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The Third Rail of Gator Fandom: Steve Spurrier

As a kid who moved to Florida and jumped on the Gator Bandwagon due to a UF sticker and because the dumb kids at Claywell Elementary were FSU fans, I never thought too much about Steve Spurrier. My Gator heroes before I got to UF were Errict Rhett, Danny Wuerffel, Chris Doering, Ike Hilliard, and Earnest Graham. When Spurrier left a month before I got my acceptance letter, I was upset, but I assumed UF would make a good hire and still win, like Larry Coker with Miami in 2001.

Of course, it didn't work out that way. When Zook crapped the bed against Mississippi State, Spurrier re-entered the picture as a possible replacement. So did Bob Stoops and Urban Meyer and I even remember hoping for Norm Chow. When Spurrier took the job at South Carolina, it created a cloud of doubt around Gainesville. From the start, Jeremy Foley and Bernie Machen said they were going to have a process and the fact that Spurrier would have to be in the process angered a lot of fans and still does.

I was happy with the Urban hire, but at the same time was annoyed by the people who could not get off the Spurrier bandwagon. You can't ignore what he did for UF, but you also can't ignore that he coaches for a divisional rival.

Saying these things to your friends is one thing, saying it to a few thousand people on the radio and then taking angry phone calls from them is something else. In the summer of 2006, I filled in one Friday for Steve Russell on Sports Scene. Of course, whenever a student fills in for Steve, people don't want to call in because we're not seen as experts. But we still have to have people call in because sports radio doesn't work without callers. So I decided to talk about Spurrier attending the 1996 Championship reunion. And I said that, "the west side of the stadium will cheer, and the east side, my ages, won't." (Of course, the whole stadium ended up cheering.)

The phone lines lit up, with most of the comments being along the lines of, "You're an idiot," or, "You must not be a true Gator." The best was one caller telling me to, "go back to South Florida." I didn't know the perception of Miami people being crappy fans extended beyond the students.

After a little backpedaling, and a few younger callers backing me up, we ended the show without incident. But, that Monday, Steve still had a few callers going after me, and he had to clean up my mess. Despite all that, I'm still annoyed at the Spurrier defenders. And if this is my one deficiency as a Gator fan, then so be it.

The man has every right to earn a living and if he didn't want to be part of a "hiring process" at UF, then that was his decision. It's also entirely possible, with Machen having hired Meyer at Utah that Meyer was the top candidate all along. It's also entirely possible Spurrier never wanted to go back to UF. My problem is that Spurrier is very much aware of his place in Gator lore and he tries to cultivate it. He has been known to speak at Gator Club meetings and even used the royal `we' when describing UF's victory over Ohio State in the basketball championship.

However, he still coaches for a divisional rival. The only instances I can think of one man building a team, then coaching a divisional rival would be Bill Parcells going from the Patriots to the Jets and Leo Durocher from the Dodgers to the Giants in the 40's and 50's. And that situation is most like Spurrier's since Durocher coached about 1300 games with Brooklyn before heading to the Polo Grounds and managing another 1100 games.

Yet there are still elements out there that think Spurrier is the ultimate for Florida football. From Andy Staples in the Tampa Trib speaking about last year's SC-UF game.

[If UF lost] A rational Florida fan would consider the way Meyer has changed the culture of the program and his recruiting success - which probably wouldn't have suffered as much as you'd think without a national title - and say that of course Meyer was the correct man for the job. That fan would argue that Spurrier needed seven seasons to win a national title, so an SEC title in Year Two represents acceptable progress.
A smaller but more vocal faction of Gator Nation, however, would not have seen past the visor on the opposite sideline when Succop made that kick. Those who believed Spurrier should have been handed Florida's program in 2004 - despite his oft-repeated protest that he didn't want the job - would have again suggested that the Gators bypassed the college game's ultimate mastermind in favor of the flavor of the month.

Staples has a national championship ring as a walk-on for the 1996 team and he's one of our favorite Gator writers. If he knows there are elements still on board with Spurrier, then you know it's a significant population.

When Spurrier ends his affiliation with South Carolina, Gator fans can welcome him back. I understand the loyalty many feel towards him (similar to the way I feel about Billy Donovan), but he is the enemy now. If you can't understand that, then please renounce your Gator Nation citizenship now.

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