Once upon a time there was a preacher's boy, sandy-haired and blue-eyed and true, whose initials were S.O.S. Steven Orr Spurrier could pass, run and kick three ways. He could think on the fly. He could come to the rescue, always in the nick of time. He was so nonchalant, so immune to the pressures that he often fell asleep on the bus ride to the game on Saturday. There was some question of his birthplace, whether it was Johnson City, Tenn., where he grew up, or High Springs, Fla., where his father ministers to the Presbyterians, or Miami Beach, which is on his birth certificate, but one collector of press-box memorabilia said it was none of these, that he was actually born in a manger.
University of Florida football fans do not count this a sacrilege because they knew from the beginning that old S.O.S. was born to give their sportswriters a release from years of pent-up cleverness. The writers called him Super Steve and Batgator and Goldflinger, but when he went out to play football—ah, boy, that was when they really let go. One wrote that Spurrier with his hands tied behind him and his face to the wall would be a two-point favorite at his own execution.
Spurrier did so many wonderful things so many wonderful ways that Florida won its first seven games this season. Florida fans, who are best described as long suffering, had to go back 38 years to remember when the Gators had done that before. The Gators were also nationally ranked (they have never gone undefeated or finished in the top 10 in the wire-service polls), and were on the verge of their first Southeastern Conference championship. Florida people who used to say "wait till next year" were now saying "wait till the fourth quarter," and "let me check your pulse, Harry, because here comes Spurrier bringing the Gators downfield again." When S.O.S. kicked a 40-yard field goal in the last minutes to beat Auburn two weeks ago, one of them wanted to stop the game and award Spurrier the Heisman Trophy on the spot.
Last week in Jacksonville's Gator Bowl, which bulged with 62,800 people, Steve Spurrier went to his execution. He was favored, all right, by five points, but he was executed nevertheless. Trailing 10-3 at the half, and looking reasonably tranquil, the University of Georgia Bulldogs came to some logical conclusions about stopping a superquarterback like Spurrier: 1) a superquarterback cannot throw from the prone or sitting position and 2) he cannot do anything at all without the football.
As conclusions go, there was nothing unusual about these or the way Georgia went about researching them. The Bulldogs, in three-deep coverage, had Safety Man Lynn Hughes keying on the Florida tight end, fudging a little bit in his direction; the halfbacks played Florida's wide receivers as close to their chin straps as they dared and the ends helped out on wide coverage. The tackles looped in to contain and harass, the linebackers stunted and slashed through the creases to demoralize and perhaps abrogate and all was done in a variety of patterns to disguise the well-conceived plots of good plotters like Georgia Coach Vince Dooley.
The results were unusual, though. Tackles George Patton, who is an All-America, and Bill Stanfill, who should be, forced Spurrier to rush his throws and, along with the linebackers, leaned on him whenever they could. The deep men were like dogs yapping at the heels of Florida's usually excellent receivers, and the most intrepid Bulldog of them all, Lynn Hughes, intercepted two of Spurrier's passes right out of the hands of Tight End Jack Coons. One he returned 39 yards for Georgia's winning touchdown. After seven games and three quarters and live minutes, Florida's impetus did not just flag, it disappeared entirely.
Dooley, meanwhile, told Georgia's quarterbacks to quit trying to do things they could not do—like pass—and let such big old country-boy fullbacks as Ronnie Jenkins wham away at Florida's middle, which happens to be vulnerable because 158-pound linebackers like Jack Card cannot keep turning back 250-pound tackles forever. Everything powerfully simple and to the point: plunges, dives, counters and—just to keep the fans from thinking Georgia dull—an occasional pitchout. Of their 47 plays in the second half, the Bulldogs threw only one pass, and they controlled the ball as if playing the game alone.
In the third quarter, Florida got off only 13 plays, excluding punts; in the fourth, only 11, and in those final 15 minutes when Georgia broke the 10-10 tie and went on to win, 27-10, Florida had the ball for all of three and a half minutes. Flustered, Florida made one first down in the second half, gained five yards rushing, 29 yards passing. The three passes that Georgia intercepted were more than Spurrier had allowed in the seven previous games. For the first time he did not pass for a touchdown. His passing yardage (133) was almost 100 yards below his average.
But when he came out of the Florida dressing room after the game, through that vale of undergraduate tears into the dwindling sunlight, hands reached out for him and people begging for his autograph hemmed him in, and Jerri, his wife of two months, blonde, blue-eyed and tear-stained, still could not understand it. "Don't they realize how bad he feels? Why do they want his autograph now anyway?" It will come to Jerri in due time that the reason is elementary: that one game does not separate Spurrier from his greatness, that even Unitas does not always make all the ends meet, and that the puckish young man with the bowlegs and slouchy, listing walk and the one-sided smile she married is the best college quarterback in the country and therefore fair game.
And, though they have been congratulating each other all the time about having someone like Spurrier to cheer about, it is only their provincial skepticism that keeps Florida fans believing there really is a Midwestern Bloc that will vote for some unworthy and keep southern boy Spurrier from winning the Heisman Trophy they think he deserves.