Steve Spurrier was talking on the phone to a visitor when he stopped in mid-sentence.
“Listen to this,” said Spurrier, lifting his phone into the air.
What came next were the sounds of the University of Florida Fightin’ Gator Marching Band as they prepared for Saturday’s big game with No. 1 Alabama in Gainesville.
Spurrier stopped to soak in the sound and the vibe on the Florida campus.
“Our band works awfully hard,” said Spurrier. “It’s going to be a big weekend around here.”
And Spurrier, one of only four men in the College Football Hall of Fame as both a player and coach (Bobby Dodd, Bowden Wyatt, and Amos Alonzo Stagg are the others) is going to be right in the middle of it.
“It’s going to be one of the biggest games we’ve had around here in a long time,” said Spurrier, who turned 76 back in April. “It’s going to be a loud one, that’s for sure. I really think we’ve got a chance.”
Spurrier is staying busy. He has his duties as an ambassador for the Florida athletic department. On Tuesday he and former Florida All-America golfer Steve Melnyk, met with the Gators’ golf team.
And then there is his new restaurant, “Spurrier’s Gridiron Grille,” just off Archer Road in Gainesville, which has been open since Aug. 11. The restaurant is filled with memorabilia from Spurrier’s playing and coaching days.
"My daughter told me I needed a place to put all this stuff," he said with a laugh. "I think it turned out pretty good."
Needless to say, Spurrier’s Gridiron Grille is booked for this weekend and every football weekend.
“We’re excited,” said Spurrier. “Things have been going well. We’re going to have a big time. I’ll drop in from time to time to say hello.”
Spurrier won six SEC championships and a national championship (1996) in his 12 seasons at Florida (1990-2001). After a brief time in the NFL, he went to South Carolina and took the Gamecocks to their best run of success with three straight 11-win seasons and an appearance in the SEC championship game.
It was during his time at South Carolina that Spurrier posted one of his career-defining wins.
First, let’s put it into context.
When Alabama comes to The Swamp on Saturday it will mark the 89th time that the Crimson Tide has played as the No. 1 team under Nick Saban. Saban is 81-8 in those games.
Steve Spurrier has one of those eight wins against Saban as No. 1.
On Oct. 9, 2010 Alabama came to Williams-Brice Stadium as the top team in the land. South Carolina had lost at Auburn 35-27 the week before and was a 7 ½ point underdog. ESPN’s College Game Day was there.
And what happened that day, said Spurrier, was magic.
“It was just meant to be,” said Spurrier.
South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia, an up and down quarterback at best in his career, completed 17 of 20 passes for 201 yards and three touchdowns. Marcus Lattimore, the splendid running back, rushed for 93 yards and a pair of touchdowns. The South Carolina defense harassed and punished Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy all day long. McElroy threw for a career-high 315 yards but got sacked seven times.
When it was over South Carolina had posted the biggest home win in school history (35-21) and the fans stormed the field.
Spurrier remembers every vivid detail of the game.
“Stephen Garcia had the best game of his life, there is no question about that,” said Spurrier. “Alshon Jefferey had a couple of touchdowns. Marcus did some good things and our defense really got after McElroy.
“It was one of our best-ever offensive games,” said Spurrier.
I was there and wrote that it was the best game I had ever seen Spurrier call.
“But to be fair Alabama didn’t play their best,” said Spurrier. “They tried a fake field goal and it didn’t work. Sometimes that has to happen when you’re trying for an upset.”
Spurrier said that Saturday’s game with Alabama feels like the Florida-Florida State game of 1997.
On Nov. 23 of that year, Bobby Bowden’s Seminoles arrived at The Swamp undefeated and ranked No. 1. A win would give Florida State a shot at the national championship.
Spurrier reached into his bag of tricks and went with a two-quarterback system where Doug Johnson and Noah Brindise would alternate plays. It worked well but with 2:38 left Florida still trailed 29-25.
That’s when Doug Johnson and Jacquez Green made one of the biggest plays in school history. With the play clock winding down, Johnson signaled Green to run a hitch and go. Green hauled in the pass and turned it into a 63-yard gain to the Florida State 17-yard line. Two plays later Fred Taylor scored a touchdown to give the Gators a 32-29 victory. It is considered one of the best games ever at Florida Field, which is now named for Spurrier.
“That was a big night for the Gators,” said Spurrier. “Maybe it could happen again. You never know.”