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Martin Fennelly Columns

Fennelly: Spurrier's return to Swamp still major story line

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Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 05:54 PM

These are not Steve Spurrier's Gators.

Not even Steve Spurrier's Gamecocks are Steve Spurrier's Gators.

Times have changed.

But we still know a big SEC game when we see one. That's Saturday in Gainesville, No. 3 Florida and No. 9 South Carolina fighting for the driver's seat in the East.

And does it ever get old when OBC (Old Ball Coach) makes a Swamp call?

Can times ever change that much?

"I don't think it's as much of a story line," Steve Spurrier said. "It's eight years (at South Carolina). It's the fourth time I've been down there coaching ..." Pause. "… I guess it is a little unusual to be on the other team and you come in the ball park and your name is on the wall up there."

There is that.

And there's Florida coach Will Muschamp:

"Well, honestly, being an SEC guy and growing up in this part of the country, there are really two coaches that come to the forefront of your mind as far as what they've done for this league, and that would be Bear Bryant and Steve Spurrier."

But the years are passing kind of rapidly. It was 2001 since Spurrier last ruled The Swamp. It was one Zook and two Urban Meyer national championships ago. It was so long enough ago that most of today's Gators were not even born when Spurrier returned to Gainesville and his alma mater in 1990 to make Florida and SEC history.

"I drive by his statue every day," Florida sophomore quarterback and Tim Tebow impersonator Jeff Driskel told reporters in Gainesville on Monday. "All of our players didn't play for him, or weren't around here when he was around. … I think I was more worried about cartoons at that time."

This isn't a statue game. It's about Florida, 6-0 for just the eighth time in school history, suddenly No.2 in the BCS, trying to be back, really back, all the way back, and the Spur Dog in the way, trying to make more football history at South Carolina, which never had any before he arrived.

Times have changed.

These aren't Spurrier's Gators. They're dead last in the SEC in passing. They run and run, Jurassic football, play great defense, have good special teams and they're finishers, a far cry from last season.

Why, this isn't even Spurrier's Spurrier . He runs and runs. He depends on his defense and his special teams and waits to take his shots — the run 'n' gun:

"We always shoot for balance, runnin' and throwin', but sometimes the runnin' is more important than the throwin'."

Steve Spurrier just said that — really.

Florida and South Carolina, they're one and the same, identical, dead even, but something has to give.

Who among us thought Steve Spurrier would last this long at Carolina? But here he is at 67, the third-oldest head coach in the FBS, an old Spur Dog learning new tricks. He changed Florida and the SEC. He opened it up and away the Gators went.

Guys like Nick Saban lay awake nights trying to design defenses to stop the Dog. Eventually, they did and everybody else followed. Now the SEC is a run and defense league. When Spurrier returned to the conference, he changed with it. In some ways, this Carolina gig might be his finest hour.

Spurrier is 3-4 against the Gators. He has already made three memorable trips back to the Swamp. First time back, in 2006, he lost by the thinnest of margins: Jarvis Moss' fingers. Urban Meyer's Gators were on their way. In 2008, Spurrier's Gamecocks were blown away 56-6, the most lopsided loss of his career. But then there was 2010, a crowning moment, a win in Gainesville to help secure Carolina's first trip to the SEC title game.

And here he comes again. Yes, it's probably bigger for media and fans. Jeff Driskel didn't grow up on Steve Spurrier.

Still …

"It's hard to miss a statue," Driskel said. "It's hard to miss a guy who named our stadium what it's called."

Try telling me it's just another big game, just try.

NO. 9 SOUTH CAROLINA AT NO. 3 FLORIDA

Saturday: 3:30 p.m.

TV: CBS, Ch. 10

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