Mark Daniel is an attorney in central Georgia, a 1981 graduate of the University of Georgia and a huge fan of his alma mater’s football team. When asked about Steve Spurrier, he laughed.
“We love him. I want to invite him over to Sunday dinner.”
Daniel was kidding, of course. Georgia fans still have plenty of hate for Spurrier — although it has ebbed since the 1990s, when Spurrier and his Florida Gators dominated the Bulldogs for more than a decade.
Spurrier is in his fifth year at USC, and as he prepares to visit Athens today for the third time as the Gamecocks’ coach, there seems to be a lesser degree of animosity toward him.
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Not that Spurrier should expect a warm reception at Sanford Stadium. As recently as his last visit, 2007, he was booed as he went to the locker room at halftime. He responded with a wave.
But most of the talk this week on Georgia sports radio and message boards has been about the Bulldogs’ struggling offense. Even Spurrier shrugged when asked about his relationship with Bulldogs fans.
“All that has worn off,” Spurrier said. “I think it’s just Georgia and South Carolina playing now. Simple as that; us against them.”
Chris Beckham, a former sportswriter in Georgia, hosts a Friday night football show in Valdosta, Ga. He thinks the intensity of the Spurrier-Georgia rivalry has decreased for two reasons: “Spurrier isn’t the “bad boy” he used to be, and he’s not beating their brains out every year anymore like he did at Florida.”
Spurrier is 1-3 against Georgia since arriving at USC, with the win coming in 2007. His Gamecocks are a touchdown underdog today.
It’s a far cry from his Florida days.
As the Gators’ coach, Spurrier was 11-1 against Georgia. That included a few blowouts: 45-13 in 1991, 52-14 in 1994, 52-17 in 1995, 47-7 in 1996 and 38-7 twice (1990 and ‘98).
During the 1995 meeting Spurrier tacked on a late touchdown after being told no one had scored 50 against Georgia in Athens.
Spurrier delighted in tweaking opponents, and Georgia was no different. He referred to former Georgia coach Ray Goff as “Ray Goof.” Georgia fans reciprocated.
“I guess we felt a little comfortable directing our anger at Spurrier,” Daniel said. “I think it eased our pain a little bit.”
Tony Barnhart, the longtime writer for the AJC and now an analyst for CBS, said the Georgia-Spurrier rivalry began in 1966, the year Spurrier won the Heisman Trophy as Florida’s quarterback — but lost to Georgia.
Spurrier never forgot that, because it prevented the Gators from winning the SEC championship.
When Spurrier returned to coach his alma mater in 1990, Georgia was used to beating Florida. Spurrier quickly changed that.
“You have to understand what Spurrier accomplished when he was at Florida,” Barnhart said. “One of the biggest things he did at Florida was reverse the psychological edge of the Georgia-Florida game.”
As for Spurrier, he has his own problems, and so does Georgia. Not that there will be much love on the field tonight in Athens.
“I think there’s a lot less excitement surrounding a Spurrier appearance in Athens now than there was a few years ago,” said David Hale, who covers Georgia for the Macon Telegraph, “but there will still be a lot of people with pretty big smiles on their faces if Georgia sends him home a loser.”
Reach Emerson at (803) 771-8676