Steve Spurrier took to the the 50-yard line before kickoff underneath a light rain and surrounded by a roaring crowd inside the stadium where he put Florida football on the map.
He felt right at home.
And now it is his home.
Minutes before the 25th-ranked Gators opened the 2016 season against UMass on Saturday, UF enshrined Spurrier’s name on its field: UF home games are now played on Steve Spurrier-Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
“Having my name next to Florida Field, Ben Hill Griffin Stadium is the single biggest honor I’ve ever received,” Spurrier said in a speech to the nearly packed stadium as chants of “Steve, Steve, Steve” reverberated.
Spurrier’s résumé during his time with the Gators speaks for itself.
As a player, he was a two-time All-American quarterback and the school’s first Heisman Trophy winner in 1966. As a coach, he led the Gators to six Southeastern Conference titles and the program’s first national title in 1996. That team was honored during halftime Saturday.
In his 12 years at the helm of the football program, Spurrier’s Gators lost just five games at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
“The Swamp is the greatest home field advantage in all of college football,” said Spurrier, who returned to UF in late July and is now serving as an ambassador and consultant for the UF athletic program.
As Spurrier finished his speech, the Massachusetts team began running onto the field.
He welcomed the Minutemen with a nice Gator Chomp.
“Let’s do our part,” Spurrier said, “to make sure only the Gators get out alive.”
DEL RIO DEBUTS
Luke Del Rio’s first drive with the Gators stalled at midfield.
Facing a third-and-8, the redshirt sophomore quarterback was forced to throw a pass away as the UMass pass rush dismantled the pocket. UF punted the next play.
The Gators didn’t make the same mistake the second time around.
As rain stormed onto the field, Del Rio stayed confident in the pocket and marched Florida’s offense down the field on an 11-play, 71-yard scoring drive capped by a 12-yard touchdown pass to an open Antonio Callaway in the end zone. Del Rio threw for 52 yards on 5-of-6 passing and added two runs for 9 yards. The five passes went to four different receivers.
With the touchdown drive, the Gators have now scored in 350 consecutive games, avoiding a shutout in every game since a 16-0 defeat to Auburn on Oct. 29, 1988. It’s the longest active streak in the Football Bowl Subdivision and the third-longest in FBS history, trailing just BYU (361 from 1975 to 2003) and Michigan (365, 1984-2014).
THIS AND THAT
Four Broward and Miami-Dade County players were part of the Gators’ opening-day starting lineup: running back Jordan Scarlett (Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas), wide receiver Callaway (Miami Booker T. Washington), defensive lineman Bryan Cox Jr. (St. Thomas Aquinas) and kicker Eddy Pineiro (Miami Sunset). The Minutemen have four local players on their roster: Cornerback James Allen (St. Thomas Aquinas), linebacker James Bowe Jr. (Miami Killian), tight end Shaquille Harris (Miami Palmetto) and linebacker Aaron Kinsey (Miami Northwestern). … UF paid UMass $1.25 million to play Saturday’s game.