GAINESVILLE, Fla. – It’s been about 15 years since Steve Spurrier has been the talk of the town on a Saturday in Gainesville.
The former coach (1990-2001), now an ambassador to the UF athletic department, is a big part of the Gators’ pregame festivities for the team’s 2016 season opener against UMass tonight. The school is officially renaming Florida Field to Steve Spurrier-Florida Field before kickoff, and then Spurrier will be asked to lead a signature cheer at midfield as the game’s honorary Mr. 2 Bits.
Before all that, some lucky Gator fans got their copy of “Head Ball Coach: My Life in Football” signed by the man himself.
Spurrier stopped by the campus bookstore Saturday for a signing scheduled from 2-4 p.m. A bookstore employee said that signings were capped at 1,000, and by 3 p.m., 800 fans were already in line.
While fans didn’t get to say much to the coach as book buyers were ushered through at a quick pace for a signature and a picture – one attendee noted the signing didn’t actually get started until 2:20 p.m. – they should enjoy their signed copies of “Head Ball Coach” once they begin reading.
As the subtitle says, the 296-page book tells Spurrier’s story of playing and coaching football. Spurrier, with the help of long-time sports journalist and friend Buddy Martin, writes of his days of playing football as a Johnson City, Tenn., youth and makes sure to include every playing and coaching stop along the way up to his resignation from South Carolina last year.
Gators fans came out Saturday to see the man who brought the first national championship to Florida in 1996. That year, the team ended its regular season with a loss to FSU, but if four games all went the Gators way (only one in their hands), they would control their own destiny in a Sugar Bowl rematch with the Seminoles.
In the book, Spurrier recalls the scene when item No. 4 could be crossed off the list:
Then, on the evening before the Nokia Sugar Bowl, we had pulled into our hotel in Gonzales, Louisiana, and turned on the TV with about two minutes left in the Rose Bowl. Ohio State quarterback Joe Germaine hit David Boston for a touchdown to beat Jake Plummer’s Arizona State team 20-17.
Our players came out of the Holiday Inn, jumping around, yelling and screaming. “There was no way we were going to lose another national championship game,” said Donnie Young, who remembered all too well what happened the year before in the loss to Nebraska.
Quezzie Green said his teammates had been talking about it all week, “but we never thought it would happen.” Defensive lineman Reggie McGrew said the confidence was reflected in the face of his roommate Ed Chester that “we had a chance!”
I told them: “Some way or another the Lord has put it in our hands. God helps those who help themselves. The opportunity is here. Now we have to take advantage of it. It’s time for us all to come together.”
Twenty years later, memories of 1996 magic feel just like yesterday in Gainesville. And you can bet the Head Ball Coach will get one of the loudest “2 Bits” cheers out of The Swamp on Saturday night.