Saturday night in Gainesville, it’s the debut of coach Jim McElwain’s second season with the Florida Gators.
The biggest moment won’t be when the Gators run onto the Swamp’s turf. It won’t be when they wrap up what’s expected to be an extremely convincing victory against the UMass Minutemen in one of those unfortunate buy-a-win openers.
The goose bumps will occur shortly before kickoff when Gator legend Steve Spurrier — the 1966 Heisman Trophy winner, coach of the Gators’ first national championship team and the man who revolutionized SEC football forever — has the field officially named for him.
Spurrier also will bring the house down when he appears as the honorary “Mr. Two-Bits,’’ carrying on a decades-old, hopelessly hokey, but still very cool Gator tradition.
Tampa insurance salesman George Edmondson was the original Mr. Two-Bits, whipping the Gator crowd into a frenzy beginning in 1949. Since Edmondson’s retirement, the Gators bring back a famous person from the school’s athletic past (such as Emmitt Smith or Danny Wuerffel, just to name two) to carry on the tradition.
Spurrier will appear — wearing the familiar yellow long-sleeved dress shirt, orange-and-blue tie, white-and-blue striped seersucker pants and black-and-white saddle shoes — holding up his Two-Bits sign. The crowd of 90,000-plus will hush.
Then the Spurrier-led chant begins.
All for the Gators … Stand Up and Holler!
There’s something that just seems right with Spurrier winding up back with the Gators — after his NFL stint with the Washington Redskins and elevating South Carolina’s football profile to new levels — in an ambassador role.
McElwain isn’t threatened by Spurrier’s presence.
If anything, he’s inspired.
And why not?
Spurrier, after all, is the all-time Gator. He has a statue outside the stadium. Around the concourse, there’s a tribute to his six SEC titles and one national crown. Now the whole joint is named for him.
The wonder is whether the Gators will ever return to the heights that Spurrier established. Certainly, it won’t be achieved with the same level of panache.
From his opening drive against Oklahoma State (five plays, 70 yards, touchdown) to an eight-TD masterpiece against Maryland at the Orange Bowl, all things seemed possible during his 12-season reign.
The Gators stepped forward in 2015, capturing the SEC East in McElwain’s first season, but at the close of business, during a painful three-game losing streak, the Gators were downright difficult to watch. Their passing game was just a rumor … or worse.
It’s ironic that on the night when Spurrier is honored, the Gators may show the world that they better have a good defense … or else. Luke Del Rio, the anointed quarterback, is perceived as a place-holder until the more highly ranked passing recruits are deemed ready.
Spurrier’s Gators didn’t take what they defense gave them. They took whatever they wanted.
That kind of infrastructure just isn’t there with the Gators now. McElwain, a noted developer of quarterbacks, is working on it. As better material enters the program, the Gators might actually look like the Gators again.
Until then, it’s finding ways to win in the SEC.
That shouldn’t be a problem Saturday night.
Against UMass, you can expect the Gators to offer their own special tribute to Spurrier.
By hanging a very big number on the scoreboard.