The End of an Era

Back on a cold November day in 1995 my dad took me and a few buddies to Williams-Brice to see Steve Spurrier, Danny Wuerffel, and the #3 Florida Gators throw one of the worst beat downs I've ever witnessed on Brad Scott and the Gamecocks. The final score was 63-7, and from my vantage point I must say that the game was nowhere near as close as the score would lead you to believe. I'm pretty sure I had a case of mild hypothermia after the game, and as I shivered myself to sleep that night the only thing colder than the blood in my veins was my hopes for the Gamecocks to ever being relevant in football.

Before the game my dad told us an off-color joke. He said, "Hey, why does Steve Spurrier wear a turtle neck? It's to hide his circumcision scar." Now, I don't recall if Steve Spurrier ever actually wore a turtle neck, but it was the mid-90s so there's probably a non-zero chance that he did. The point was, however, that if you were a fan of a Southeastern college football team back then you absolutely hated Spurrier. He was the best coach around: you knew it, he knew, he knew you knew it, and he never passed up an opportunity to let you know that he knew that you knew it. When he wasn't running up the score he was running his mouth. As a Carolina fan I despised this man and I was absolutely terrified of the teams he coached.

A funny thing happened on November 23, 2004. Three days prior I had trekked into the wilderness all the way to the upstate school for the big rivalry game. After witnessing the brawl on the field and reading about the theft of football facility equipment by some of the players on the following Sunday, my faith in the Gamecocks was at an all-time low. We had hired a coaching legend in Lou Holtz and in 6 years were only able to manage 3 winning seasons and a 33-37 record. Holtz had announced his retirement on November 18, and there were a lot of rumors flying around about who the next head coach would be. One of the names being thrown around was Steve Spurrier, but given my perception of our current status that just seem ludicrous. That Tuesday I got a call from my dad and he says, "We hired Spurrier." It's amazing how quickly our opinions of someone can change.

Spurrier's first season was my penultimate one as a spectator in the stands, as I began to live in Japan on a semi-regular basis from 2006. The results were immediate. While we only had a 7-5 record that year, we had a 5-game SEC winning streak that included our first ever win in Knoxville and a win against Urban Meyer's #12 Gators for the first time since 1939. We finished 2nd the SEC East, matching our peak from 2000. The next 4 seasons weren't significantly better or worse than the first, but we slowly built momentum in recruiting and finally put the best South Carolina teams in history on the field in 2011-2013. Here's some highlights of Spurrier's first 10 years as HBC:

  • 10 straight seasons with a winning record
  • 5 wins each over Georgia, Tennessee, and Florida
  • 6 wins over the upstate school, including the 5-game streak
  • 19 wins against Top 25 teams, including 6 wins against Top 10 teams
  • Undefeated in the SEC East in 2011
  • SEC East Championship in 2010
  • 35-21 victory over #1 Alabama in 2010
  • 4 straight bowl wins over Nebraska, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Miami
  • Back-to-back-to-back 11-win seasons, resulting in final rankings of #9, #8, and #4

For someone who grew up watching every single game of the Brad Scott era that list above is nothing short of remarkable. We weren't able to achieve our ultimate goal of winning the SEC under Spurrier, but he brought us closer than I could have imagined. After 123 years of playing football we finally have a football program that can win. Before Spurrier arrived the only victory we could expect when a Top 25 team came to town was of the moral variety. Now we expect our team to be competitive with anybody and win more of those battles than we lose. This will be Spurrier's biggest legacy as HBC at South Carolina.