Five years after former legendary Florida coach Steve Spurrier and current coach Urban Meyer met for the first time as opposing coaches, both said this week that the annual game between Florida and South Carolina has finally evolved into just the Gators and the Gamecocks.
The Spurrier vs. Meyer element is now just a backdrop for the real story.
"I don't think it was probably as big as (made to appear), because there was no animosity," Meyer said. "I think people were trying to create something that was not there, other than great respect by the Gator nation, by the current coaching staff and the current players. People wanted to create something that was not there, other than a lot of mutual respect. And that was it."
Spurrier said he never considered coaching against Florida "a huge deal back then" because he didn't leave the Gators for the South Carolina job and he'd been away for three years (in the NFL) before joining the Gamecocks. He still roots for the Gators — with the exception of today.
"We realize we're pretty big underdogs and the Gators are a very good team. But they know we're going to try to win," Spurrier said. Obviously, I hope everybody knows that."
For the Gator players, Spurrier is iconic, yet a figure long removed from their present-day thoughts. Florida quarterback Tim Tebow grew up admiring Spurrier's teams, and the two share a common bond — the Heisman Trophy.
But for others like punter Chas Henry, a Georgia native who was 12 years old the last time Spurrier coached a Gator team, he's more myth than reality.
"It's been awhile now, but what he's done here at the University of Florida, not only as a player and a coach, we have tremendous respect for him and what he's been able to do," Henry said. "A lot of the guys may not have seen him in action, but we know about him and his legend."
Spurrier's shadow continues to loom, and that's exactly the way it's supposed to be, Meyer said.
"I think it (the shadow of Spurrier) is still there, and it's always going to be there," Meyer said. "Just walk out in that stadium and look up on the side of the wall and there's a bunch of great stuff that coach has done. I think it's still there and it should be."