Josh Kendall

Spurrier in better shape than when he won the Heisman? He’s got a believer (+ video)

Part of USC head football coach Steve Spurrier's routine is to work out 6 days a week during football season. The State's Josh Kendall joins Spurrier, who turns 70 soon, for a workout. After the workout the men pose for a shirtless photo.
Part of USC head football coach Steve Spurrier's routine is to work out 6 days a week during football season. The State's Josh Kendall joins Spurrier, who turns 70 soon, for a workout. After the workout the men pose for a shirtless photo.

At least they changed the music. That’s about the only thing that went right for me. Not that they changed it for me. Just a lucky break, and the only one I would get for the next hour.

The music in South Carolina’s weight room changes every time Steve Spurrier walks in to work out – from whatever it is college kids listen to, to a station playing country music. When Spurrier and I walked in Tuesday morning, the playlist was heavy with Garth Brooks, Randy Travis, Alan Jackson, etc. The music of my youth, in other words.

Backing up a moment… Spurrier will turn 70 on Monday. Let’s write something about Spurrier to run near his birthday, my boss said. In fact, why don’t you see if you can work out with him and write about it, he said.

Why not? I thought. Now I know. There is nothing positive that can come from a 41-year-old working out with a 70-year-old (69 for now, but you know what I mean). It’s the playing Wofford of workouts. You keep up with the 70-year-old? Congrats, tough guy! You don’t? Uh-oh.

I didn’t.

I consider myself in average shape for a 41-year-old man but only because the competition is not stout in a country where 70 percent of adults over the age of 20 are overweight and 35 percent are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. I kept pace with Spurrier for a while but eventually he outlasted me in a series of low-weight, high-repetition lifts.

A sampling: He does two sets of shoulder presses with barbells. Fifty with 15-pounders and 40 with 10-pounders. He does 200 shoulder shrugs with 30-pound barbells, two long sets of curls, 50 tricep extensions with a 25-pound barbell (I think it was 25 pounds; oxygen depletion may have affected my memory.) There are 100 toe raises with the 30-pound barbells; 22 minutes on the treadmill; 11 minutes on the stationary bike at a not-insignificant incline. At some point, I’m thinking it’s never going to end, although I’m trying to keep a brave face.

It makes me feel only slightly better that Spurrier figures he’s in better shape now than he was when he won the Heisman Trophy in 1966.

“I work out more for sure,” he said.

In fact, Spurrier remembers that only three or four of his Gator teammates in the mid-60s worked out at all. Their buddies all kidded them about it at the time.

“We called them Mickey Muscles,” he said. “Here comes Mickey Muscles.”

A long run or lifting anything heavier than a golf bag never occurred to Spurrier at the time. When I asked Spurrier when he got serious about golf, he said it was during those college summers in Gainesville, Fla., at the university course.

“That was summer workouts in the ‘60s,” he said. “Couple of classes in the morning, golf, local restaurant, local pub. Couple of classes in the morning, local restaurant, local pub.”

The monotony of it sounds fabulous. Spurrier only got interested in exercise when he entered the NFL, and San Francisco coach Dick Nolan required his quarterbacks to complete a 1.75-mile run in 12 minutes.

“You had to train for that one,” Spurrier said.

When Spurrier realized he felt better after the workouts, he was a believer, and he’s stuck to a regular workout routine since. During the season, he works out six days a week. In the offseason, it’s a little more sporadic because of his travel schedule, but he almost never goes three days without a workout. As I drop out of one exercise, he says, “You gotta get used to those. I’ve been doing this five days a week for 25 years.”

The most impressive, and probably most important, part of Spurrier’s workout is his core work. The session starts with 400 crunches on a medicine ball (200 forward, 100 laterally on each side). There’s more core work in the middle and near the end, including a one-minute plank (or 45 seconds for me).

“What happened to him?” Spurrier says to our camera crew as I fall out on this one.

He’s beginning to enjoy it a little at this point, although graciously enough.

There are a series of homemade leg lifts and stretches in there somewhere, including one where Spurrier lies on his back and kicks his legs high and straight back and forth a couple times with his hips completely off the ground.

“Get your toes up over your eyes,” he said. “Oh, you can’t do that? My grandson can’t do that one either.”

Two decades of core work is probably the only thing that is saving Spurrier from back surgery. He regularly battles stiffness in his back and has seen several doctors about it. The X-rays show such a mangled and arthritic picture that several doctors who saw them were surprised they were looking at the back of man who could get around normally, much less play a round of golf or stalk a sideline for three hours on Saturdays, Spurrier said. More than one doctor suggested back surgery. Spurrier’s doctor said, “Just keep doing what you’re doing.”

That means regular trips to the Gamecocks’ weight room, where they will always change the music the moment he walks into the door. The first song when Spurrier and I walked in Tuesday was Garth Brooks’ “Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old).”

Amen Garth, Amen.

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