Steve Spurrier says the traditional pregame stroll around an opponent’s home stadium always is a little different when his South Carolina team visits Florida’s Swamp. For good reason.
Spurrier’s statue stands outside the stadium, a salute to his Heisman Trophy playing days. Inside, his name resides in the program’s Ring of Honor. He also can admire the placard that recognizes his Florida team’s 1996 national championship. Then there are the listings for each of his six SEC titles.
Though there is no recognition, it is interesting nonetheless that Spurrier’s crowning achievement as USC’s coach also occurred at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. The Gamecocks clinched their lone SEC Eastern Division championship in 2010 with a 36-14 victory at The Swamp.
In Spurrier’s three other return trips to Gainesville, Florida has been the one celebrating a title. In 2006, 2008 and 2012, Florida used a late-season victory against USC to clinch at least a share of the SEC title. The ’06 and ’08 Florida teams were on their way to national crowns.
By comparison, Saturday’s game pales.
There will be those who continue to attribute significance to Spurrier’s return, but there really is very little. He is 13 years removed from coaching his final game at Florida. No player on either team had entered first grade when Spurrier’s Gators won the national championship.
Although many fans recognize Spurrier as among the greatest players and best coaches in Florida history, the Gators program has moved on. Though Florida has gone through three coaches since his departure, it has managed two national titles, two SEC championships and at least a share of five SEC East crowns post-Spurrier.
Spurrier understands that.
“I’ll look around the stadium a little bit and bring back memories, but when the ball’s kicked off, it’s us against them, our team against their team,” Spurrier said. “I’ll shake hands with (Florida coach) Will (Muschamp) before the game. During the game, we probably both don’t know who the coach is on the other side, particularly.”
Taking more of the shine off Spurrier’s return this season is that Saturday’s game is no marquee matchup. For the second time since USC joined the SEC in 1992, neither team is nationally ranked. The other time was 2004, when USC entered with a 6-3 record and Florida was 5-4.
This season, Florida retains a chance, however remote, of winning the SEC East with a 4-3 conference record. The Gators are 5-3 overall. At 4-5, USC could take a giant step toward securing a winning season and becoming bowl-eligible with a win.
But there is not as much riding on the game as in previous Spurrier homecomings.
The unranked Gamecocks nearly stunned the eventual national champions in 2006 when Ryan Succop’s 48-yard field goal was blocked by 6-foot-6 Florida defensive end Jarvis Moss as time expired. Forgotten in the 17-16 Florida win was that USC earlier had an extra point and field goal blocked.
Third-ranked Florida was a 21-point favorite in 2008 and rolled to an easy 56-6 win that marked the worst loss in Spurrier’s coaching career. It was more of the same in 2012, when third-ranked Florida took advantage of turnovers by ninth-ranked USC in a 44-11 decision.
Sandwiched between the blowouts was the 2010 game in which USC snapped its 0-12 streak in Gainesville. The game marked the fourth time in the series that both teams were ranked entering the contest with USC at No. 22 and Florida at No. 24. Yet Florida was a six-point favorite.
Marcus Lattimore had produced 182- and 184-yard rushing games earlier in the season against Georgia and Tennessee, respectively, but he was at his best against Florida. He carried the ball a program-record 40 times for 212 yards and three touchdowns.
USC rolled to a 36-14 victory.
Before he headed to a wild celebration in the USC locker room afterward, Spurrier stood and waved to Gamecock fans, then found friends and supporters all around the field.
It was a victory for Spurrier and USC fans to savor, one that he, no doubt, will reminisce about Saturday during his pregame walk around his old stomping grounds. Then it will be forgotten by kickoff.