A few years ago, some powerful and wealthy boosters of the University of Florida football team put up an obscene amount of money to commission oversized bronze statues of its three Heisman Trophy winners.
On the south side of the stadium, those statues rest: Daniel Carl Wuerffel, Timothy Richard Tebow and Stephen Orr Spurrier. After two seasons of mediocrity, unlike anything the Gators program has experienced since the 1980s, those gleaming busts will bear witness this Saturday to UF’s first nationally relevant home game since their forging.
ESPN College GameDay is in Gainesville, CBS has the primetime call and University Boulevard will be a swirling, heaving mass of booze and sundresses and barbeque.
Yes, The Swamp will be rocking for the first time since Urban Meyer flaked out and skipped town and Will Muschamp was hired by Jeremy Foley to pick up the pieces.
But, for me, all that excitement and college revelry is a side note to the real significance of the day. In a perfect twist of Southeastern Conference fate, Stephen Orr Spurrier — not the statue but the man — will be on the opponent’s sideline, headset over visor, coaching a top-10 team.
South Carolina (6-1) is ranked seventh nationally. The Gators (6-1) are ranked second.
Let that marinate.
There have been plenty of legendary coaches in the Southeastern Conference but none accomplished what Spurrier will achieve when he walks onto Florida Field this weekend.
Yes, Bear Bryant is the greatest coach to lean against a goalpost in the SEC, and Nick Saban is currently the Napoleon of the empire, but Spurrier, it can be argued, has had a more significant impact on the conference than any coach.
Spurrier won a Heisman Trophy. He was the first quarterback from the SEC to win the award and second player from the league overall. Halfback Billy Cannon of Louisiana State was the first.
Spurdog is the only man in the history of college football to win a Heisman, coach a Heisman winner and win a national championship.
Spurrier’s greatest contributions have come as a coach. He has done more for the SEC in that role than any other man other than Bryant.
That’s a brave statement.
The SEC can claim some of the greatest coaches in the history of the game: Bobby Dodd at Georgia Tech; Wally Butts and Vince Dooley at Georgia; General Bob Neyland, Johnny Majors and Phillip Fulmer at Tennessee; Shug Jordan at Auburn; Johnny Vaught at Ole Miss; Bryant, Frank Thomas and Nick Saban at Alabama.
Overall, Bryant gets the nod based on innovation of offense, integration of the SEC, championships (six national; 13 SEC) and houndstooth.
But what separates Spurrier from even Bryant is where Spurrier has had success.
Yes, Bryant accomplished plenty at Kentucky before moving onto Texas A&M, but Alabama was a national power long before Bryant took over in Tuscaloosa. The same cannot be said for Florida and certainly not South Carolina.
Just as Bryant revolutionized the SEC with the wishbone, Spurrier changed the league with his high-octane passing offense.
What would the history of the SEC East be like without Spurrier?
Tennessee has Neyland and Georgia has Dooley, but the greatest coaches in the history of both Florida and South Carolina are the same man.
That man returns again to the place he named, The Swamp, on Saturday.
A win against his alma mater would set up Spurrier for South Carolina’s second trip to the SEC Championship Game in three years. In Columbia, S.C., that might worth an even bigger statue than the one he has next to Wuerffel and Tebow.
(Not a representation of my ballot if the season ended today.)
1. Geno Smith, senior quarterback, West Virginia. 2. Manti Te’o, senior linebacker, Notre Dame. 3. Barrett Jones, redshirt senior center, Alabama.