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Monday, November 26, 2001
Updated: December 3, 12:50 PM ET
Spurrier Misses the Point, Even If He Has One

By by Gene Wojciechowski
ESPN The Magazine

20. A Soapbox Moment
Florida's Steve Spurrier is many things -- football savant, devoted family man, competitive to the ninth power, loyal out the wazoo -- but he's as politically savvy as Barney Fife running for mayor of Mayberry. What he needs sometimes is a governor switch for his mouth, so every thought doesn't come out doing zero to 60 with Jeff Gordon at the wheel.

His latest pedal-to-the-metal moment began the day after the Gators defeated archrival Florida State at The Swamp Nov. 17. That's when he first suggested that FSU nose guard Darnell Dockett might have purposely twisted and sprained the knee of Florida running back Earnest Graham during a pileup. The injury will force Graham to miss this Saturday's crucial game against Tennessee, and probably the SEC Championship, if the Gators advance to Atlanta.

"I'm not accusing anybody of anything, but if that occurred, we'll take a look at it," said Spurrier at the time. And then he added: "I know [FSU coach] Bobby Bowden would never have a player intentionally try to twist a guy's leg at the bottom of the pileup."

But several days later -- this time on a SEC media teleconference call -- Spurrier read a statement from Graham in which the Gator star threatened to take legal action against Dockett. And later Spurrier all but accused Bowden and his staff of coaching up FSU players on the art of the cheap shot or, at the very least, giving tacit approval of such methods. Spurrier was steamed not only about the Graham knee sprain, but with a videotape sequence that shows Dockett seemingly trying to squash the hand of Florida quarterback Rex Grossman with his cleats.

"Bowden already said the play was OK," Spurrier said that day. "Sometimes you wonder if their coaches instruct this kind of action. I've had enough of it. Sometimes somebody's got to speak out. I'm speaking out for Earnest Graham and everybody in college football.

"This kind of crap should not happen, but it seems like it happens over and over when we play these guys."

Dockett denied trying to hurt Graham. Meanwhile, Bowden was nearly speechless when told of the second round of Spurrier comments. Longtime FSU beat reporters say it is one of the few times they've seen Bowden so visibly upset.

"I've never in my 47 years had a coach accuse my players of dirty play," said Bowden, who added that Spurrier didn't mention any wrongdoing during the postgame handshake. "But now this is twice he's done it. Sad, really."

Spurrier says he owed it to his players to speak out, that to fail do so would make him "pretty much a coward," someone who "doesn't deserve the title of 'Coach."'

Fair enough. But the more professional way to handle it would have been for Spurrier to speak to Bowden first in a private phone call. Instead, Bowden heard of Spurrier's accusations second hand.

If Spurrier were a coffee machine, he'd be the one without the filter. He is a Point A-to-Point Z kind of guy, except that he sometimes doesn't use the rest of the alphabet. It is partly what makes him such a brilliant coach, and partly what makes him so controversial.

Remember when he taunted Bowden's Seminoles during the Foot Locker scandal a few years back? Said FSU stood for "Free Shoes University." Remember when he tweaked Tennessee by saying you can't spell Citrus Bowl without UT? Remember when he accused FSU of late hits against Danny Wuerffel in 1996? Remember when he sliced and diced SEC commissioner Roy Kramer at the preseason media meetings this past summer. . . with Kramer standing at the back of the conference room? That's the way it is with Spurrier. You're either with him or against him, there's no in-between.

Contrary to the photo-op glossies -- the ones with Bowden and Spurrier exchanging pleasantries, or shaking hands -- the two coaches aren't close. Bowden can't stand Spurrier; Spurrier obviously isn't a Bowden fan. But Spurrier -- and we're generally big admirers of the Ballcoach -- botched this latest controversy from the beginning.

What he should have done is kept his mouth shut until he had compelling, conclusive video evidence that Dockett did in fact purposely injure Graham's knee in the pileup. He didn't, but Spurrier blurted out the poorly veiled accusation anyway. And he did it without calling Bowden first to voice his complaint and concerns.

Spurrier has a much stronger case with the Dockett-Grossman incident, but questioning the integrity of the third-winningest coach in Division I-A history wasn't the way to go on this one. Bowden has taken some highly questionable stances during his career at FSU (his handling of the Peter Warrick shoplifting mess several seasons ago, or Sebastian Janikowski's New Orleans party-hearty saga comes to mind), but being pro-cheap shot isn't one of them. To think that Bowden and his staff do "The Longest Yard" thing and devise methods to intentionally injure opposing players is as ridiculous as saying Spurrier runs an option offense.

19. A Soapbox Moment -- Part II
First, a testimonial from North Carolina State coach Chuck Amato, a former assistant at FSU.

"I can endorse Coach Bowden 100 percent," Amato said. "I won't take a crack at the other guy (Spurrier). The other guy is barking up the wrong tree there.

"Anybody who knows Bobby Bowden, his credibility speaks for itself. He's such a professional. I was there 18 years and I never heard him tell somebody to go hurt somebody else. He likes to be a physical football team, but within the rules. To be accused of something like that is wrong.

"Coach Spurrier is an outstanding coach. He's one of the brightest offensive minds I've had to coach against. But if he's saying what he's saying. . . I really believe he's out of line."

Things happen in pileups. Against Miami last season, FSU quarterback Chris Weinke was on the bottom of the pile when a Hurricane player reached through his face mask and clawed at Weinke's eye. Weinke never said a word about it and Bowden certainly didn't accuse then-Miami coach Butch Davis of coaching improper claw technique.

And things happen in the hyper-charged energy of the Florida-Florida State rivalry. Remember the pregame brawl in 1998? That's the same brawl where UF quarterback Doug Johnson threw a ball in anger that just missed clocking Bowden (Johnson later apologized to the FSU coach).

So does that mean Dockett ought to skate if he did what Spurrier says he did to Graham, or if he did indeed try to turn Grossman's hand into Swiss cheese? Of course not. If he did it, Dockett ought to be punished -- a public reprimand by Bowden? . . . a demotion? . . . a bowl game suspension? -- but not because Spurrier says so, but because Bowden says so. After all, do you think the independent-minded Spurrier would base his decisions and disciplinary actions on accusations made by an opposing coach, especially if that opposing coach embarrassed him in a regional and national forum?

Meanwhile, a Palm Beach Post correspondent says she overheard Dockett bragging about Graham's injury in the FSU locker room after the Florida game. Videotape has been sent to the SEC and ACC offices. Graham is making noise about a lawsuit.

Grossman's father is understandably upset and also is talking about legal action. In short, the whole thing is a mess, made messier by Spurrier's inability to get out of the way, and, to a lesser extent, Bowden's penchant for his giving his players too much benefit of the doubt.

Spurrier says he thinks the NCAA or perhaps the conferences themselves (he wasn't specific on this point) ought to hire "a policeman," of sorts, someone in the mold of the NFL's Gene Washington, who analyzes these very kind of incidents and then levies a judgment and penalty, if so deserved. Good idea.

In the meantime, Spurrier should let the videotape speak for itself, not the other way around. And if he's going to accuse Bowden of the football equivalent of beating your wife, he had better be able to prove it. Otherwise, next season's game at Tally-town could be ugly -- in the stands, on the field, between the coaches.

18. Good Sections Still Available
What in the name of Dick Butkus is going on at Illinois, where the Illini couldn't get close to a full house for their Thanksgiving Day game against Northwestern?

This wasn't just any regular season finale. This was for at least a share of the Big Ten championship, for a chance to remain in the BCS mix, for a 10-1 record and an opportunity to say goodbye to such seniors as Rocky Harvey, Muhammad Abdullah and Kurt Kittner, the guy Illinois coach Ron Turner would later call "the greatest quarterback in the country." Plus, the game wasn't even shown on television.

A lot of good it did. Only 45,755 fans made their way to a Memorial Stadium that can hold 70,904 fannies. Yeah, it was Thanksgiving and the students were gone for the holiday, but more than a third empty?

This isn't the first time Illini fans have been no-shows. Only two of Illinois' six home games (Wisconsin and Penn State) were sellouts. The four others were in the 43,000-53,000 range.

17. Colorado 62, Nebraska 36
Shortly after CU went Mach 2 on the scoreboard and cracked the 60-point barrier, an ABC cameraman zoomed low and tight on a distraught little Cornhusker fan who had enough tears running down his face to fill a trout stream. Either that, or the kid just saw sideline reporter Jack Arute step on a Ralphie burger.

Whatever it was, Nebraska coach Frank Solich feels his pain.

Nebraska has been playing football since 1890, back when they were beating up the fellas at the Omaha YMCA and going by the name of Treeplanters, Rattlesnake Boys, Antelopes, Old Gold Knights and our personal favorite, the Bugeaters, before settling on the Cornhuskers name in 1899. But never ever had a Nebraska team given up 62 points.

As you might expect, this went over big in NU country.

"Nebraska was outplayed, outrun, outpassed, out-turnovered, outcoached, outprepared, outdesired and flat-out Buffaloed," wrote Omaha World-Herald columnist Tom Shatel, who doesn't resort to hyphens easily.

Shatel forgot out-pregame mealed, out-halftime speeched, out-postgame quoted. So stunned were the Huskers that they didn't bother with the usual silver-lining stuff. "They played great and we played like crap," defensive tackle Jeremy Slechta told reporters.

By "we," Slechta had better be talking about the Nebraska defense, not quarterback Eric Crouch and a Huskers offense that scored more points in this loss than it had scored in each of its last five victories against Colorado. The Buffs used only a handful of running plays, but you'd press the same button on your Nintendo over and over again if you saw Chris Brown and Bobby Purify combine for 352 rushing yards and seven touchdowns.

"It was easy," Brown told reporters. "The holes were huge. The first guy I'd usually run into was a safety."

He meant run over. Nebraska defenders spent much of their afternoon staring face down in the turf, pulling grass clumps from their helmets, and generally playing as if they were 0-10 Duke.

16. Colorado 62, Nebraska 36 -- Part II
Poor Solich. The guy is 42-8 since replacing Tom Osborne in 1998 and 33-4 in the last three seasons. But there remains a certain faction of Husker fans that still don't understand why Bob Devaney had to retire, or why Osborne took a pay cut to become a politician. They'll look at this game and say the Wizard of Os would never have let this happen. They'll say Legend Bob wouldn't possibly field a Nebraska team that would play as if it were wearing cement cleats.

Yeah, the Huskers were Mr. Hankey stinky. The 62 points is more than NU gave up in its first seven games this season. And yet, there was Solich pitching his case for a BCS invitation. His argument: Nebraska is 11-1, beat defending national champion Oklahoma, and have the most prolific scoring quarterback in D I-A history. But in the immortal postgame words of Husker I-back Thunder Collins: "If you lose late, you get nothing."

That's not entirely true. Oklahoma's loss to Oklahoma State should be enough to put the Huskers back in a BCS bowl. After all, who would you rather have as the Big 12's second BCS entry: two-loss OU, the loser of the Big 12 Championship (a 10-2 Texas team or a 9-3 Colorado team), or 11-1 Nebraska? Here's guessing Nebraska.

Still, this was a Nebraska team good enough to win it all, with a quarterback deserving enough of a Heisman. Instead, the Huskers committed a Rose Bowl-killing sin: losing in late November, and losing large.

For one long, costly afternoon in Boulder, Nebraska got what it has given for so many years. It became Iowa State, or Kansas, or Baylor.

Or as Shatel might say, It got out-Nebraska-ed.

Maybe that's why the kid was crying.

15. Colorado 62, Nebraska 36 -- Epilogue
It seemed so hokey. . . so Gary Barnett when the Colorado coach and his co-captains Michael Lewis and Andre Gurode made a stop at Texas Stadium this past July. They were in Dallas for the Big 12 Conference media day, but Barnett wanted his guys to see the place where the league's championship game would be played in December. So on the way to the DFW Airport, Barnett, Lewis and Gurode took a look at the place.

The message was clear: Barnett, the amateur psychologist, expected to be in Dallas five months later. Now he had to convince his team to think the same way.

There was an opening-game loss to then-little-regarded Fresno State. There were key injuries. There were struggles against the likes of Kansas. There was a blowout loss to Texas.

But Barnett had a regular visitor to the CU locker room. It was a ceramic model of Texas Stadium, and after every Buffs win someone would stick a decal of the latest victim on the model. Sure, it was corny, but it worked. Colorado never quit believing.

We didn't exactly share CU's inner confidence. We worried about the mounting injuries, the inconsistent performances against so-so opponents, the season finale against powerful Nebraska.

But Barnett kept his team together and the Buffs rewarded him with nine victories in their last 10 games, including this remarkable rout of Nebraska, and best of all, that trip to Dallas.

14. Players of the Week
Colorado's offensive line
Justin Bates, Marwan Hage, Andre Gurode, Victor Rogers, Wayne Lucier (and Ryan Gray, who replaced Lucier after an injury) started every game for the Buffs this season. Against Nebraska those same five guys opened holes big enough for Ralphie to run through. In all, the Buffs had 380 rushing yards and 202 passing yards. Never have we seen a Nebraska defense so completely humiliated and dominated by an opposing offensive line.

Runners-up:
  • Texas running back Cedric Benson.
    According to Bevo-niks, Benson was supposed to be the greatest running back to hit Austin since Earl Campbell. That's high praise, what with Ricky Williams winning a Heisman for the Longhorns not long ago. But the freshman has done quite nicely, finishing the regular season with 974 yards (just 16 yards short of Williams' freshman rushing record). More importantly, his 79 yards and two fourth-quarter touchdowns were the difference in the crucial win against Texas A&M.
  • Ohio State running back Jonathan Wells..
    Illinois loves him. His three touchdowns and 129 yards in a little more than a half helped beat archrival Michigan and clinched the Big Ten title and BCS bowl appearance for the Illini.

    Honorable Mention:
    LSU wide receiver Josh Reed (7 catches, 183 yards, two touchdowns in big win against Arkansas); Fresno State quarterback David Carr (four touchdowns -- two passing, two rushing -- and 328 passing yards) as the Bulldogs clinch a bowl game; Illinois combo of Kurt Kittner and Brandon Lloyd (Kittner had four TDs vs. Northwestern, two of them to Lloyd. And no, Kittner won't win the Heisman, but his passing and scoring numbers are comparable to anybody on the short list); Georgia's Billy Bennett (6 field goals in win against Georgia Tech); Syracuse's James Mungro (career-high 184 yards rushing and 2 TDs in victory against Boston College).

    13. Coach of the Week
    Colorado's Gary Barnett.
    Perfect game plan. Perfect pushing of CU's motivational buttons. One of the most memorable victories in Colorado football history as Buffs end 9-game losing streak to Nebraska.

    Runner-up:
    Ohio State's Jim Tressel.
    Shortly after he was hired, Tressel told Buckeye fans at an OSU basketball game: "I can assure you that you will be proud of our young people in the classroom, in the community, and most especially in 310 days in Ann Arbor, Michigan." The new coach and the Buckeyes backed it up. The victory marked just the second time a ranked Michigan team lost to an unranked Ohio State team. And Tressel's win against the Wolverines is only one less than John Cooper had during his 13 seasons at Columbus -- a major reason why he was dismissed last season.

    Honorable Mention:
    Cal's Tom Holmoe (Holmoe's final game at Cal ends with a W as Bears avoid 0-11 season); Texas' Mack Brown (Horns have won 6 in row since loss to OU -- Brown deserves credit); Oklahoma State's Les Miles (First-year OSU coach goes 4-7, but one of those wins is season-ender against Sooners. Think Okie State is glad Dirk Koetter backed out of his deal with Cowboys?).

    12. Coach of the Bleak
    Rutgers' Greg Schiano.

    Schiano left his job as defensive coordinator at Miami so he could suffer through this? A 2-9 rookie season. . . a lower Sagarin computer power rating than almost every other I-A program and several dozen I-AA programs, including Cal State-Northridge, which is dropping football at season's end. . . mind-numbing blowout losses. . . mind-numbing semi-close losses, including Saturday's defeat to then-winless Cal.

    The Scarlet Knights were shut out three times, scored 10 or fewer points seven times, gave up 60 or more points twice and 30 or more points six times.

    11. Rumor of the Week
    The one making the rounds in the SEC: Auburn's Tommy Tuberville is on the Dallas Cowboy coaching short list to replace the mathematically challenged Dave Campo.

    If we were the Cowboys -- or any other NFL team looking for a coach -- Tuberville would be on our list, too. But barring some sweetheart money-whipped deal like the one Butch Davis got to leave Miami for the Cleveland Browns, figure on Tuberville to stay put. He likes Auburn. He's a college guy. And he thinks he can win a national championship there.

    10. Heartfelt Gesture
    Stanford senior running back Brian Allen switched jersey numbers for his final home game. Instead of his customary No. 34, Allen wore No. 30, in honor of his boyhood friend and high school teammate, Rashidi Wheeler.

    Wheeler, a Northwestern defensive back, collapsed and died during a preseason workout in Evanston. Allen honored Wheeler's memory the best he could. In fact, he was escorted onto the field by Wheeler's mother, Linda Will.

    Allen didn't rush for huge yards against Notre Dame (7 carries for 15 yards), but Stanford did overcome a late Irish lead for the victory at Stanford Stadium.

    9. Thorny Issue
    Miami is 10-0, has won its last two games (vs. ranked Syracuse and Washington) by a combined, 124-7, and look unbeatable as unbeatable can look these days. But. . .

    We were there for the Boston College game, when the Hurricanes needed a late carom for an interception return to beat the Eagles at B.C.'s Alumni Stadium. Now Miami faces a program it has beaten only once in its last six tries. And the 'Canes have to do it on the road.

    True, Tech no longer has quarterback Michael Vick, but the Hokies do have incentive, especially after seeing Miami players clutching long-stem roses during the waning minutes of UM's 65-7 victory against Washington. The symbolism: Hokies Who?; Rose Bowl here we come.

    Miami should beat Tech, but then again, Oklahoma should have beaten Oklahoma State, and Nebraska should have beaten Colorado, and Louisville should have beaten TCU, and . . . you get the idea. Virginia Tech isn't a great team, but the Hokies are 8-2, have played moderately better in their last two games, will have two weeks to prepare for the Hurricanes, and get them at home, where the temperatures could be in the chilly 30s -- not Miami kind of weather.

    8. Quote of the Week
    "He called us out. He's a new coach. He's evidently a good coach; he has done a lot of good things in his first year. But we're not running anywhere. We're ready. Now we can count down too."
    -- Michigan linebacker Victor Hobson to the Detroit Free Press on Tressel's "310-day" quote.

    Yes, Hobson can count down. Only a little more than a month until Michigan can watch Big Ten champion Illinois play in a prized BCS bowl.

    Equally annoying: Ohio State quarterback Craig Krenzel, who replaced Steve Bellisari in the Buckeyes lineup, is from Utica, Mich., located less than 50 miles from Michigan Stadium.

    7. Stat of the Week
    Tennessee says Saturday's win against Vanderbilt was the 95th meeting between the two schools. Vandy says it was the 96th.

    At issue is a game in 1918, which seems to be about the last time the Commodores beat UT. Anyway, Vanderbilt officials contend the Commodores won the 1918 game fair and square. Tennessee counters that it didn't field an actual team that year.

    Whatever it is, Woody Widenhofer's next-to-last game as Vandy's coach didn't go well. The Commodores' 38-0 loss was their 19th consecutive defeat to UT and its 56th in 66 games.

    6. For What It's Worth
    Maybe it's just us, but we don't understand why some voters (CBS' and former Heisman winner Andre Ware, for instance) are crossing Eric Crouch off their Heisman list.

    Sure, Nebraska got waxed by the Buffs, but it wasn't Crouch's fault. The guy scored twice, rushed for 162 yards, passed for 198 yards and oversaw an offense that produced 552 total yards. And he seemingly had just as many tackles as Nebraska's defensive line: zero.

    Crouch threw two interceptions. Guess what? Rex Grossman threw four picks in Florida's lone loss to Auburn and nobody threw his candidacy away. Miami's Ken Dorsey threw four picks in the Hurricanes' near-loss at Boston College, and he's still in the mix.

    Crouch has done too much, too often for an 11-1 team to be dismissed so easily. We don't know who we're voting for yet, but this much is sure: Crouch doesn't have an X through his name.

    5. There's No Business Like Coach Business
    Here's why coaches deserve every penny they can get:

    Arkansas State waited until the final minutes of its 28-22 loss to I-AA Nicholls State to distribute a statement that it had fired coach Joe Hollis, who has prostate cancer and is supposed to undergo surgery in December. What, ASU couldn't get the band to spell out, "H-E'S F-I-R-E-D," during the halftime show?

    The dismissal wasn't unexpected; ASU finished 2-9 and Hollis is 13-43 during his five seasons. But Arkansas State president Les Wyatt could have waited a day to issue the statement. Hollis deserved that much.

    4. Badger Bust
    It wasn't much of a week for Wisconsin. First, Brooks Bollinger got his nose broken while trying to break up a fight. Then the Badgers got their bowl hopes broken with a loss at Minnesota.

    Do you get the feeling Badgers coach Barry Alvarez wanted to win the Paul Bunyan's Ax so he could use it on his defense? Minnesota outscored Wisconsin, 42-31, which dropped the Badgers to a non-bowl eligible 5-7 -- not exactly what Alvarez envisioned from a team that included talent such as Wendell Bryant, Lee Evans, Anthony Davis, Mike Echols and Bollinger.

    Offense wasn't the problem for Wisconsin this season. The Badgers could score points.
    Problem is, so could everyone else. Wisconsin gave up 40 or more points in four of its last seven games. And that's why Alvarez and the fellas will be home for the holidays for the first time since 1995.

    3. Heisman Trophy Race
    Bring a coat and tie to the Heisman Trophy Awards Ceremony: Nebraska's Eric Crouch, Oregon's Joey Harrington, Florida's Rex Grossman, Miami's Ken Dorsey.
    Moving up: Fresno State's David Carr, Illinois' Kurt Kittner, BYU's Luke Staley.
    Staying same: Indiana's Antwaan Randle El.
    Slipping: Texas's Chris Simms.
    Thanks for stopping by the booth: No victims.

    2. Whatever Happened To. . .
    . . . Ole Miss?

    The Rebels had won five consecutive games entering the Nov. 3 contest against Arkansas at Oxford. Ole Miss was 6-1, everyone was sweet on quarterback Eli Manning. . . life was good.

    Then came the 7-overtime 58-56 loss to the Razorbacks. Then a 20-point loss to Georgia at home. Then an 8-point loss to Mississippi State at Starkville. Call it OT hangover.

    One Hack's Weekly Elite
    Honorary No. 1: F-15E fighter jocks.
    1. Miami: 'Canes make Alpo of Huskies; need win vs. Va. Tech for roses.
    2. Florida: UF moves to No. 2 in BCS, and did it without playing a game.
    3. Texas: Horns go from BCS outcast to BCS insider -- if they beat Buffs.
    4. Oregon: Ducks need to win Civil War and then hope for BCS miracle.
    5. Tennessee: Vols could squeeze into Rose Bowl, but only if beat UF.
    6. Maryland: 10-1 Terrapins sit and wait for BCS bowl assignment.
    7. Illinois: Big Ten champions want to buy new sweater vest for Tressel.
    8. Colorado: Buffs cause BCS seismic activity with shocker vs. Nebraska.
    9. BYU: Bad news: Miss. State looked like an actual team vs. Ole Miss.
    10. Nebraska: Even with loss, Huskers not out of BCS bowl mix.
    Waiting list: Washington State, Oklahoma, Fresno State, Marshall, Syracuse.


    Gene Wojciechowski is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. Movers and Shakers appears each Sunday during the college football season. E-mail him at gene.wojciechowski@espnmag.com.