“Why does Steve Spurrier always wear a visor?”
Every fall Saturday of my childhood, this was the ubiquitous question, the parting words you deliver after a conversation with your next-door neighbor or that friend you run into at the grocery store. There was never any need to respond — just a slight nod of recognition would do. We all knew the answer.
This was our version of “Roll Tide,” if Alabama fans were actually making reference to a joke whose answer, I’m afraid, is a bit too vulgar to print in this paper. I encourage you to look it up if you so desire, but caveat emptor.
So perhaps it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise when I say, without qualification, that I hate Steve Spurrier — except that’s not really the truth. I love the idea of hating Steve Spurrier, the quintessential college football villain, a figure larger than life who added the secret sauce to a game that was already cooked to perfection.
Despite my best efforts to deny it, I know that I’m going to miss Steve Spurrier, and with the announcement of his retirement one week ago, I feel that I’ve also lost a part of my soul to a three o’clock tee time somewhere in Myrtle Beach.
I first heard the news of the Head Ball Coach’s abrupt decision to retire in the smack-dab middle of the season from what is certainly the most unlikely of sources: Stanford head coach David Shaw. As I was listening to the Cardinal’s post-practice audio clips in preparation for another piece, I heard reporters first ask Shaw about the news of Steve Sarkisian’s dismissal from that other USC before following up with questions about Spurrier. I don’t think another word of that audio clip registered in my head as I sat stunned for a few moments before searching the Internet to confirm it for myself.
I deliberately held off on writing anything for the next few days because I quite simply didn’t know how to respond. The man who had defined my love of college football as much as anyone through an invigorating dose of hatred had left the game, and I wasn’t sure I was ready for a post-Spurrier universe.
Maybe it was Shaw who put it best in his response to the question, calling the HBC a “gracious” coach and competitor. And there is truth to that. While Spurrier could be supremely pompous and, at his worst, a flat-out jerk, there was no denying that he had a love of the sport that was infectious to anyone he touched, especially to a 14-year-old kid who took a disturbing amount of pleasure in watching that visor fly off in disgust during a losing effort and who still has recurring nightmares of Marcus Lattimore crossing the goal line again and again. And again.
“Gracious” doesn’t have to do strictly with politeness or humility — of which I have more than a skeleton’s worth of bones to pick with Spurrier — but with an appreciation for giving fans, reporters, players and even enemies exactly what they wanted: a good show. Growing up, I heard many legendary stories of the young HBC’s 1966 Heisman trophy campaign at Florida, and I got to see this golden touch for myself when he took over at South Carolina after a rough NFL stint, transforming the Gamecocks from lowly doormats into SEC East Champions. Along the way, through the joy of watching Georgia topple South Carolina in 2009 and the bitter disappointment of 2012, I began to realize that college football was really Spurrier’s show and we were all spectators.
Perhaps this fact was no more evident than during press conferences and, the real granddaddy of them all, SEC Media Days. With hit after hit of one-liners, literally enough to fill an entire book, Spurrier further distanced himself from other coaches by embracing the role of provocateur.
In the process, just as he did in revolutionizing the pass-first offense during his time at Florida, Spurrier changed the press conference game forever. Though I’ve seen it at least a couple dozen times, I still get a huge crack out of watching Shaw get snarky with a reporter in Kissick Auditorium, and it’s hard not to think that Spurrier’s legacy helped transform the way we view press conferences from a simple dissemination of information into entertainment in its own right.
So, with that I say farewell, HBC. I’m genuinely going to miss having a truly powerful villain to root against each week. (Lane Kiffin, try as he might, is not in your league.) May you find plenty of fairways in the future and may ESPN have the common sense to stick a camera in front of your face. You and Lee Corso would almost be too much for a television screen.
Vihan Lakshman’s “hatred” of Steve Spurrier may or may not have been influenced by his love of the Georgia Bulldogs. Commiserate with Vihan over the Dawgs’ disappointing start to the season at vihan ‘at’ stanford.edu.