Published November 12, 2010 - 5:45am
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Florida fans from my generation (late 90’s-early 00’s) haven’t let go of the old times. The memories of Steve Spurrier ditching the Gators after the Orange Bowl in 2002 leading to the lost seasons under Zook still hurt.
Spurrier left us wanting more. What we needed was more evidence that he embodied all the superlatives thrown his way: he is an offensive genius, a recruiting superstar and in the singular sense, a Head Ball Coach.
The cynical haters keyed onto his coaching flaws early on: too emotional, too involved in the play calls, too quick of a leash on his quarterbacks (other than Wuerffel) and thusly reduced his championship run to luck and a choice rematch with Florida State in the Sugar Bowl.
When he bolted for the NFL, the Washington Redskins and the $25 million contract, those flaws became self-evident. The Redskins scuffled to a 7-9 record in 2002 and Spurrier resigned early on in the 2003 season. Finally, some of that criticism, which Gator fans gleefully ignored throughout his tenure, started sinking in.
Coupled with the ineffectiveness of Zook, the self-doubt and ennui of the 2002-2005 seasons made for a bleak, almost fatalistic outlook for Gator football. We knew that there was no going back to Spurrier. But there was not a way forward.
That is until Spurrier became the HBC for the South Carolina. His turn back to college football would validate the 90’s Gators in a sort of Bizzaro-world logical framework. Beating the Gators in 2005 showed that Spurrier still had it in him, that greatness which Gator fans lauded upon him in stupendous amounts. Some fans even treated it like, “Spurrier won because we let him,” in this weird reverse payback ritual.
Redeeming Spurrier’s failures in the NFL only went as far as that 2005 loss. Florida needed just one blocked field goal in 2006 to swat away any future chances Spurrier would have against them. Spurrier, by the time he got to the Gators, never had a shot at the SEC East title. He could only play the spoiler and he failed each time.
But now, that visor, that stupid smirk, the sudden flashes of brilliance from Stephen Garcia and the hard running of Marcus Lattimore have the Gator fans in an unfamiliar position. Spurrier got over in 2005, and we were okay with that. But how will Florida fans rationalize a Spurrier-led SEC East champion Gamecock team?
This is the game that Gators and Spurrier fans have dreaded since he became the South Carolina coach. We always knew he had it in him to take the Gamecocks to Atlanta, but that would never come at the Gators’ cost. Either the Gators would have a catastrophic meltdown early on (as they almost had) or South Carolina would finally have that great season (which they almost had after beating Alabama).
Yet here are both teams middling their way into the SEC East race. The Gators looked dominant and resurgent at the Free Taco beat down of Vanderbilt and the Gamecocks looked abysmal at home against Arkansas. Neither game provided clues to which team wins on Saturday night.
The Gators’ and Spurrier Gamecocks’ seasons have intersected at similar fashions through the recent years, with South Carolina headed in a downward vector and the Gators trending upward.
This year, the Gamecocks are so inconsistent that we have no clue which team will show up. Will it be the one that assaulted Alabama with a pass rush and run defense? Or will it be the turnover prone Garcia providing a feast for the pick-happy Gator secondary?
What Florida team shows up? Is it the lightning-quick new look offense and dominant special teams version? Or is it the turnover prone, plodding, overthrowing, dropped pass offense with barely a hint of a rush defense version?
The only sure thing is: this is the most dangerous Spurrier team the Gators have ever seen.
If the Gators win, we finally exorcise the HBC from our collective unconscious and the Gators’ shambolic 6-3 season gets reanimated into a zombified journey toward Atlanta (sorry, couldn’t resist a Walking Dead reference). Spurrier recedes back down the SEC East ladder to his rightful spot beneath his old team.
But if that old rascal Spurrier wins, well, we let him have it this year too.