It was quite a scene in Athens, Georgia this past Saturday night. Leaving Sanford Stadium, I was engulfed with an uproarious chant of "GAME! COCKS! GAME! COCKS!" The mere thought of such excitement and jubilation from South Carolina fans would boggle the mind if it had occurred in the 1990's, when the Gamecocks were the preeminent laughing stock of the SEC. Not since former South Carolina running back George Rogers beat out UGA great Herschel Walker to win the Heisman Trophy in 1980 have South Carolina fans had such reason to celebrate in the presence of Bulldog fans. There is no doubt that this rediscovery of Gamecock Pride (my apologies for the blatant phallic reference) has been spawned by none other than Under Armour spokesman himself, Steve Spurrier. Perhaps the most successful SEC coach since the forever immortalized (at least in Tuscaloosa) Paul "Bear" Bryant, Spurrier won seven SEC titles and one of the National variety ehile at the University of Florida during the 1990's and early into the new millenium. Heck, he even won an ACC title at Duke, a program that hasn't won a football game since Greg Oden was 36 years old in 2005. In other words, besides his brief stint in the NFL with the Washington Redskins, Spurrier has exceeded expectations and invigorated students, alumni, and, most importantly, boosters wherever his visor-throwing intellect has taken him.
While South Carolina enjoyed mild success under the tutelage of the 96-pound, denture-smackin', spit-sprayin' Lou Holtz, Gamecock fans haven't celebrated the caliber of wins that Spurrier has provided. Not to mention Holtz had to endure a winless, inaugural season and a Gamecock-Tiger "gang bang" in his final coaching venture in the annual Palmetto State rivalry game against Clemson. No matter how many Outback Bowl appearances old Lou was able to muster, the image of helmet-wielding, cleat-stomping football players being tear gassed by the South Carolina Police Department was nothing short of a prologue to the epic Miami-FIU battle a few years later and resonated throughout the Gamecock community for many subsequent months. After Holtz's retirement later that year, the Gamecock faithful were probably preparing for a return to the SEC cellar and further habitual disappointment, but as soon as these dismayed South Carolina fans heard the news of Steve Spurrier's hiring as the new head football coach, Cocks everywhere became engorged (once again, my apologies) with optimism and hope reemerged throught Columbia.
Spurrier's first triumph with South Carolina came in his very first season when his Gamecocks traveled up to Knoxville and handed a pathetic Vols team a 16-15 upset; South Carolina's first and only victory at Neyland Stadium in school history. Later that season, the Gamecocks hosted Spurrier's alma mater, the University of Florida Gators, in Columbia, and dominated the more talented and higher ranked Gators to the tune of a 30-22 victory. Images of Sidney Rice's fourth down catch are still looming in the heads of Gator fans everywhere, as well as Urban Meyer's. But not until last Saturday night had Spurrier completed his own personal "trifecta" and certainly his most motivating factor in his decision to return to college football in 2005. That achievement of which I am talking, of course, is the defeat of Spurrier's two biggest rivals during his playing and coaching days at Florida (Georgia and Tennessee) and beating the team for which he coached to a National Championship in 1996 and won a Heisman Trophy in 1966 (Florida). Steve Spurrier's coaching ability and offensive prowess is unquestionable, but it is his uncanny ability to crawl into the heads of the Philip Fulmers and Mark Richts of the coaching world that truly separates Spurrier from the rest of college football head coaches. South Carolina was a Jarvis Moss right hand away from beating the eventual National Champion Florida Gators in the Swamp (a name that Spurrier himself helped coin) last season; just another testament to Spurrier's coaching ability.
It may be too early to deem the South Carolina Gamecocks as in the proverbial "driver's seat" of the SEC Eastern Division, but who is going to argue with the fact that Spurrier knows how to win college football games? Even though the school colors and mascots have changed, as long as the opposing coach is aware of the 'Ol Ball Coach's presence on the other sideline, there's no telling what the ultimate outcome will be. So go ahead SEC participants, disregard South Carolina's upset over Georgia in Athens as mere happenstance, but don't go looking for someone ther than yourselves to blame when Blake Mitchell and company show up and hang a whopping 16 or 17 points on the board while you struggle to kick field goals and try to keep Mr. Spurrier out of your head. This especially concerns the defending National and SEC Champion Florida Gators and head coach Urban Meyer. The 'O.B.C. will be click-clackin' his way into Williams-Brice Stadium when the Gators come to town in November and he gets the opportunity to avenge last year's squeaker in the Swamp.
This is simply a forewarning to all SEC football fans that when you see South Carolina on your team's schedule, maybe you shouldn't worry so much about interior line play or the quarterback comparison or special teams and defense (Lord knows Spurrier won't), but be aware that Steve Spurrier is back and he's not worried about flashiness or classiness; he just wants to win football games and until your team's coaching staff can figure out how to get that infamous visor of his airborne, winning Steve Spurrier will continue to do.