July 18, 2015
Spurrier: How the Ball Coach Taught the South to Play Football, Ran Henry (2014)
Steve Spurrier saw greatness in a former fifth-string quarterback, looking through the tunnel to a field of dreams.
Shane Matthews, what do you want to run for your first play as starting quarterback at the University of Florida? Matthews thought a screen pass, or a draw play, might loosen up the team playing Oklahoma State in front of 75,428 Gators.
"Shoot no, they aren't paying me all this money to come down here and run the ball," Spurrier said.
"Heeeeeeeeeeeeeeere come the Gators!" the PA announcer bellowed.
Running out of the tunnel, waving to his father and mother beaming in the first row in the end zone, with his wife, children, and Florida teammates weeping for joy, Spurrier led the Gators onto Florida Field on September 8, 1990, as Florida's head coach - running across real grass, hoping to lay to rest the old school motto, "Wait until next year."
Scraps of that artificial turf Spurrier had ripped out and thrown to the curb got picked up and saved by disbelieving Gators, clinging to the past. He'd show them. Football is played on grass, under palm trees and tropical skies, with some guidelines he called "Gator Mentality."
"Trips left, X Short, Blue Slide, Z Cross," he told Matthews, clapping his quarterback on the shoulder pads and sending him out for his first play, a 35-yard completion.
A nation of Gators hollered. Eyes had not seen, ears had not heard, such a backpedaling of defensive backs across the SEC, fearing an offense that passed first and ran last. ...
Steve Spurrier and Shane Matthews
What should sportswriters call the passing attack Matthews triggered? He allowed that "Fun 'n' Gun" might lighten up the sports section his father carried around Green Cove Springs.
That gave the Gators the mindset to go into Birmingham and withstand an early 10-0 Alabama lead, block a punt in the fourth quarter, and beat the Crimson Tide 17-13 at their stadium. Showing the disbelieving Gators back home Spurrier's team could play with the big boys.
He'd met the enemy, and it was Florida. Former coach Galen Hall's $360.40 "loan" to a player needing to pay child support in 1986 made UF ineligible for the 1990 Sugar Bowl - and therefore unable to compete for the 1990 SEC Championship, the NCAA ruled the week after the win over 'Bama.
Spurrier put on his go-to-meeting clothes and went to debate university officials over appealing that punishment. Looking the deciders in the eyes, he said no one on his team had done anything wrong. The doubts of Dr. Robert Lancillotti, dean of UF's business school, could no longer be contained.
"We have never won the SEC! We're not going to win it this year! We've only won one conference game and we're talking about winning six more?"
"Wait until next year," the administrators had to say to the football coach, giving Spurrier what he really needed: someone to prove wrong.
Unfairness clouded his face when he huddled up his team and told them Florida would win that championship on the field - and he wouldn't let anyone forget who won it. Mississippi State and LSU got stomped at Florida Field, loud enough for the dean of the business school to hear. In the stadium boasting the SEC's loudest crowd, Spurrier sent Matthews onto the field with plays the Vols anticipated. They'd watched lots of film of Florida. When his tight end dropped a touchdown pass that would've tied the game at 7, cameras caught the velocity of Spurrier's visor hitting the ground. Big Orange rolled over Florida, 45-3 ... The major networks told their TV crews to keep a camera on the visor at all times.
Disbelieving Gators resurfaced. Florida never could beat Auburn and Georgia back-to-back. Hearing that Auburn had lost its library in a fire, Spurrier sent his regrets: "Some of those books hadn't been colored in yet." No. 4 Auburn lost 48-7 to Spurrier.
Florida still had to play Georgia the next week in Jacksonville. ... Fate favors men who want to win. The Ball Coach added that the game the Gators annually feared was played in Florida, in a stadium called the Gator Bowl.
"We should beat them," he told his team. "We should beat them by a bunch."
With cheers ringing through the stadium, Spurrier stood by the locker room door, waiting for his mom and dad to celebrate a 38-7 win over UGA athletic director Vince Dooley's Dawgs.
Hearing about gatherings at cemeteries where cocktails were poured on the graves of Gators who'd lived and died without beating Auburn and Georgia back-to-back, Spurrier got ready to avenge the people who made them move out of a house they loved in Marietta, Georgia [when Bill Curry was hired as Georgia Tech coach and did not rehire Spurrier as O-coordinator]. His Gators clawed Bill Curry's Kentucky Wildcats, and stood alone atop the SEC at 9-1.
Scoring 35 points and gaining 450 yards a game, rewriting their coach's passing records, Spurrier's Gators ripped away 57 years of SEC futility and 84 years of mediocrity - fielding the best team in Florida football history.
A business school dean and a 45-30 loss to Bobby Bowden's Seminoles in Tallahassee couldn't deter the Ball Coach from painting "First in the SEC" on his stadium wall, to honor the 1990 team. ...