GAINESVILLE — It’s different now for Steve Spurrier. Different, and easier.
Spurrier’s days at Florida — as a Heisman-winning quarterback and a championship-winning coach — are well remembered and represented, but they also have been overshadowed some by recent success of Tim Tebow and other Gator stars.
When Spurrier — now the Head Ball Coach at South Carolina — returns to face the Gators Saturday, he does so with less trepidation and torn feelings than he used to have.
“It was a little tough at first,” said Graham Spurrier, Steve Spurrier’s brother. “It was something he’d never experienced before, going there and playing against your alma mater.”
It will be Spurrier’s fourth trip to the Swamp as the visiting coach. It’s a place he nicknamed. While the experience has a Twilight Zone feel, Spurrier accepts the circumstances and views beating Florida as a necessary evil to his Gamecocks’ rise.
“I guess it is a little unusual to be on the other team when you come into the ballpark and your name’s on the wall up there,” Spurrier said. “But it’s our team against their team. This is a game between the players.”
Still, Spurrier is Spurrier, a larger-than-life legend that never goes unnoticed, especially in Gainesville.
Spurrier changed the SEC with his Fun ‘n Gun offense and put Florida football on the map with four straight SEC titles in 1990s, a run culminating with the 1996 national title.
Gators coach Will Muschamp, who grew up in Gainesville and played safety at Georgia, knows what it means to battle wits with Spurrier.
“There are really two coaches that come to the forefront of your mind as far as what they have done for this league, and that would be Bear Bryant and Steve Spurrier,” Muschamp said.
Muschamp’s players were in elementary school when Spurrier was the Gators’ coach, but they understand the significance of his return.
“It’s hard to miss the statue,” quarterback Jeff Driskel said. “It’s hard to miss a guy that named our stadium what it’s called.”
Spurrier is not coming to town to recall old times, but to build a future for South Carolina football.
The Gamecocks took a big step at the Gators’ expense in 2010, with a decisive 36-14 win that helped South Carolina clinch the SEC East title. While Florida fans lamented the loss, South Carolina players carried Spurrier off the field on their shoulders.
This time, Spurrier’s No. 7 Gamecocks (6-1, 4-1) could end the No. 2 Gators (6-0, 5-0) unbeaten season and national title hopes. Kickoff is at 3:30 p.m. and the showdown will be broadcast on CBS.
“There’s so much riding on this football game,” said Allen Trammell Jr., Spurrier’s former Gator teammate and close friend who now lives in Orlando. “When the ball is snapped all those thoughts and memories about the Gators will be forgotten for 60 minutes.”