Every year, the Heisman Trust honors the 50th, 25th and 10th anniversary recipients of the most prestigious trophy in sports. This year, our honorees are Steve Spurrier, Desmond Howard and Troy Smith. The following article appears in the 2016 Heisman Memorial Trophy program.
Steve Spurrier: 50th anniversary Heisman recipient
There are many places that can claim Stephen Orr Spurrier as one of their own.
It could be Miami, Fla., where he was born. Or maybe it’s North Carolina, Virginia or Georgia, where he briefly lived during his childhood. Then there’s Johnson City, Tenn., where he graduated from Science Hill High School after lettering in football, basketball and baseball.
But Gainesville, Fla., has as good a claim as any. The former high school quarterback from the Volunteer state passed up Tennessee and its wing-T offense for a chance to air it out under Ray Graves’ wide open attack at the University of Florida. It didn’t take long for this son of the South to etch his name into college football lore.
The 6-2, 203-pound Spurrier became the starting quarterback for the Gators in 1964 and he had a solid debut season, throwing for 943 yards and six touchdowns while leading Florida to a 7-3 record. As a 1965 junior, he passed for 1,893 yards and 14 touchdowns as the Gators went 7-4. Spurrier finished ninth in that year’s Heisman vote.
His senior year of 1966, 50 years ago, was a special one.
Spurrier started the year on fire as the Gators raced out to a 7-0 mark. The opening victory over Northwestern saw him pass for 222 yards and three touchdowns while completing 68 percent of his throws. In game four, a 22-19 win over rival Florida State, Spurrier totaled 219 passing yards and three touchdown.
Game six against Auburn was when the legend of Spurrier grew to epic proportions. Down 27-20 in the fourth quarter, Spurrier drove the Gators 71 yards to tie the game by running it in himself for a 1-yard TD. Auburn came back to tie it, but Spurrier won it anyway for the Gators by kicking a 40-yard field goal with 2:12 to play.
“The Gator growled and the Tiger roared back, but it took a Heisman Trophy candidate’s ‘toe’ to manufacture ‘Gator Bait’ on Florida Field Saturday afternoon,” wrote John L. Klucina of All Florida News.
Naturally, Spurrier downplayed his heroics.
It wasn’t that long,” he told the Associated Press in 2001. “Most guys can kick 40.”
The performance made Spurrier the front runner for the Heisman Trophy as he completed 27 of 40 passes for a season-best 259 yards and one TD pass. He also showed his versatility by punting six times for an average of 47.4 yards.
With Heisman ballots en route to voters, Spurrier and Florida were undefeated at 7-0 and ranked seventh in the polls. His numbers were sterling: 1,397 yards through the air, 14 TD passes, just two interceptions and a completion percentage of 64 percent.
Late season losses to No. 4 Georgia and No. 9 Miami (Fla.) put a damper on the Gators’ SEC title hopes, but by then it was clear that Spurrier was the season’s most outstanding player. One scouting report said he had “the arm of Sammy Baugh, the poise of Johnny Unitas, the leadership of Norm Van Brocklin and the quickness of Joe Namath.”
Spurrier threw for 2,012 yards and 16 touchdowns that year as Florida finished the regular season with an 8-2 record and a No. 11 ranking in the polls. His three-year, thirty-one-game college career saw him accumulate 4,848 passing yards and 37 touchdowns, breaking the 19-year-old SEC passing yardage record held by Charlie Connerly of Mississippi.
On Nov. 22, it was revealed that Spurrier beat out Bob Griese of Purdue for the Heisman, winning four of five voting regions while more than doubling Griese’s point total, 1,659 to 816.
“I am happy for my college, the state and the South,” said Spurrier.
Spurrier was the third overall pick in the 1967 draft by the San Francisco 49ers, where he played for nine years, spelling John Brodie as quarterback in 1972 and leading the ’49ers to a third-consecutive NFC West Title.
A head coach at the collegiate level since 1987, he was 20-13-1 at Duke and won the ACC Championship in 1989. While head coach at Florida, his team won seven SEC championships and the National Championship in 1996. He became the first Heisman winner to coach another Heisman winner when Florida quarterback Danny Wuerffel won the award in 1996. After Florida, he coached the Washington Redskins in the NFL before returning to coach South Carolina for 11 seasons.
Now retired, Spurrier is a member of the Orange Bowl Hall of Fame and the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame. He was elected to the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame in 1986.
Congratulations to Steve Spurrier on his 50th Heisman anniversary!