Published December 29, 2010
ATLANTA – Steve Spurrier's first game against former longtime rival Florida State in almost a decade has sparked old memories.
Spurrier, now the South Carolina coach, started humming the Florida State fight song this week as he discussed Friday night's Chick-fil-A Bowl game against the Seminoles.
As Florida's coach from 1990-2001, Spurrier faced Florida State at least once a year. He once stoked an already intense rivalry by suggesting FSU was an abbreviation for "Free Shoes University."
Spurrier said this week he has always respected Florida State, even as he cringed at the thought of hearing the Seminoles' famous fight song.
"Guess I'll have to hear that all night again," he said, smiling sadly.
Spurrier's Florida teams and Bobby Bowden's Florida State teams were often ranked in the top 10 for their annual battle for bragging rights in the 1990s. In 1996, Spurrier's Gators beat Florida State 52-20 in the Sugar Bowl to win Florida's first national championship.
"It was the biggest win of any team I've ever coached because it was for the national championship," Spurrier said.
Bowden had the upper hand in the series. Spurrier was 5-8-1 against Florida State in his time in Gainesville.
Now comes the chance for Spurrier to add another memorable win over Florida State.
Spurrier's No. 19 South Carolina team earned the program's first Southeastern Conference Eastern Division championship this season. South Carolina beat division rivals Georgia, Florida and Tennessee and upset then-No. 1 Alabama.
Another highlight for South Carolina was beating Clemson for the second straight season.
Now the Gamecocks (9-4) can reach 10 wins for only the second time in the history of the program, following a 10-2 finish in 1984.
"We'll try our best," Spurrier said. "We understand the importance. This is one you talk about pretty much the rest of the year, the chance to win 10 games for the second time in school history. Gosh, everything is on the line out there, almost everything. Hopefully we really want it."
South Carolina's players say they are motivated to reach 10 wins to match the 1984 team.
"That's definitely a team that's put on a pedestal around here as one of the best teams that's every played here," said fullback and tight end Patrick DiMarco. "As we've gone through the season and picked up some big wins, we've kind of realized we have the talent to do what they did.
"We can go out as one of the best teams ever at South Carolina."
Spurrier wouldn't say it would mean more to have the 10th win come against his old rival Florida State.
"The last time I played against Florida State was 2001, that was a long time ago," he said. "It's a different group of guys here now, it's a whole different scenario."
Spurrier is in his sixth year at South Carolina. He had nine seasons with 10 or more wins at Florida, but the climb up the SEC has been more difficult at South Carolina. His previous best finish in Columbia was 8-5 in 2006, when the Gamecocks were only 3-5 in SEC games.
Spurrier won't say the program has turned a corner.
"You never reach where you're trying to go," he said. "We did accomplish some firsts this year. If we were fortunate to get 10 wins, that would be another. ... We've had some really good games but unfortunately we've had some sorry ones, too.
"So we're not any big dominant team right now. We'd like to have about six guys make preseason All-SEC and hear people say 'You guys are loaded over there at South Carolina.' That hasn't happened yet. We're still in the process of building, recruiting and trying to put a really, really strong team out there."
A win over Florida State would help establish South Carolina as a team on the rise, even if Spurrier might never say the program has arrived.
"I don't know that he feels that way," said center T.J. Johnson on Wednesday. "It's definitely been an exciting season for us. I guess he's kind of sensing that but he wouldn't let us know that."