Saturday marks the 22nd meeting of South Carolina and Florida since the Gamecocks joined the SEC. Steve Spurrier has been on one of those sidelines for the great majority of those 22, as coach of one team or the other.
He was also there the last time the two teams played before they were conference brethren.
Not on the sideline, though. On the field.
“I remember Charley Casey caught a post pass, and it was one of those best spirals I ever threw,” Spurrier said about the Gators’ 37-0 win that day. “We won pretty easily, obviously. Our defense played super. We led the SEC in defense that year – if our offense had been worth anything, we probably would have won the conference.”
On Oct. 17, 1964, the Gamecocks visited Gainesville, Fla., to take on the Gators. USC had not had a winning season in four years, was coming off a 1-8-1 season and would not break .500 until 1969. Florida was working on a string of solid seasons, although an SEC title continued to elude it.
But 1963 brought a brash quarterback to Gainesville, and while he couldn’t play that year due to NCAA rules governing freshmen, he was eligible in 1964. After beating SMU, Mississippi State and Ole Miss, the Gators played a bit of an unfamiliar opponent.
Spurrier somewhat knew about the Gamecocks. Some of his old friends from Johnson City, Tenn., and Science Hill High School had gone to USC – Sam Humphreys (1960-62) and Roy Chatman (1961-63), who died in February – but he didn’t know too much about the Gamecocks’ scheme, style or current personnel.
Spurrier played during the game, and played a lot. It was how the season went. Spurrier was satisfied with coming off the bench as senior Tom Shannon started the majority of the games.
“I went to coach (Ray) Graves and said, ‘Just let Tommy start, I’ll come in whenever. Go ahead and start the senior,’ ” Spurrier said. “That’s the way it should have been. The senior started most of the games, I came in and played three-fourths of the game.”
Florida handily won, like Spurrier said, and the Gators’ defense pummeled USC throughout. The Gamecocks’ quarterback that day was Dan Reeves, who would go on to win a Super Bowl ring as a player.
Reeves was 6-of-19 for 43 yards. USC’s top rusher, Phil Branson, had 23 yards on seven carries. It quickly turned into a forgettable game for USC, on the way to a forgettable season – the Gamecocks finished 3-5-2, although they did finish on a three-game winning streak and beat archrival Clemson 7-3. Florida, just finding out what it had in the multi-talented Spurrier, finished 7-3.
As usual, Spurrier remembered exactly how the season played out. The next game was a 17-14 loss to Alabama, when Florida missed a field goal at the end. The Gators also lost to Georgia on a special-teams snafu, when the Bulldogs’ holder ran for a touchdown out of a field-goal attempt and delivered a 14-7 victory.
“We lost a couple of close ones. We did not go to a bowl game that year, but we beat LSU the last game of the season,” Spurrier said. “They had a hurricane come through Louisiana and postponed it. It was a cold night out in Baton Rouge, but we beat them 20-6. We beat them pretty good.”
Spurrier’s Gators easily beat USC in 1964, and the victories didn’t stop when the Gamecocks joined the league. Yet, there were some close calls.
“The first two years, USC could have beat Florida,” Spurrier said. “It was 14-9 in ’92, and the next year, it was 17-0 here before we came back and won about 37-26. They had us down 17-0.”
And there was the game in 2000, when the Gamecocks went ahead 21-3 in the first quarter on two blocked punt returns for touchdowns. Spurrier’s Gators calmly weathered the attack and won 41-21 for the SEC East crown.
Spurrier has constantly downplayed his association with the Gators as USC’s coach, saying it’s about the players on the field and not about the history he has with Florida.
“I was just thinking, I bet Vince Dooley, when he was coaching at Georgia, you know he went to Auburn. Every time be played Auburn, I bet they didn’t ask him about that,” Spurrier said. “And of course, Pat Dye played at Georgia, he was coach at Auburn. No, that’s really a non-subject to talk about, I’d say. It’s just our team against their team.”
Even if one coach played against his current team 49 years ago.