Sugar Bowl Legend Steve Spurrier to Retire
With the news of Steve Spurrier’s retirement on Monday, the Allstate Sugar Bowl is taking a look back at his impact on the game through multiple appearances.
January 1, 1966
The University of Florida was selected to play the University of Missouri in the Sugar Bowl following the 1965 season. The Gators were led by the spectacular aerial combination of a young quarterback named Steve Spurrier and standout receiver Charlie Casey.Legend has it that Spurrier visited the Florida media office and asked, “What are the Sugar Bowl passing records? Because I’m gonna break ’em.”
However, an under-rated Tiger team stacked with pro prospects shocked the SEC representatives by jumping to a 20-0 lead entering the fourth quarter.
“We figured we could only score three times in the last quarter,” Spurrier said. “What we had to do was keep Missouri from getting another touchdown. But they might have gotten close enough for (another) field goal, which would have given them 23 points. So, to win, we would need 24 points.”
A scrambling Spurrier went to work, completing six passes in six attempts, capped by a 22-yard touchdown to Jack Harper. A Missouri fumble on the ensuing kickoff led to Spurrier running in another score from the 2. After forcing a Tiger punt, the junior quarterback drove the Gators again, this time floating a pass to Casey in the end zone. Despite the ball being tipped, Casey made a headlong dive to snag the touchdown delivery.
Three touchdowns for the Gators while they held Mizzou scoreless. The only problem? Florida had been aiming to score 24 points on three drives. They had gone for two on the first two scores and failed both times. Instead of being in a position to go-ahead, 21-20, with a point-after kick, they had to go for two once again; and failed once again.
“Looking back on it, I wish we had done something different,” Spurrier reflected.
“It’s strange to think we can’t ever seem to play four quarters of consistently good football,” Spurrier said after the loss. “We seem to paint ourselves into a corner, then come out fighting. I really don’t know why, other than maybe we seem to do better when the pressure’s on. But it hurts to lose one like that.”
Despite losing the game, 20-18, Spurrier was named the winner of the Miller-Digby Award as the most outstanding player in the game. He remains the only player from a losing team to earn the honor. He also did backup his pregame boast, as his 352 passing yards was a Sugar Bowl record.
January 1, 1992
Spurrier’s first trip to the Sugar Bowl as the head coach of the Gators was a bit of a reversal from his 1966 appearance. This time, it was Florida jumping ahead early, building a 13-0 lead over Notre Dame.
Two early fourth-quarter field goals gave the Gators a 22-17 advantage, but then came a fourth-quarter performance to rival Spurrier’s own efforts in 1966. Jerome Bettis, the powerhouse running back for the Fighting Irish ran for three touchdowns, a short burst of three yards, as well as long runs of 39 yards and 49 yards as Notre Dame won 39-28 – the highest scoring Sugar Bowl to date.
Spurrier joined a small group of individuals who both played and coached in the Sugar Bowl – though he was not the first Gator coach to turn that double play. Spurrier’s own coach Ray Graves had played for Tennessee in the 1941 game.
January 1, 1994
After two unsuccessful Sugar Bowl trips, Spurrier finally broke through in the 1994 Sugar Bowl. The Gators, who came into the game with a 10-2 record, were pitted against undefeated West Virginia, which was hoping for an impressive victory as well as a loss by Nebraska (to Florida State) in the Orange Bowl to earn a share of the national championship.
“We’ve got the opportunity to win 11 games for the first time in the history of our school, and we’ve never won in the Sugar Bowl, so we’ve got some firsts out there that we can try to accomplish without worrying about what’s happening in the Orange Bowl.”
Things didn’t start ideally for Spurrier and the Gators as the third-ranked Mountaineers marched down the field and scored on a 32-yard pass. However, from that point on, it was all Florida. The Gator defense held West Virginia to just 265 total yards while Errict Rhett had 103 rushing yards and three touchdowns.
Florida won the game, 41-7, to cap its first 11-win season – and Spurrier had a win in New Orleans.
January 2, 1995
Spurrier didn’t have to wait long to make a return to the Sugar Bowl as he directed his Gators to a 10-1-1 record in 1994. The tie came at the hands of archrival Florida State and a variety of pieces fell into place to close the season, setting up a rematch between the two Sunshine State schools in the Sugar Bowl – and bestowing the outstanding moniker of “The Fifth Quarter in the French Quarter” to the game.
From the official Sugar Bowl history book, “The ‘Noles and Gators engaged in a high-powered, volatile blood-match that erased seven Sugar Bowl records that had weathered the test of time for upwards of 40 years – though two of the new records lasted less than nine minutes before they were broken again.”
Unfortunately for Spurrier, Bobby Bowden’s Seminoles received great performances from Warrick Dunn and Danny Kanell, building a 23-10 lead in the third quarter. Danny Wuerffel would finish with 394 passing yards and would score on a short run in the fourth, but the Gators couldn’t overcome three turnovers in the loss.
January 2, 1997
Two years after losing to the Seminoles in the Sugar Bowl, Spurrier and the Gators had a chance at a Sugar Bowl rematch – though this one had far more at stake. Florida State had a perfect record and the No. 1 ranking in the country while Florida was No. 3 in the country with an 11-1 record – the lone loss coming in a brutal showdown with FSU, 24-21. To add to the drama, Ohio State had prevailed over previously undefeated Arizona State, the No. 2 team in the country, on January 1 in the Rose Bowl. The 1997 Sugar Bowl would be a national championship game.
In the regular season meeting between the two teams, the ‘Noles had pummeled Gator quarterback Danny Wuerffel – they sacked him six times and he was hit behind the line 21 times. With his quarterback bruised and battered, Spurrier made the shotgun a part of his offense the following week against Alabama – and Wuerffel responded by throwing for six touchdowns to clinch the SEC Championship.
Prior to the Sugar Bowl, Spurrier was eager to use any method to protect his quarterback, even making his case in the media, “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.”
That same shotgun formation, put into place because of Florida State’s relentless attack, proved to be the difference for Florida in the Sugar Bowl. Wuerffel threw for 306 yards, including three touchdowns to Louisiana product Ike Hilliard, as the Gators rolled to a 52-20 victory and their first consensus national championship.
The victory also capped a prophecy of sorts by the head ball coach. At an August booster meeting in Jacksonville, Spurrier was asked how he felt about the upcoming season. He replied, “I don’t want to say too much, but the night of Jan.2, if things go right, there’ll be some Gators dancing on Bourbon Street.”
After the game, Steve and his wife Jerri went down to the French Quarter and danced one dance on Bourbon Street before joining friends for some celebrating. Spurrier had continued his own legacy in the Sugar Bowl.
January 2, 2001
The last Sugar Bowl visit for Spurrier came following the 2000 season when his Gators were chosen to take on another powerful state-rival, this time the second-ranked Miami Hurricanes. Florida had captured another SEC title, but the ‘Canes were led by quarterback Ken Dorsey and stars Reggie Wayne, Santana Moss and Jeremy Shockey.
Florida opened fast with Rex Grossman finding Kirk Wells for the first score of the game. Miami responded with a pair of field goals and a Shockey touchdown before the Gators responded with 10 unanswered points of their own to take a 17-13 lead early in the third quarter. From there, Dorsey took charge, directing the ‘Canes to a 24-3 burst to close out the victory.
A downcast Gator coach Steve Spurrier said bluntly afterward, “We got what we deserved. You’ve got to give Miami credit, because they were better than us. It was sort of embarrassing the way we played.”
While Spurrier only won twice in six trips to the Sugar Bowl, he will forever be known as a legend of the game, from earning MVP honors as a player, to winning his first national championship as a coach.