SOUTHERN FOOTBALL FRIDAYS: Ode to The Ole Ballcoach
Sad to see the Ole Ballcoach “resign” — not retire — this week.
SEC football has never been the same since Steve Spurrier joined the fray and decided to pitch it around a little bit.
Spurrier and me Fourth-grad artist and the Heisman winner
Like most sportswriters, I have a few memories of Spurrier, but mine aren’t as conventional as some of my colleagues, who covered him and actually know him.
The first came when he spoke at a spaghetti supper at Tampa’s Palma Ceia Methodist church shortly after Florida defeated Georgia Tech 27-12 in the 1967 Orange Bowl.
Knowing the Heisman Trophy winner would be coming to my church, I traced a Lamar Sparkman drawing of Spurrier in The Tampa Tribune and converted the picture to an oil painting. I presented the resulting work of art to Spurrier at the supper, creating the perfect feel-good moment for sports pages across the country. The staged photo of Spurrier and me ran in The Tampa Times (Tampa’s afternoon paper) and got picked up by the wire services. The simple caption ran beneath the photo: “Picture of his Hero.”
Of course nothing could have been farther from the truth since my father took me to the Orange Bowl and I was crushed when Tech lost.
Flash forward to the early 2000s when I was hired to write an unauthorized biography about Spurrier.
Spurrier-Cover-210-1I interviewed a boatload of people close to Spurrier, learning that everybody had an imitation of Spurrier’s high-pitched drawl when telling their stories.
Spurrier was gracious enough to let me interview him for the book on several occasions. Because of all the people I had interviewed already, I went into my interviews with Spurrier more informed about my subject than any interview I’ve conducted.
All of the interviews with Spurrier took place over the phone, so we had not made eye contact since the day I handed him his portrait. I finally had the chance to meet him on an occasion that took place in South Tampa several years ago. I didn’t want to take up a lot of his time, I just wanted to tell him I was the guy who wrote a biography about him.
Once a local car dealer finished wearing out Spurrier recounting an old Gators game, I moved in and introduced myself and explained that I had written the book. We shook and he commented: ‘Real nice book, that was a real nice book.”
He then turned and headed in the opposite direction.
Based on what I’d learned about Spurrier’s quirky nature, I wasn’t surprised by his reaction at all.
It will be interesting to see what unfolds in the next chapter of Spurrier’s life.