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Former Gator Steve Spurrier coached South Carolina to its first SEC Championship Game berth by beating Florida in The Swamp last month. (Orlando Sentinel photo)
When Steve Spurrier took the job at South Carolina six years ago, many questioned what effect it would have on the legacy of the former Gator great. His success at Florida was followed by two miserable years with the Washington Redskins. What could, or did, Spurrier need to prove by taking a job with few resources, little history and little hope of success?
A challenge, it turns out.
It took him six years, but Spurrier has helped create history where there was none. The Gamecocks play in their first ever SEC Championship Game on Saturday, giving them a chance to compete for only the second conference title for the school.
The last was in 1969, an ACC title that came only three years after Spurrier won the Heisman Trophy at Florida.
This game is familiar to Spurrier, who has coached in it more than any other SEC coach. He won it five times and has another SEC title, from 1991, that predates the game.
That level of success is expected at Florida. At South Carolina, getting here is remarkable.
“He’s got a few things working in his favor this year, I will say that. I’m not taking anything away from what Steve’s done. It’s a tough job. They don’t have the kind of history that some of these other teams do. Florida’s down. Georgia had the unfortunate thing with their best player being suspended. Tennessee is down, but you still gotta take advantage of it, and he did,” said CBS analyst Gary Danielson, who will call the game. “
“There were a lot of people telling him not to take that job and he would only embarrass himself again. I give a guy like that credit. He could have rode off into the sunset and play golf the rest of his life.”
Instead, he slowly built the Gamecocks up. This year was the culmination of his work. With improved facilities, he was able to recruit some of the best in-state talent. He made his players believe.
This year, they beat top-ranked Alabama. They won at Florida. They made it to Atlanta.
If the Gamecocks can win Saturday, South Carolina fans can forget it and their history.
“Yes, it’s a challenge to try to do some things that have never done before. I do like that,” said Spurrier on Friday. “When I was coming back from that two-year NFL stint, I really want to go somewhere that maybe had not won very much and had a chance to.
“It’s just to try to do some things that have never been done before. So got an opportunity again tomorrow. See if we can make something happen.”