I’ll be watching college football’s BCS National Championship game between Florida and Oklahoma this evening with a great deal of interest for several reasons. First, Dr. Jerry McGee, president of Wingate University (my employer), is going to be on the officiating crew. A college football official for many years, he’s going to be hanging up the whistle after this game, so it’s quite a way to go out.
Dr. McGee’s son Ryan, a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine, has written a tribute to his father’s career and I include that link here. It’s a wonderful piece of writing.
But the main reason I’ll be watching the game is that it involves one of my alma maters. I earned a Master’s degree from the University of Florida, and seeing the Gators play for their second national championship in three years is quite a reward for us older alumni from more frustrating football times.
When I was in Gainesville (1974-1976), the Gators had never won a Southeastern Conference championship, much less a national title. And they had gained a reputation in football much like the one my first alma mater, Clemson University, has had in recent years. Good, but never great – underachievers who are likely to let victory get away in the big games.
In both the 1974 and 1975 seasons, the Gators had Top 20 teams that had but to beat Georgia to claim that first SEC title. But they lost both showdowns in a couple of the most painful ways possible, to end the season in ultimate disappointment. They won that first SEC title on the field in 1984, only to have it tainted by NCAA investigations and probation and nullified by the conference as a result.
Then came Steve Spurrier.(http://gamecocksonline.cstv.com/sports/m-footbl/mtt/spurrier_steve00.html) He’s worth a blog entry on his own, if only for me to work out my ambivalent feelings about the man.
The Ol’ Ball Coach, as he styles himself, is worthy of respect for his stellar playing career at Florida as a Heisman Trophy winning quarterback in the 1960s. He’s also a brilliant tactical coach and motivator. Anyone who can make a winner out of Duke football – as he did in the late 1980s — must be an evil genius.
And any Gator coach who can beat Georgia as regularly – and with as much undisguised glee – as Spurrier did has my undying gratitude. Former Bulldogs coach Ray Goff once famously said that he’d like get Spurrier alone in a dark alley for five minutes.
He made the Gators the team that the rest of the conference loved to hate, too, starting a run in 1991 of five SEC titles in six years. That 1996 team also won Florida’s first national championship. And with his egotism and prickly personality, Spurrier was the perfect leader for the team.
I’ve read that athletic directors from opposing schools loved it when the Gators were scheduled to come to town. In the run-up to the game, Spurrier would invariably say something that would enrage the other school’s fans. And presumably that led to more ticket sales to fans hoping to see him get his comeuppance. And usually it didn’t happen.
But back to tonight’s game. The Gators coach now is Urban Meyer, an equally skilled tactician and recruiter without the polarizing persona. After the three unfortunate years of Ron Zook, who followed Spurrier as the Gators’ head coach, he’s restored Florida to national powerhouse status. One wonders how long he’ll stay.