forget,” senior safety Josh Evans said. “It's definitely revenge, man. You also want to go out there and just to get this win. It would mean a lot to this team and definitely the roll we're on this year trying to stay undefeated.”
Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or email@example.com. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com.
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