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Chickening Out: Steve Spurrier Blinked

I’ve been talking it up in the comment threads, but I think it bears repeating in a posting all its own: We witnessed an historic occurrence in Sanford Stadium yesterday. For the first time I can recall, Steve Spurrier went gently into that good night, conceding defeat in an open show of surrender that was contrary to every brash instinct that has defined his personality and career. Evil Richt went eyeball-to-eyeball with Darth Visor, and the Evil Genius blinked. For the first time, the Old Ball Coach at long last looked and acted like an old ball coach.

Our friends at Garnet and Black Attack characterized the game as closer than the scoreboard indicated and a statistical dead heat before the game’s final drive. That is a fair description of yesterday’s contest between the Georgia Bulldogs and the South Carolina Gamecocks, but what happened on that fateful final march warrants special attention.

Prior to that point, Georgia had 21 first downs and South Carolina had 21 first downs, Georgia had 457 yards of total offense and South Carolina had 454 yards of total offense, and Georgia had 26:52 in time of possession and South Carolina had 24:40 in time of possession. It’s hard to get a heck of a lot more even than that, and that evenness was reflected accurately in the back-and-forth nature of the score.

Regarding that score, the Gamecocks pulled to within four points of the Bulldogs 65 seconds into the fourth quarter. Even after Aaron Murray found Justin Scott-Wesley for an 85-yard touchdown pass---tied for the tenth-longest TD strike in school history---South Carolina was a field goal, a touchdown, and a two-point conversion away from sending the game to overtime. Given the play of Connor Shaw (16 of 25 for 228 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions; 16 rushes for 75 yards) and Mike Davis (16 rushes for 149 yards and a touchdown), there was little doubt that the Garnet and Black had the time and the talent to achieve that feat.

The Gamecocks also had an ideal situation in which to accomplish that objective. After the ball went over on downs, Garrison Smith drew a flag for unnecessary roughness, and Dallas Lee incurred another penalty for a false start, leaving the Bulldogs inside their own one yard line and the entire Georgia backfield lining up in the end zone. A safety certainly was within the realm of possibility, and the two points (followed by the resulting free kick) could have made a huge difference for a South Carolina offense that had just marched 71 yards in 11 plays.

A forthcoming punt appeared probable after Todd Gurley rushed for a lone yard on first down . . . yet no time out was called on second and nine. Quayvon Hicks took the Bulldogs out to the 25 yard line, yet still Coach Spurrier eschewed using his time outs, not on second and seven (which ultimately resulted in a 17-yard run by Brendan Douglas), not on a subsequent second and seven, and not even on the ensuing third and five. Both teams took time outs on fourth and two, after which Gurley went for five yards and the first down, but at no time while the game remained in doubt---and I was there; trust me, the game remained in doubt, as it almost always does between these two fierce competitors, who have seen 27 of 66 series meetings settled by margins of a touchdown or less, including eight of the last 13 showdowns in the rivalry---did the Evil Genius even attempt to give his team a chance to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. He simply stood idly by while more than half a quarter was allowed to elapse unimpeded and uninterrupted. While we among the Georgia faithful stayed on our feet in nervous anticipation, the opposing coach watched numbly and dumbly.

Please do not forget of whom we are speaking here: Stephen Orr Spurrier, the man who won a conference championship with the Duke Blue Devils, awoke the long-slumbering beasts that are the Florida Gators, and carried the ‘Cocks to the status of a perennial power in the SEC East. This is the skipper who delighted in carpet-bombing the opposition, running up scores, and tweaking defeated rivals with smart and smarmy snark. This is the head coach of whom an adoring fan once wrote:

Don't Stop 'til You Get Enough. Fiesta Bowl, 1995. The worst public humiliation of Spurrier's career doesn't cover how bad the demolition of the '95 Gators at the cold iron hands of the Cornhuskers was. Spurrier's worst pair of traits as a coach came to the fore in the spectacle: a fatal obstinacy and a fondness for defensive coordinators he found under a bridge somewhere.

Remembering the exact details of the scene are difficult, since we started bleeding from our eyes sometime shortly after Tommie Frazier laughed his way through nine tackles on the way to a Nebraska touchdown, but we do remember the very end of the game for a single sterling image: Spurrier, in flames and in defeat, screaming at Tom Osborne to run another play rather than take a knee. In Cobra Kai, there is no mercy, and Spurrier didn't want even the simple charity of a kneeldown at the end of a 38-point vivisection. Balls. Sheer merciless balls.

That is a description of the Steve Spurrier of lore, the Darth Visor we loved to despise. The 68-year-old man standing on the losing sideline in Sanford Stadium last night, though, showed no fatal obstinacy, but only fatalism; far from rejecting the courtesy of charity, he openly welcomed it and actively participated in his receipt of the mercy Mark Richt offered in making the game-deciding drive last only as long as absolutely necessary. While still a coach of undeniable tactical acumen and undisputed schematic genius, Steve Superior nevertheless is now slightly faded, as his wit has grown weak, his will to win has faltered, and he now appears merely tired where once he would have been brilliantly defiant.

The first time Steve Spurrier stood on the visiting sideline in Sanford Stadium, he consciously hung more points on Georgia than the Bulldogs ever before had surrendered between the hedges, but the swaggering superiority and testicular fortitude that once were his trademarks were nowhere to be seen as the scoreboard clock ticked inevitably toward the doom the Evil Genius accepted peacefully and without protest. Meanwhile, the gunslinging self-assuredness we have come to expect from the Heisman Trophy winner with the golf visor and the nasally twang was being demonstrated instead by the head coach who called for an unexpected onside kick, who went for it on fourth and 13, and who (I can only hope, given the result of the contest between the respective skippers’ degree-granting institutions earlier in the day) said, "Go ‘Canes" to his vanquished opposite number during the postgame handshake.

What we witnessed in Athens yesterday was nothing less than a changing of the guard. Steve Spurrier’s Gamecocks will continue to be a well-coached club that is competitive in the conference, and, after he has retired, South Carolina will remain an upper-tier SEC athletic program across multiple sports, most certainly including football, but Darth Visor has given up the ghost after the last lingering vestige of Anakin Skywalker peeked through the imperial circuitry between 8:28 and 0:00 in the Classic City twilight last night.

Steve Spurrier remains a coach to be respected, but he no longer is a tormentor to be feared. Ding-dong, the son of a bitch is dead, the wicked old son of a bitch is dead.

Go ‘Dawgs!

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