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A decade removed from Steve Spurrier, Florida Gators treat South Carolina as just another game

GAINESVILLE

In the 10 years since former Florida coach Steve Spurrier left Gainesville, a lot has changed. The Gators have won two national titles, had three head coaches and added another Heisman Trophy winner. But time ensures that nothing stays the same, and in the case of Florida and Spurrier, that's a good thing.

A decade after Spurrier left for the NFL, then took a job at SEC East rival South Carolina, the animosity, hurt feelings and torn allegiances have subsided. Enough time has passed that the Gators and Gamecocks can play — and it's just another game on the schedule, both sides believe.

"Well, I think so," Florida coach Will Muschamp said when asked if the rivalry is simply about the game now. "I think everybody in the Gator Nation appreciated what he did for our school and what he did here. He did an outstanding job starting as a player, and then as a coach."

So when Florida and South Carolina meet Saturday in Columbia, the game will primarily be about Florida still trying to become bowl eligible and South Carolina trying to remain in the hunt for the SEC East title while reeling with injuries.

Even for Spurrier, 66, it's no longer a game clouded with mixed emotions.

"It probably was the first year or so, but now this is the seventh game (coached against Florida)," Spurrier said. "So I think all that it is now is just our team against their team and so forth."

"The majority of Florida's current players were likely in second or third grade when Spurrier left the Florida program. So for them, Spurrier is the guy with one of the three Heisman Trophy statues outside of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, and the legend on the wall inside the stadium.

"That's too long ago for me," sophomore receiver Andre Debose said. "Playing against him doesn't mean anything. … He's just the head coach at South Carolina to me."

Because of Florida's struggles this season, Saturday's game doesn't carry nearly the weight it has in past years. When the Gators and Gamecocks played in Spurrier's first season at South Carolina in 2005, a Gamecocks' upset derailed Florida's trip to the SEC Championship Game. Former UF coach Urban Meyer returned the favor the next season with a last-second blocked field goal, and Florida went on to win the national championship.

The Gator players said the rivalry is still strong, but Spurrier isn't the main draw.

"I don't think it's as big as it was a couple years ago, but everybody knows Spurrier was a big deal here," offensive lineman Kyle Koehne said. "He's a good coach and he'll be good to play against. I watched the Gators a good amount when they were winning. I didn't really know too much about Coach Spurrier, honestly."

But for Florida senior quarterback John Brantley, the feeling runs a little deeper. Brantley grew up a Gator fan watching Spurrier's teams.

"I grew up watching his era," Brantley said. "Him and my dad were pretty good friends. There was always an interest there, but because he made me like Florida so much, that's why I decided to come here. Coach Spurrier did great things here. He's still recognized as the ol' ball coach and he always coaches well against us. It's going to be a challenge going up there to Columbia. Building off the momentum of the win this past weekend, we've got to have a great week of preparation. We've got to go in and fight another week."

Antonya English can be reached at english@sptimes.com. Follow her coverage at gators.tampabay.com.

A decade removed from Steve Spurrier, Florida Gators treat South Carolina as just another game 11/08/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 9, 2011 2:01am]

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