Spurrier returns to game he helped create

At the time, Danny Wuerffel didn't give much thought to what his coach was doing.

Wuerffel was a sophomore quarterback at Florida, trying to help the Gators win a second SEC title in a row. His coach, Steve Spurrier, was four years into the Darth Visor reign that would end with six SEC titles.

Needing a touchdown to take the lead with under nine minutes to play, Spurrier brought in a backup quarterback for one play to complete a 25-yard pass. The Gators picked up another nine yards using a formation with Wuerffel taking the snap in front of three linemen. They got 20 yards with a pass from a wide receiver.

All of this came with a title on the line, when Florida went on and beat Alabama 24-23 for the 1994 SEC championship.

"Here's [a] staple line from Coach Spurrier," Wuerffel said Thursday. "I can hear him saying," and here he called up his coach's distinctive twang, "Danny, gotta be flexible."

In January 2002, Spurrier left Florida to coach the Washington Redskins, convinced his college coaching days were over. Flexible, determined and a little bit lucky, Spurrier is back in his element. The Ol' Ball Coach has brought South Carolina to the SEC championship game in the Georgia Dome, the game he helped establish.

"This is obviously the goal -- to win the SEC, not just go to Atlanta," Spurrier said.

That the Gamecocks have reached Atlanta, though, is an improbability. When Spurrier took over the program following the 2004 season, it was only four years removed from the end of its 21-game losing streak, the longest in SEC history. South Carolina has never played in the SEC championship game and has only won one league championship of any kind in its history, the 1969 ACC title.

"It's different here," Jerri Spurrier, the coach's wife, said from Columbia. "Nobody has a clue. Nobody has ever done this before."

Her husband, of course, has. After losing the inaugural title game, to Alabama in 1992, Florida won the next four. By the time Spurrier left Florida after the 2001 season, he'd won a fifth championship game and six total. With a win over Auburn Saturday, he can break a tie with Georgia's Vince Dooley and John Vaught of Mississippi for all-time titles behind Bear Bryant's 11.

Spurrier has elevated the title game like no other coach. Likewise, the format -- one game for the championship -- has brought out his best, a 5-2 record. The game was a reason why the South Carolina job, when it opened after Lou Holtz's retirement, appealed so much.

"He has always wanted to get back there," said Tommy Suggs, the South Carolina radio analyst and a former Gamecocks star quarterback. "He's always talked about it."

So it was on Nov. 13, the night that South Carolina beat Florida at the Swamp for the first time in 13 tries, that Spurrier crowed "We're headed to Atlanta, boys!" in the locker room after the game and wore a look on his face that his wife can still see.

"Oh, man, every happy emotion there is," she said. "Joy, satisfaction, happiness."

On Saturday, Wuerffel can guess at what the Gamecocks might hear from their coach. For all his big-game prowess, Spurrier has succeeded not by cranking his teams up but by keeping them steady, according to his former quarterback.

"I've heard him say this a million times: ‘At the beginning of the game, if something good happens, keep playing; if something bad happens, keep playing,'" Wuerffel said.

Wuerffel, a Decatur resident and the executive director of Desire Street Ministries, isn't sure if he'll attend the game. He knows one thing, though.

"Everything about my mind and my football sense says Auburn's probably going to win," Wuerffel said. "But there's something in my heart which says never bet against coach Spurrier."