This Saturday, the Florida Gators bring their 19-game win streak to Columbia, SC to face the Old Ball Coach. There was a time when this would have worried the Gator faithful; Now? Not so much.
When Urban Meyer arrived on the UF campus in '05, he was greeted with the misfortune of having Steve Spurrier take a job in his own division. He would not have to immediately replace the Gator legend, like Ron Zook did. But this could be even worse;he would have to actually coach against him.
In Meyer's first year, as luck would have it, the SEC East Championship all came down to going to Columbia and beating Spurrier. Win and the Gators head to Atlanta for the first time in five years, lose and forget about it until next year; The Gators lost.
There was a lot of doom and gloom in Gainesville that day. People were understandably questioning the wisdom of Bernie Machen and Jeremy Foley. "Why didn't you idiots hire Spurrier back when you had the chance?" "Now look what you've done. South Carolina will rule this division from now on."
The Gators ended up at the Outback Bowl that year. A destination we became all too familiar with under Zook. I can remember some fans saying, "I don't see any difference between this guy and Zook."
The next year in Gainesville, it was Spurrier visiting his old stomping grounds for the first time as the visiting coach. Again, the East was riding on the outcome. Only this time, Florida was still in the hunt for a national title too. I was at that game, people were fired up, but also nervous.
"If Spurrier wins again, we'll never beat him." "He'll be in Meyer's head."
Fans were split on whether to cheer Steve or boo him. Some thought we should cheer to show our gratitude for all he did and to show Machen and Foley they screwed up. Others thought that we should boo because he could ruin our title chances for the second straight year. There were many "Spurrier is a Cock" t-shirts around town that day.
The game was a nailbiter. As most games were that year, it was sloppy on offense. This was another point of contention with the Gator crowd. Spurrier's offense was always high powered and fun to watch. This Gator team was all about defense. Late in the fourth quarter, the Gators trailed 16-10.
The only reason it was not 20-10 was because of a blocked field goal and a blocked extra point. The Gators were being outplayed by Spurrier's Gamecocks again. Then, late in the fourth quarter, the Gator offense finally caught fire. They marched down the field and scored the go ahead touchdown.
In fact, they had scored too quickly. I remember saying to my son that "we're going to have to block another kick to win this game." I was right. Spurrier's offense marched down the field once again. On the last play of the game, he brought out the field goal team.
And then it happened; Jarvis Moss jumped up and blocked the kick! The crowd went wild. It was as loud as I have ever heard in my many games at the Swamp. Strangers were hugging each other. Nobody left, except the few Carolina fans. It was as if the weight of the world had been lifted.
Urban Meyer raised his hands in victory, but he was not jubilant. He had more of a "I knew it all along" look on his face. Nobody else could believe it, but he looked as if he drew it up that way. From that play on, he has owned Spurrier.
The following year, Tim Tebow went to Columbia and came back with a Heisman Trophy. The Gators hung 51 on the 'Cocks that day. Last year, it was even worse. The game was well in hand half way through the first quarter. A Brandon Spikes pick-six here and a screwed up trick play on a kick return there and it was over early.
Which brings us to this week. The Gators are coming in undefeated and ranked No. 1. We are searching for a third national title in Meyer's five years as coach. Spurrier won one in 12 years. Meyer no longer has to worry about the ghost of Spurrier. Nor does he have to worry about Spurrier, the South Carolina coach.
Again the 'Cocks are limping into this game after getting off to a good start, But 6-1 has again become 6-4, with UF and CJ Spiller's Clemson team all that is left on their schedule. it looks like another 6-6 year for the Old Ball Coach and it's kind of sad really.
The Gators will steamroll him again. It's only been three years since the Gators were actually terrified at facing Spurrier, it seems like a lot longer.