Rivals respected Spurrier, despite his constant digs

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- After Florida State beat Florida 24-21 and replaced the Gators as the No. 1 team in the country in the final regular-season game in 1996, then-Gators coach Steve Spurrier opened fire on the Seminoles and coach Bobby Bowden.

After it was announced that the Gators and Seminoles would play again for the national championship in the Sugar Bowl, Spurrier accused FSU's menacing defense of hitting quarterback Danny Wuerffel late on several occasions during their earlier meeting. Spurrier went as far as to suggest that Bowden coached his team to play dirty.

"After we beat them, the next morning I was on a national TV hookup and Steve is on there, too," Bowden said. "He starts accusing me of playing dirty football. I was shocked because I wasn't ready for it. We kind of fussed about it for awhile."

For more than a month, Spurrier accused the Seminoles of taking cheap shots on Wuerffel, his Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback. In the first meeting, the Seminoles hit Wuerffel on 32 of 76 plays. They sacked him six times and were penalized twice for late hits.

"Danny Wuerffel should not be treated like a tackling dummy because he plays quarterback against FSU," Spurrier told reporters when the Gators arrived in New Orleans for the game. "He took some hits he shouldn't have taken, and I spoke out and hope it's not going to happen again."

A couple of nights before the Sugar Bowl, Bowden and Spurrier were alone together during a bowl banquet.

"We were behind the curtain fixing to go do something, and he said, 'Hey, look, I didn't mean any personal feelings about that. I was only trying to fire up my ball club.'" Bowden said. "Probably a lot of it was true. He was trying to motivate his team."

The Gators were certainly motivated, as they routed the Seminoles 52-20 in the Sugar Bowl to win the first national championship in school history.

It wasn't the first time Spurrier took verbal jabs at his in-state rival while coaching the Gators. Two years earlier, when the NCAA was investigating whether eight FSU players received $6,000 worth of merchandise paid for by an unregistered agent during an after-hours shopping spree at a Foot Locker store in Tallahassee, Florida, Spurrier referred to FSU as "Free Shoes U."

"Our recruiting, we had another solid year," Spurrier told a group of Florida boosters in 1994. "We didn't get as many blue-chip players as FSU got, but I'm starting to understand why they're getting so many of those guys now."

FSU was placed on NCAA probation in 1996 for failing to monitor agent activity, including the infamous shopping spree.

"He's a natural-born needler," Bowden said. "He's the needler champion of the world. I don't care who he played, he was going to needle them. He needled me, but I thought it was funny. The 'Free Shoes University,' I thought was very clever. I never took it personally because I always respected him."

At least Bowden wasn't Spurrier's only target during his 25 years as a head coach. Former Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer, whose teams battled the Gators for SEC supremacy during much of the 1990s, was one of Spurrier's favorite punching bags. After the Vols finished second behind Florida in the SEC East in four straight seasons from 1993-96, Spurrier quipped that "you can't spell Citrus without UT." About UT quarterback Peyton Manning returning to school for his senior season in 1997, Spurrier said, "I know why Peyton came back for his senior year. He wanted to be a three-time star of the Citrus Bowl."

"I absolutely wanted to ring his neck," Fulmer said. "I shot back at him one time with something about him playing golf all the time. It was irritating. It was off subject because it was supposed to be about the teams and the kids. He [needled] the teams he respected or the teams he had to beat, whether it was Tennessee, Florida State, Georgia or whoever. It was his style."

Fulmer said he never took the shades personally.

"His style and personality were important for the conference," Fulmer said. "A lot of people think Steve and I don't like each other, but we're great friends. He was great to be around if we were at the conference spring meetings or a golf tournament. He was a fun guy, but if you put a microphone in front of him he can be a jerk."

Spurrier wasn't afraid to poke at a rival about anything -- even astronomy. When Clemson coach Dabo Swinney was asked about his relationship with Spurrier in 2014, he told USA Today, "He's from Pluto, I'm from Mars."

It wasn't long before Spurrier pounced on Swinney's mistake.

"I just said that we get along, we're fine, we're just different," Swinney told reporters Tuesday. "He's from Mars, I'm from Pluto. You know, we're just different in ways. The next thing you know, it's all over ESPN that he's from Mars and I'm from Pluto. Then he comes back and says, 'I don't think Dabo knows Pluto ain't a planet anymore.'

"I'm like, 'Dadgum, Pluto was a planet when I was at Alabama," Swinney said. "I missed that news flash along the way. Then lo and behold we finally beat them suckers last year and guess what has happened? Pluto has made a comeback. Pluto is now a planet once again. He's just one of the best at picking up on what somebody says and having some fun with it."

Former Georgia coach Ray Goff, who coached the Bulldogs from 1989 to 1995 and never beat the Gators, was on the wrong end of several of Spurrier's jokes.

After the Gators clinched their first SEC championship with a 45-13 win over Georgia in 1991, Spurrier told reporters, "How is it when [Georgia] signs people, they get the 'best,' but when we play, we've got the best players? Georgia has signed a lot of good players. Something just happens to them at Georgia, I guess."

When the Georgia-Florida game moved to the schools' campuses for two years during the mid-1990s because of construction at Jacksonville's stadium, which has traditionally hosted the annual border war, the Gators beat the Bulldogs 52-17 in Athens. At the time, Florida was the only opponent to score more than 50 points in Sanford Stadium.

Florida backup quarterback Eric Kresser threw a touchdown pass with about one minute to go in the game. As Spurrier left the field, a Georgia fan doused him with a cup of tobacco spit.

"A lot of our coaches have mentioned to me that no one had scored 50 points in here before, so we wanted to do that," Spurrier said at the time. "We wanted to try to make it a memorable game for the Gators, and it was."

That wasn't the only time the Gators scored late in a lopsided win over Georgia. In 1998, Florida handed the ball to a wide receiver to score the final touchdown with 38 seconds left.

"Oh, I can't worry about what the other coach thinks when we run a play to a seventh-team wide receiver," Spurrier joked.

Spurrier even referred to Goff as "Ray Goof."

It still seems to be an open wound.

"It didn't bother me at all," Goff said. "That's just Steve. It was his personality. Steve is very outspoken and he speaks his mind. I think he's very open and very honest and he was a great football coach.

"I'm not going to get into it. It's not about him and me. It's about him retiring. I'm not going to get into all that crap. That's all it is -- crap."

Current Georgia coach Mark Richt said he never took Spurrier's verbal jabs personally. When the annual Georgia-South Carolina game was moved from Week 2 to Week 6 in 2012, Spurrier told ESPN.com, "I sort of always liked playing them that second game because you could always count on them having two or three key players suspended."

Richt said, "He was fun to compete against because you just never know what was going to happen or you never knew what he might say. Some people got real bent out of shape with a lot of things he said. I never really did.

"The thing I liked the most about Coach Spurrier is that he was always just honest about everything. What he was saying is what he was thinking, and he wasn't going to pull any punches one way or another. I appreciated that about him. I didn't always agree with everything he said, but I never really took anything too personally if he was trying to have little fun here and there."