Tuesday October 16, 2012This homecoming story is about high stakes
Updated: 2:05pm, October 17
Updated: 2:05pm, October 17
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The Florida Gators began their historic run of four straight Southeastern Conference championships in September 1993.
Jeff Driskel was four months old.
UF’s sophomore quarterback, like most of his teammates, have little or no recollection of Steve Spurrier leading the Gators to their first national championship in 1996, and maybe only faint mental images of the Florida icon roaming the sidelines and sailing his orange and blue visor through the 2001 season.
“I think I was more worried about cartoons at that time,” Driskel said Monday. “But you see the film of him being a Gator coach and you see his visor and stuff like that.”
Like the statue situated between fellow Heisman Trophy winners Tim Tebow and Danny Wuerffel outside Florida Field, for example. That would be the same Florida Field that Spurrier decided 20 years ago to nickname “The Swamp.”
“He’s a legend in Gainesville,” nose guard Omar Hunter said.
It kind of took.
No one can question the imprint Spurrier left on his alma mater, but truth be told, the novelty of facing the beloved “head ball coach” who changed everything about Florida has pretty much worn off.
When No. 3 Florida (6-0, 5-0) clashes with No. 9 South Carolina (6-1, 4-1) at the Swamp, the big story -- and really, the only story for these coaches and players -- will be how the winner for the sold-out showdown will control its destiny for the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division title.
Think about it: Spurrier is in his seventh season coaching the Gamecocks. That’s more than halfway to the 12 seasons he coached the Gators to a school-record 122 wins from 1990-2001.
"I know a lot of people, they like him around here,” senior linebacker Jon Bostic said.
No question, but no one needs Pew Research or Gallup to determine who UF fans will be more vested in come Saturday at 3:30 p.m.
“At the end the day, we're about winning championships on and off the field here at Florida -- and it's another step to Atlanta,” Florida coach Will Muschamp said of the game. “That's the way I look at it.”
But even Muschamp knows where the thirst for those championships began.
And he -- like Urban Meyer before him -- is appropriately respectful of the culture Spurrier put in place for a program that for decades was more famous for underachievement than accomplishment.
In 1990, Florida football changed forever.
“You look at six SEC titles and the 1990 season had the best record in the SEC, [the ’96] national championship, and really put Florida on the map as far as winning championships in football,” Muschamp said. “I’ve asked him before why it didn’t happen before and he never gives me a good reason, but he just did a phenomenal job here as the head football coach. He’s a guy that’s very well respected and a guy that I’ve got a tremendous amount of respect for.”