COLUMBIA – Like a guinea worm, Steve Spurrier has a way of getting under people’s skins and festering.
Georgia fans have known that for a long time on two flanks – Florida and South Carolina. Clemson folks are becoming painfully aware after four consecutive losses in the bitter Palmetto series.
But it was North Carolina that first suffered the affliction of insufferable torment from the head ball coach – at Duke of all places.
Way back in the day before Spurrier had become the “evil genius” who would transform the Gators and Gamecocks programs into national contenders, Spurrier did a number on the collective psyche of Tar Heel nation. His 3-0 record against North Carolina as the Duke coach was tough enough to swallow, but the capper was a posed team photo in front of the scoreboard at Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill, N.C., after a dispiriting 41-0 exposing of Mack Brown’s team in 1989.
Word is Spurrier was disappointed he didn’t “hang half a hundred” on the Heels that afternoon – running double reverses and flea flickers late in the game that turned the Carolina blue faithful red with fury. Asked if it was sportsmanlike to pose for that photos on an opposing field, Spurrier showed the wit that makes him so detested by his victims.
“Why? I’ve got a better record on that field than (Brown) does,” he said of the coach he called “Mr. Football” and owned a pair of 1-10 records at UNC.
So it was no surprise when the Gamecocks’ 68-year-old coach reflected on those days before rekindling his relationship with the Tar Heels in Thursday night’s season opener.
“Us Dookies, that was our big game,” Spurrier recalled earlier in the week. “I doubt it was for North Carolina because Duke did not beat them that much. When I was there, we were fortunate enough to beat them more than they beat us.
“It’s a little special to coach against a team like that. Just like coaching here against Georgia.”
Ah, another classic jab.
Spurrier has never lost to North Carolina – a streak he ran to 5-0 on Thursday night with a 27-10 victory by his No. 6 Gamecocks. The only thing that was really in doubt after a 17-0 South Carolina first quarter was whether the game would ever end during a 1 hour, 44-minute storm delay in the fourth quarter.
By the time play resumed at 10:30 p.m., the announced crowd of 81,572 was reduced to a few thousand.
“I appreciate everybody sticking around for those uneventful eight minutes,” Spurrier said.
The most prominent spectator at the end in the nearly empty Williams-Brice Stadium should have been Jadeveon Clowney – but he returned to the field and endured a late clip that could have been disastrous.
Before the lengthy shutdown, Thursday night marked a rare occasion when many people watched a defensive lineman through their binoculars instead of the football. (Judging from social media comments, you could do the same watching ESPN’s exclusive broadcast of all Clowney all the time.)
It was not the freakish 6-foot-6, 274-pound defensive end’s most impressive performance. He was his usual disruptive presence at times, but the stifling heat and humidity seemed to exact a huge toll on him with cramps and fatigue and a recent stomach virus.
“Jadeveon almost got a sack. Told him after the break, ‘You ought to be well-rested now,’ ” Spurrier said.
Asked if Clowney was as gassed as he looked, Spurrier said, “Did you watch what I was watching? I don’t have to say it. You write what you see.”
South Carolina’s offense made the first impression on the season. Connor Shaw threw a perfect 65-yard touchdown strike to Shaq Roland on his first pass of the season. Dylan Thompson came in for one play and threw a 29-yard TD pass on his first pass as well.
Then in the third quarter when the Tar Heels had cut the lead to 20-10, Mike Davis took a handoff and went on a 75-yard sprint up the right sideline that left three North Carolina defenders gasping or diving for air and wondering what happened.
Other than that, however, the Gamecocks didn’t do much to impress their coach. They completed only one pass in the second half.
“We’ve got some improving to do,” Spurrier said. “We can have some ugly wins.”
This was the kind of opener you expected against an ACC foe from the sixth-ranked team in the nation with a massive SEC East showdown against No. 5 Georgia on the immediate horizon. The Gamecocks showed some positive things but didn’t reveal everything for the Bulldogs to study. It was a workmanlike win.
The only mercy that the visiting Tar Heel fans had was that they didn’t have to see it end. Most were miles up the interstates on the road home to North Carolina by the time the game resumed.
Spurrier didn’t bother to pose for any team pictures in front of the empty bleachers this time.
But if things go well for his Gamecocks next week between the hedges in Athens, Ga., you never know.