He sat in his office looking much younger than his 55 years, yet Steve Spurrier could see the end of his coaching career. This was five days before Spurrier's Florida Gators would play Florida State in last Saturday night's renewal of the highest-stakes rivalry—intrastate or otherwise—in college football, and Spurrier had recently agreed to a four-year extension of his contract, through 2006, at an annual salary of $2.1 million. "I guess we'll sign something at the end of the year," Spurrier said, waving his hand across piles of paper on his desk.
The new deal will carry Spurrier into his 60s, and he swears he won't work much longer than that. There are waves to surf and golf courses to play. When the names Bowden and Paterno were lobbed at him, men who are still coaching past 70, Spurrier recoiled. "Not me," he said. "I'll be out long before that."
Who can blame him? Sure, he'd continue to reign over Gator Nation, where SEC and national championships are an annual possibility. Yet more years would mean more trips to Tallahassee to play the hated Seminoles, more games like the one last Saturday night, when No. 3 Florida State thrashed No. 4 Florida 30-7, slapping around the Gators as if they were Duke or Wake Forest or some other ACC dog. Spurrier is 0-5-1 at the Seminoles' Doak Campbell Stadium since taking over in Gainesville a decade ago.
The Gators who ventured to Tallahassee last Saturday were a young, improving team that had lost only at Mississippi State, way back in September, and came into the game having clinched the SEC East and with an outside shot at reaching the Orange Bowl national title game. Florida, a 12-point underdog, seemed to have caught a break when Florida State's 28-year-old senior quarterback and Heisman Trophy contender, Chris Weinke, became ill on Friday. "Woke up, started throwing up and didn't stop," Weinke said last Saturday night.
By Friday afternoon he was in an orthopedic clinic receiving fluids intravenously. He didn't accompany his teammates on their usual pre-home-game Friday-night trip to a Thomasville, Ga., hotel; instead he stayed at the house of one of the Seminoles' doctors. By Saturday his nausea had abated enough that he ate pancakes late in the morning. "When they stayed down, I tried some turkey in the afternoon," Weinke said.
Upon arriving at the stadium more than two hours before kickoff, the rest of the Florida State players found Weinke already in the locker room. "He was smiling, wearing his team sweats, walking around and looking O.K.," said senior tight end Ryan Sprague. In one corner of the spacious dressing room, Weinke said he gathered a small group of seniors and told them, "I'm fine, I'm ready to go. Let everybody else know. Let's go out and do the job tonight." He would validate his recovery by throwing for 353 yards and three touchdowns to keep himself in a tight Heisman race with Oklahoma quarterback Josh Heupel.
Two of the Seminoles seniors whom Weinke included in his pregame confab, wideout Marvin (Snoop) Minnis and cornerback Tay Cody, also provided heroics. On the Monday before meeting the Gators, Minnis had taped a picture of cocky—and talented—Florida sophomore cornerback Lito Sheppard in his dressing cubicle. On the picture, one of Minnis's teammates had scrawled in black marker, EITHER HE'S GOING 2 EAT, OR YOU'RE GOING 2 EAT. Below that: HE'S TRYING TO TAKE FOOD OFF TATYANA'S TABLE, a reference to Minnis's 15-month-old daughter.
Snoop is apparently a sucker for nutritional motivation, because he caught eight passes for two touchdowns and a career-high 187 yards. Seven of his catches came in the first half, including a 34-yard touchdown reception that gave the Seminoles a 14-7 lead late in the first quarter. "They came out and played us man-to-man, which was a major mistake," said Florida State wideout Anquan Boldin, who also caught seven passes in the first half. When the Gators switched to an embarrassingly soft zone in the second half, Minnis beat that, too, floating deep for a 51-yard touchdown catch that put the Seminoles ahead 27-7 in the third quarter.
Minnis, a wiry 6'1", 186 pounds, has caught a team-high 63 balls this season for 11 touchdowns and 1,340 yards, the second-highest single-season yardage total in Florida State history (behind Ron Sellers's 1,496 in 1968). No player lobbied Weinke harder than Minnis last January when Weinke was considering entering the NFL draft. To that point Minnis had caught 52 passes in three seasons but had always been a secondary option, behind Peter Warrick. "I knew this year was my chance to catch a lot of balls," Minnis said last Saturday night, "but I had to get Chris to come back. I called him and said, 'Chris, man, you've got to stay. I'll do anything, I'll wash your car. Anything.' "
One reason Minnis was ready for a breakout season was the seasoning he'd gotten working against Cody in practice. The two came to Tallahassee in the summer of 1996, arriving from different worlds: Minnis from Miami and Cody from rural Georgia. Yet they forged a friendship out of mutual respect, going at each other day after day on the practice field. "Those are the toughest battles I've ever fought," said Cody after intercepting two passes, his fifth and sixth of the season, on Saturday and returning them for a total of 93 yards.