Not under visor's shadow

Moss blankets final kick as Swamp takes down Ol' Ball Coach

Published November 12, 2006

GAINESVILLE - The legend's name was on the stadium wall to the left. His uniform number was plastered on the wall to the right.

And if Urban Meyer looked directly across the field, he could see the legend's smirk looking more ominous by the second.

Yes, Steve Spurrier returned home Saturday.

The man who brought glory to Florida Field was back in the stadium he once owned. Granted, he stood on an unfamiliar sideline, and his shirt was a strange color. He pumped his fist when the Gators did poorly and threw his game plan to the ground when they did well.

It all seemed a little surreal except for this:

When it came time for Spurrier to leave the field, the Gators were once again contenders for a national championship.

Maybe this is what it took. Maybe Florida had to open the door on the past in order to find a way to a better future. Maybe Spurrier had to show up for his ghost to finally be exorcised.

By surviving South Carolina 17-16 on Saturday - and surviving is the only verb that fits - the Gators moved to 9-1 for the first time since Spurrier was last here.

In the process, Meyer may have claimed a little lore of his own.

"That shadow will never dissipate," said Florida defensive coordinator Charlie Strong, who has worked under both Spurrier and Meyer. "Just because of all that he did for this program."

Let it be said, Meyer did not outcoach Spurrier on Saturday. For the longest time, it appeared as if Spurrier would school Meyer for the second year in a row.

It took a lot of good fortune for Florida to win. It took three blocked kicks. It took the referee waving off South Carolina's 55-yard field goal because the ball may or may not have been snapped late. It took a false-start penalty wiping out a South Carolina gain to the UF 7 in the final 20 seconds.

Meyer later admitted he was nervous, and that's a good thing. It shows he understands what was at stake. He realizes what this loss would have done to his reputation. To be beaten in consecutive seasons by an inferior team coached by Spurrier would have taken Meyer years to live down.

This was not an initiation. It was more like hazing. Meyer could not have been more uncomfortable if he had been stripped and sent running across the campus ringing a bell and wearing a diaper. Spurrier won six SEC titles and one national title in his 12 years at Florida. The Gators are 0-fer in their other 88 seasons.

Think Meyer wouldn't have been crushed by this loss?

Go back to last season when the loss to Spurrier kept the Gators from the SEC Championship Game. Meyer ordered all non-players off the flight upon landing in Gainesville that night, and then ripped his team for 30 minutes while the plane sat on the tarmac.

He is not the first coach to stand in the shadow of a famous predecessor. But he is one of the rare ones asked to shadow box.

"We're just trying to carry on a legacy," Meyer said. "This meant more to me than probably anybody knows."

It's a curious thing. Florida is getting closer and closer to the BCS title game, and looking worse and worse along the way.

The defensive line is no longer intimidating. Field goals are like a game of roulette. The quarterback rotation has lost some of its spark and the running game continues to be under-used.

Since dominating LSU five weeks ago, the Gators have lost once and barely survived against the bottom three teams in the East Division. At this rate, the Florida State game no longer looks like streamers and party hats.

Deep into his second season in Gainesville, Meyer's offense remains a rumor. The Gators are 45th in the nation in scoring and fading fast. Soon, Ron Zook's offenses will be remembered as part of the glory years. Still, these Gators have somehow survived. They have crept near the top of the BCS standings and could be No. 2 in another week.

"A lot of things are happening for us," receiver Percy Harvin said. "We need to buckle down because this could be our year."

When it was all over, when the final kick was blocked and Florida players danced across the field, Spurrier barely moved on the sideline. Later, he would wave to UF fans and give a thumbs-up to the South Carolina band.

But there was little to say when he and Meyer met near midfield. After all, what does yesterday have in common with tomorrow?

So Spurrier went one way, and Meyer went the other. One finding solace in the past, and the other still chasing the future.

John Romano can be reached at 727 893-8811 or romano@sptimes.com.