Perched on his players’ shoulders at the end of the game Saturday night, Steve Spurrier was wearing that familiar smirk.
It was almost a bashful smirk.
But there he was -- in the Swamp, the Florida fans long gone, the South Carolina fans delirious and the scoreboard not doing justice to what had just transpired on the very field where the legend of the Head Ball Coach was born.
South Carolina didn’t just beat Florida to secure its first-ever trip to the SEC championship game. The Gamecocks punished the Gators, beat them up physically, played with more heart and played with more smarts in a 36-14 victory that won’t be forgotten any time soon in the Palmetto State.
Winning the Eastern Division was one thing for Spurrier and the Gamecocks, but going through the Gators to win it and doing it at the Swamp makes it all the more special.
After all, Spurrier’s the one who named the place “the Swamp” back in the 1990s and changed the way they played football in the SEC with his Fun ‘n’ Gun offense.
He won six SEC championships along the way and will forever be an icon in the Gator Nation.
But what he’s accomplished at South Carolina rates up there with any of his coaching accomplishments.
Forget that the Eastern Division was down this season. It doesn’t matter.
It also doesn’t matter that it’s taken longer than most of the South Carolina fans had hoped.
All that matters is that the Gamecocks get a chance on Dec. 4 in Atlanta to play for an SEC championship against Auburn, something a lot of people thought would never happen on Spurrier’s watch, or anybody’s watch, at South Carolina.
This is a program that’s won more than eight games only twice in school history. Spurrier had lost five or more games in each of his first five seasons in Columbia.
The frustration of being average took its toll on a man who set the standard in the SEC in the 1990s.
Following an ugly Outback Bowl loss to Iowa two years ago, Spurrier admitted that he thought about walking away.
That talent was front and center Saturday, and so was Spurrier’s penchant for hitting a team where it’s most vulnerable.
Spurrier said all week that this game wasn’t about him.
And he’s right.
Across the board, the Gamecocks played some of their best football.
Defensively, Ellis Johnson’s unit was outstanding after getting shredded a week ago. The Gators only had two first downs at the half and were held to one meaningless offensive touchdown in the fourth quarter.
South Carolina finished with just three penalties and didn’t turn the ball over. And what else can you say about Lattimore?
The Gamecocks’ freshman running back rushed for 221 rushing yards and carried the ball 40 times behind an offensive line that played one of its best games of the season.
Yep (as the Head Ball Coach would say), he might have had better teams at Florida and more talented teams, but few wins were any more satisfying than the one he pinned on his alma mater Saturday night at the “Swamp Spurrier built.”