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Bobby Bowden calls Spurrier ‘national champion at needling people’

Bobby Bowden said today he was always “infatuated” with Steve Spurrier, not just because he “changed football” with his offensive innovation but because of his humor.

“I was infatuated with him because of the statements he made,” Bowden said Tuesday from his home in Tallahassee. “They were funny. I understand he did it in jest.

“I always pictured him as the national champion at needling people.”

Spurrier, who is expected to announce today he is retiring immediately, never held back when he had a chance to “needle” his rivals, one being Florida State when he referred to FSU as “Free Shoes University” following a 1993 scandal in which several FSU players went on a shopping spree at Foot Locker.

“That never got to me because I thought they were funny and I thought they were clever and I knew him,” Bowden said. “He was good at it whether it was us or Tennessee or Georgia or whoever. That’s his nature. It was humorous to me.”

Spurrier, 70, is retiring in the midst of his 26th season as a college head coach, his 11th at South Carolina. The Gamecocks are off to a disappointing 2-4 start.

Bowden, who turns 86 in three weeks, said he’s not surprised Spurrier is walking away this year, but he believed it was going to be following the season.

“I hate to see him leave,” Bowden said. “He’s such a favorite.”

Spurrier’s arrival at Florida in 1990 turned up the heat on the Gators’ rivalry with Florida State. Bowden got the better of Spurrier 8-5-1 during Spurrier’s 12 years at Florida, but Spurrier won the biggest game between the two, a 52-20 victory in the Sugar Bowl following the 1996 season that resulted in the Gators’ first national championship.

The game was a rematch from five weeks earlier when No. 2 FSU defeated No. 1 Florida, 24-21, in Tallahassee.

“Immediately he was successful,” Bowden said. “And it became quite a battle. A lot of times we played to decide the national championship.

“I knew we got the best of him overall. But he still knocked us maybe out of two championships.”

Both teams were in the top 10 in national polls in 13 of the 14 meetings between the two legendary coaches, eight times both were in the top 6. They met once in a 1 vs. 2 (1996) and twice in a 1 vs. 3 (1997 Sugar Bowl, 1999).

But the most memorable of all games was played in 1994 and became known as the “Choke at Doak.” Florida held a 31-3 lead entering the fourth quarter before the Seminoles scored four touchdowns in 11:14, tying the game with 1:45 to play.

“It was unbelievable,” Bowden said. “All of a sudden we got momentum and they could not stop us. A lot of people want to know why I didn’t go for (a 2-point conversion). If we had gone for two and not made it, it would have destroyed that whole comeback. Just being able to tie them was nearly like a win.”

The Choke at Doak led to the “Fifth Quarter in the French Quarter” as the two teams played in the Sugar Bowl five weeks following the tie.

Florida State won the rematch, 23-17.

Bowden credits Spurrier for changing the game. Spurrier’s wide open offense at Florida became known as the Fun ‘n’ Gun.

“He changed football,” Bowden said. “Back before he came along everybody thought you had to run the ball to win. If you can’t run you can’t win. He took the opposite approach, if you can pass you can’t win and he changed the style of college football and that is not being able to throw. Now everybody’s throwing it.”

Bowden was forced to retire following the 2009 season. He said he does not miss coaching because he’s staying busy. Bowden travels to speaking engagements and hits golf balls.

He says Spurrier, who retires with a 228-89-2 record as a college coach, should find plenty to do in retirement.

“I’m sure he’ll stay busy in some fashion,” Bowden said. “I think a lot of it will be on the golf course.”

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