from a distance, under the floodlights at the Gamecocks' practice field, you can see how Spurrier has aged. It's in his slightly bowlegged gait, the care that he takes when bending to look down the line of scrimmage. He's had two back surgeries and now has to pause between practice stations to stretch, raising one shoulder and reaching his right arm behind his head and down his spine. He still mimics taking the snap from center, provides model three-step and five-step drops, shows where the quarterback should hold the ball. Yet the stiffness is visible in his jerky movements. No longer the fair-haired young quarterback or even the fortysomething, still fair-haired Gators ball coach, Spurrier is now a 60-year-old man with a bad back and spindly legs, walking his new team through its drills.
After each practice Spurrier addresses a throng of reporters as thick as that awaiting most coaches after a bowl game. Standing at the edge of the practice field in the even brighter lights of a few TV cameras, Spurrier, red-eyed, announces that he has named sophomore Blake Mitchell his starting quarterback, explaining with a series of platitudes that Blake has earned it, that the team believes in him and "we all feel good about it."
"Now where's Blake?" Spurrier asks.
As the quarterback is dragged before the reporters, Spurrier backs away. Out of the light, in his Gamecocks polo shirt, pleated shorts and sensible tennis shoes, there is something almost delicate about the way he folds his arms and watches his new quarterback address the media. He looks almost like a soccer mom, rather than one of the most formidable coaches in the history of college football. He's proud of his boy, you realize. Steve Superior has morphed into Mother Superior.
Spurrier wanders around the grass, stamping down divots torn up by the players' cleats, and begins the walk back to the football offices at Williams-Brice Stadium. Four security guards shadow him as he strolls down the sidewalk, past the Cockabooses--customized railroad cabooses where boosters stuff themselves with barbecue before home games--and into the shadow of the massive stadium.
"We'll be a good team," he says. "We're a little better than I thought we were. We have more speed. On the defensive side of the ball we look very sharp."
But what about the vaunted Spurrier passing game, the dazzling aerial attack?
"The talent level here is not quite, not quite," he says comparing this team with his 1990 Florida squad. "Everything has increased in the SEC. The conditioning level, talent, plus everybody is throwing the ball, and they know how to defend the pass. Back in the early '90s we could line up in a certain formation and guarantee what kind of coverage we would get. Now, defensive coordinators are into multiple defensive schemes. Everyone is disguising coverages. It was a lot easier back then because nobody threw the ball. Back then the philosophy was run the ball and play great defense."
Given the talent he has, Spurrier says, he might try that approach. He mentions a few defensive players he's very high on, namely sophomore rover Ko Simpson, senior defensive end De'Adrian Coley and sophomore defensive tackle Stanley Doughty. He might just leave it to the defense to win for him. "We may be a running team, who knows?"
He's not fooling anyone.