College Football

NCAA rules in the 1960s forbade college freshmen from participating in varsity sports competition. Spurrier therefore spent his first year at Florida practicing with the varsity team and playing on the freshman team, which scheduled four scrimmages against other schools’ freshman squads as a way for young players to gain experience. In 1963, Spurrier led the “Baby Gators” to a 45–12 victory over Georgia’s freshman team at Florida Field, a game which he half-jokingly claims as a home win against the Gators’ fiercest rivals.

Spurrier was in competition for the starting quarterback position leading up to his sophomore year of 1964 until a serious knee injury suffered during spring drills allowed returning senior starter Tommy Shannon to keep the job. Coach Ray Graves still felt the need to get the future star on the field, so he decided to alternate Shannon and Spurrier as the flow of the game dictated. Spurrier entered the season-opening game against SMU in the second quarter. After two unsuccessful running plays called from the sidelines put the Gators in a third down and long situation, Coach Graves told Spurrier to call the next play himself. The young quarterback responded by completing a fifty-six yard screen pass on his first collegiate attempt and another pass for a touchdown on his second pass. Spurrier would add another touchdown pass during the second half of his varsity debut. The following week on the road at Mississippi State, Spurrier entered a tied game late in the fourth quarter and led the Gators down the field for a game-winning field goal.

In 1965, Spurrier continued to alternate with starter Tommy Shannon as the season progressed, gaining more playing time every week. After being named SEC Back of the Week for a two touchdown performance in a 30-14 upset over Ole Miss in October, Spurrier was given the starting nod for the undefeated Gators’ next game against undefeated and #3 ranked and eventual national champion Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Though Spurrier threw a touchdown pass and was the Gators’ offensive star, his team fell short when another late fourth quarter comeback attempt ended in a missed field goal and a 17-14 Alabama win. Spurrier remained the Gators’ starter for the remainder of the season. He led the Gators to a 14–0 home win over rival Auburn and a 20-6 upset of #7 LSU in Baton Rouge. He was named the SEC’s Sophomore of the Year.

Spurrier was the Gators’ starting quarterback and team leader in 1965 and 1966. He finished his three-year, thirty-one-game college career having completed 392 of 692 attempts for 4,848 passing yards and 37 touchdowns, breaking every UF and many conference records for passing and total offense. In addition to being a stellar passer, Spurrier gained notoriety by playing his best under pressure; eight times during his college career, he led the Gators to fourth-quarter comeback wins. The most memorable example was a November 1966 game against Auburn, when, after leading the team down the field on a two minute drill, he waved off Florida’s regular placekicker and booted a forty-yard field goal, giving the Gators a 30–27 win and likely securing himself the Heisman Trophy.

As a junior, Spurrier was named a Football Writers Association of America first-team All-American and is still the only player from the losing team to be named the MVP of the Sugar Bowl after passing for a record 352 yards in leading a furious fourth-quarter rally that fell just short. As a senior, Spurrier was awarded many national recognitions, including the 1966 Heisman Trophy and Walter Camp Memorial Trophy, and was a unanimous first-team All-American. He was also the 1966 recipient of Florida’s Fergie Ferguson Award, which recognizes the “senior football player who displays outstanding leadership, character and courage.”

Though the 9-2 1966 season was one of the best in program football history up to that point (along with the 1928 Florida Gators football team), the Gators fell short of their elusive first conference title due to a 27-10 upset loss to arch-rival Georgia, a loss that Spurrier would remember when he returned as Florida’s coach and made beating Georgia a priority.