Sept. 30, 2006
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) - The next time Steve Spurrier returns to his alma mater, the reception likely won't be as hospitable.
The South Carolina coach, still the most prominent figure in Florida football history, was back in his old stomping grounds for the second time in a month Saturday - honored again as part of the Gators' 100 years of football celebration.
Spurrier returned to Florida Field four weeks ago when the school recognized the team he led to the school's only national championship in 1996. This time, he joined Emmitt Smith, Danny Wuerffel and Jack Youngblood as the first inductees in the Florida Ring of Honor.
The 1966 Heisman Trophy winner, wearing a tropical shirt befitting someone who's spent about half his life as a player and coach in the Sunshine State, thanked former Gators coach Ray Graves for recruiting him and former school president Bob Bryan for hiring him to coach his alma mater in 1990.
Wuerffel and Youngblood also received standing ovations during a brief ceremony before the fifth-ranked Gators faced Alabama. Smith did not attend, but was represented by his sister and addressed fans via a videotape played on the stadium scoreboard.
"It was an honor to play on this field and an honor to lead us to our first national championship," said Wuerffel, the quarterback on the '96 team and the only other Florida player to win the Heisman.
The Ring of Honor was a surprise announcement at Friday's "Gator Gala," a fundraiser that raised more than $6 million for endowed scholarships.
The names of the players and their numbers are displayed in big lettering - about 18 feet wide and 5 feet high - in the North end zone at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
Spurrier was able to participate because South Carolina had the weekend off after playing second-ranked Auburn on Thursday night. He said his second trip to Gainesville in less than a month shouldn't raise questions about his allegiance to the Gamecocks.
"Sometimes a writer tries to create some turmoil, but that's OK," Spurrier said. "People that understand and understand my commitment to trying to build South Carolina football absolutely have no problem with me coming down here for this 100-year celebration."
The next time the South Carolina coach likely visits, the Gamecocks will be facing his alma mater on Nov. 11.
"I don't have to worry about that until about a month and a half," Spurrier said. "We play Kentucky next and Kentucky beat Ole Miss pretty good the other day. ... We need to win some games, try to get to a bowl. That's our goal this year - win more than we lose and get to a bowl game."
Youngblood, the only Gator in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, likened the Ring of Honor to being enshrined at Canton.
"I kept having to scratch my head and kind of shake the marbles around a little bit, and think: Really, I'm one of the players they're considering for the Hall of Fame," Youngblood said. "This is the same thing. ... It takes me back."