TALLAHASSEE — If Steve Spurrier isn't the most despised man in Florida State history, then T.K. Wetherell doesn't know who is. And Wetherell might know these things better than anyone.
He played for the Seminoles in the mid 1960s against Spurrier's Florida Gators. Years later, Wetherell became FSU's president. He struggled to identify a man who has inspired more rage among FSU supporters than Spurrier. Maybe Tim Tebow.
"But Spurrier made it so easy," Wetherell said. "And part of it is I think he wanted to make it easy."
FSU and South Carolina meet in the Chick-fil-A Bowl on Friday at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, but that might as well be the undercard. The main event is FSU vs. Spurrier, the Gamecocks' coach. The Seminoles and their old nemesis, bound by 46 years of history and hatred.
FSU fans might have thought nine years ago they had rid themselves of the man. That's when, after the 2001 season, Spurrier left Florida to coach the Washington Redskins.
In the final game he coached against FSU, Spurrier led the Gators to a 37-13 victory in Gainesville. In the days that followed, Spurrier accused the Seminoles' Darnell Dockett of trying to injure Florida players.
That prompted Dave Hart, a former FSU athletic director, to say: "It would probably be good if somebody just spanked (Spurrier) and put him to bed and hoped that he wakes up all grown up."
Dialogue like that wasn't all that uncommon back then, when the FSU-Florida rivalry was at its height and when Spurrier seemed to figure a new way to annoy the Seminoles and their loyalists every season.
The incidents and one-liners are well-documented. "Free Shoes University." Spurrier's accusations of dirty play against Danny Wuerffel. Doug Johnson firing a ball toward Bobby Bowden's head during a pregame brawl. And on and on it went.
"Everybody needs a villain," Wetherell said. "And if you don't have one, you can create one. Steve was always easy to create as a villain as he got older."
He was one when he was younger, too. Long before he coached at Florida, Spurrier was a Heisman Trophy winning quarterback at the school. He helped lead the Gators to two victories against Florida State in the mid 1960s. One was the infamous Lane Fenner game in 1966 when Fenner's late touchdown catch was incorrectly disallowed.
Two years earlier, Spurrier and the Gators lost to FSU for the first time. Longtime FSU supporters still remember what the Gators stuck on their helmets in practice in the days before that game: "Never, FSU, Never."
The message implied mighty Florida could never — and should never — lose to the likes of a former women's college that didn't begin playing football until 1949. That was the environment in which Spurrier arrived in Gainesville. And that was the attitude some say he carried to Florida when he became the coach there in 1990.
"When Spurrier came back in '90, we had come of age, and we'd become a national player on the national scene," said Charlie Barnes, executive director of Seminole Boosters. "And he brought with him when he returned that traditional Gator disrespect and looking down the nose at FSU. … It was that Gator arrogance left over from the '60s."
Spurrier helped transform the Seminoles-Gators rivalry into one of the nation's most passionate. Jimbo Fisher is in his first season as FSU's coach, but in the early '90s, he was a Seminoles fan. And a Spurrier fan, too. Fisher, a former quarterback, admired Spurrier's pass-oriented offense. He didn't mind the trash-talking, either.
"I used to laugh at it," Fisher said. "I used to wait and see what he had to say. He had some good ones. But a lot of it now, if you go back and think of some of it, I think a lot of it was to take some attention off players, put pressure on himself."
Spurrier said recently he did hate the Seminoles, but that day has passed. He emphasized how he's not at Florida anymore and that the history he shares with FSU is just that.
Seminoles fans might have mellowed, too. But there's a part of Spurrier that still represents what FSU supporters love to hate. It's the part of him deep down that's still a Gator — the part that 46 years ago might have inspired him to wear a sticker on his helmet: "Never, FSU, Never."