At a time when Jim McElwain appeared dispirited and needed somebody to stand in for him – or at least misdirect some of the bad news – there was Steve Spurrier, standing tall in the pocket and chirping away about the wonderful opportunities that could be available for the Gator players stepping into the breach.
The Ambassador was working hard, and whatever Florida paid him this week, he was worth twice the price.
This week, instead of focusing on the negativity of the beatdown by Arkansas or the obvious storyline of Spurrier’s old South Carolina team visiting The Swamp, the Head Ball Coach talked with great passion about Saturday’s celebration honoring his first two teams at Florida — one that won the SEC and one that should have.
“We’ve got our ’90 and ’91 teams ready to go, so I’m really looking forward to this weekend,” Spurrier said. “The ’90 players were denied the right to be called ‘champion.’ But in my opinion they were as good as any SEC championship team we had there.”
Shane Matthews, the centerpiece of those two teams and a two-time SEC Player of the Year, remembered what it was like moving from fifth on the depth chart to the starting job. He remembered how he was standing at his locker before the 1990 opener with Oklahoma State.
“Coach Spurrier always liked to come around and talk to guys in the locker room while they were getting ready,” Matthews said. “He finally comes to me and asks, ‘Shane, what play do you want to start with?’
“I’d never started a college game before. A lot of people were giving him grief already for naming me the starter. So, I said: ‘Maybe a screen or a draw?’ “
And Spurrier responded: “Shoot, they didn’t hire me to come down here and run the football. We’re going to throw it.”
On the first play of the game, as Matthews recalls, he completed a 28-yard pass to Ernie Mills, and four plays later the new Gators scored. They beat Oklahoma State 50-7, and it was on. The first of 122 victories.
“That’s what I always loved about Coach Spurrier,” Matthews said. “He always tells it like it is.”
Spurrier still confident about 2016 season
In the black hole that suddenly has swallowed Florida football this week, the HBC was a ray of sunshine. Instead of gloom and doom, Spurrier had out his orange and blue pom-poms, preaching the gospel of “opportunity.”
“We have a chance to have a big year,” Spurrier said enthusiastically. “Gosh, the Gators … if we can beat South Carolina … even if we lose to LSU … we can still win the East if Tennessee loses to Vandy or Kentucky. Which could easily happen. So we’ve got a lot to play for. I’m hoping our guys can get really fired up and the crowd’s ready to go.”
Even the sound of his voice soothed the spirits of some disgruntled Gators, many of whom have been described as “an angry mob” by one columnist.
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