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Look for Spurrier in center of storm


© St. Petersburg Times, published September 24, 2000

GAINESVILLE -- Steve Spurrier chose to strangle a Kentucky corpse. Thirteen seconds remained. Florida possessed the football, already assured of a lopsided win, ahead of the Wildcats by 21 points.

Instead of a gentlemanly knee, Gators quarterback Rex Grossman grabbed the rifle, firing to Jabar Gaffney for a 43-yard touchdown, putting one final bullet into Lexington blue boys.

I'm not ripping Spurrier.

"I called that last pass," said Florida's coach, pleased at his cut-throat finis to a 59-31 execution.

"They (were) trying to run up their stats," Spurrier said of the 'Cats, "so we'll work on ours. They can get mad when we go to Kentucky next year."

Make it madder.

In UF terminology, that play is called X-Streak. Kentucky rooters may give it different names. Spurrier said the 'Cats had angered him. Being behind 52-17, "They were blitzing on every (defensive) play" and "throwing on every (offensive) down."

Intriguing analysis, Stevie, but when you're in a 35-point gutter, aren't such coaching tactics the norm?

Truth is, Spurrier doesn't mind being loathed by adversaries. He seems to covet it. Can anybody on NCAA earth despise Gator Guy more than Tennessee's Vols, but it is quite-choreographed rancor that keeps working beautifully for Steve, winner of seven of his past eight against Florida's prime SEC East rival.

His playbook is unique.

Florida State, biggest gorilla of all on Spurrier's schedule, was prodded into fire-breathing by Gator Guy in January 1997, prior to a Sugar Bowl national championship rematch.

Steve accused 'Noles coaches of premediated attempts to maim UF quarterback Danny Wuerffel. Bobby Bowden's staff went crimson with dislike for Spurrier. In the end, it worked for Gator Guy, who left New Orleans riding a No. 1 cloud.

Spurrier has an elephantine memory, surpassing Babar and Jumbo. Steve will never forget being fired as a young Georgia Tech assistant by incoming coach Bill Curry. Years later, as Spurrier was amassing early successes after becoming UF boss in 1990, Curry was in charge at Kentucky. Gator Guy delighted in endlessly drilling Bill.

Now it's Hal Mumme, a fertile offensive mind whose Wildcats, despite threatening for no SEC championships, repetitively lead the league in passing statistics. Outgunning the Gator.

So, it's something of a domino dislike thing for Spurrier, going back to Curry. When he gets a chance, Steve doesn't mind twisting the skewer in Kentucky's hide.

About piling it up ...

As long as Spurrier doesn't mind the heat, embracing the reputation of a coach who opts to keep ringing the cash register no matter his assured profits, I cannot classify such late-game overeating as one of today's deadliest sins.

Hey, football folks, this isn't Little League, where kiddie psyches and amateur coaches can be ridiculously damaged. It's not high school football, with its imbalances that can border on the obnoxious. Nor is it even like the Gators playing, say, the University of Middle Nowhere and straining to turn 77-0 into 84-0.

These are big fellows.

College football, at the UF-UK plateau, is the major NCAA leagues. They sold 85,000 tickets for Saturday's scuffle. If it hurts more to get bombed by 28, rather than 21, well maybe it's time for weak hearts to seek other hobbies. Mumme didn't appear enraged, saying, "If the situation was reversed, I would've done the same thing."

Oh, if he gets the chance.

FSU coach Bowden and his UF enemy disagree on many things, but not fatten-the-score theories. Bobby is one of the notable fourth-quarter juicers. Keeping his front-line athletes on the field until it becomes far more than a 25-or 30-point knockout.

I'm not ripping Bowden.

College football is a far different business than Princeton-Yale in the 19th century or even Florida-Kentucky in the 1960s, a comparatively tame time when Spurrier became a Heisman Trophy quarterback for the Gators. Like so many things, it's racier now, less bridled, plus not so gentlemanly.

It's not to be cheered.

But most jocks understand.

Long before Spurrier dug one final cleat into Kentucky souls, it had become apparent that Steve may never lose to the Wildcats. Curry, Mumme or whomever. It's now 11-0 with Gator Guy winning by an average score of 48-18. No matter how mad UK people are with Spurrier when the schools next meet in 2001 at Commonwealth Stadium, expect it to become 12-0.

Florida's defense continues to be suspect. Tackling is still shoddy. But the Gators are 4-0, certain to continue to be ranked No. 3 in national polls. I asked Spurrier if he thought the Gators "looked like" the third-best team in America.

"I've got too many things to do to be worried about that," he said. "What we're ranked now doesn't matter. Everything will work itself out as the season goes on."

There's no disputing one thing about Spurrier, by 'Cats fans or those who roar or 'Noles or Vols: Gator Guy wins every game that he is absolutely supposed to take.

Check this fact ...

In the 10-plus seasons of Spurrier as Florida coach, his Gators have a 72-0 record against unranked opponents. If you're not in the Top 25, prepare to be gobbled by Stevie. He does it with deadly accuracy. Stunning domination. Never a slip against a major long shot.

Certainly not Kentucky.

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