COLUMBIA - Months before Steve Spurrier coached his first game for South Carolina, the former Florida star made it clear he had only one allegiance this season - the South Carolina Gamecocks.
Spurrier played in a Nationwide Tour celebrity event in the spring when a youngster asked him to sign a cap from Florida, a place the ball coach made famous as the Gators' Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback and, later, national championship-winning coach.
But Spurrier held back.
"You got the wrong hat, my man," he said. "You got to get a (South) Carolina hat."
That's how it has been since Spurrier stepped into Williams-Brice Stadium nearly a year ago to replace Lou Holtz. And that's how Spurrier says it'll be Saturday when he takes on the 12th-ranked Gators for the first time since returning to college football.
"It's been three years since I coached there," Spurrier said. "This is my team now."
You couldn't fault Spurrier for having a soft spot toward Florida. He was one of the most dynamic figures in school history, winning the 1966 Heisman and three decades later earning the national title as their coach.
None of that will cross Spurrier's mind as the Gamecocks (6-3, 4-3 Southeastern Conference) try for their first victory over Florida (7-2, 5-2) since 1939.
"Y'all got to realize now, I'm not the first coach to ever coach against his alma mater," Spurrier said. "This happens a lot around the country."
It happened already to Spurrier, sort of.
He was a Georgia Tech assistant in 1979 when the Yellow Jackets tied Florida, 7-7 at the yet-to-be-nicknamed Swamp - another Spurrier innovation. Spurrier didn't get misty then and won't now.
"I had 12 wonderful years (at Florida)," Spurrier said. "I thought it was time to move, so I moved on. Then I got an opportunity here. Hopefully, our fans are happy I'm here. I think the Florida fans are happy with their coach. So everybody's happy.
"Let's just go play the game and let the players decide who wins it," Spurrier said. "That's what I think we should all focus on this week, but probably won't."
Spurrier's history at Florida is the reason for that.
His stories as a player are heroic enough - remember how he kicked the game-winning field goal to beat Auburn in 1966? Then he tore up the sport's blueprint with his passing schemes in the Gators' "Fun-n-Gun" offense.
Many Florida fans prayed for Spurrier's return last fall until he took himself out of the running. Then Spurrier threw everyone for a loop, surfacing with the Gamecocks. Immediately, Spurrier set out turning South Carolina into a success. He brushed off the school's mostly mediocre football history with the catch phrase of the 2004 World Champion Red Sox, "Why not us?"
After starting the SEC season 0-3 - a first for Spurrier - the Gamecocks have won four in a row in the league. South Carolina beat Tennessee at Rocky Top for the first time. They've qualified for the postseason in Spurrier's debut.
Spurrier's players have seen little change in their coach's attitude or demeanor with his old school coming to town.
Receiver Kris Clark said the Gamecocks know more victories mean better bowl opportunities after the season. "But I guess his nature is just trickling down to us that this game is just as big as the Vanderbilt game or the Troy State game," Clark said. "Everything starts at the top and flows on down, I guess, and that's how we're carrying ourselves."
Spurrier will always cherish his Gator roots and career. But for one week a season, he says he'll follow the mode of his Florida friends, who tell him they're in his corner for all games except this one.
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