COLUMBIA — Steve Spurrier had a packed home crowd at Colonial Life Arena, a bundle of recruits sitting in the stands, and fresh notes in one hand to rile up a party.
It didn’t take long for Gamecocks fans to respond to the coach’s quips, one-liners and gratitude Saturday afternoon. When athletics director Ray Tanner introduced Spurrier as “the winningest coach in the history of South Carolina football,” they were ready to hang on his every word.
Then, the Head Ball Coach really brought the house down. All Spurrier had to do is mention South Carolina’s five-game winning streak against in-state rival Clemson.
“It’s not a three-year streak, not four-year. It’s a five-year (streak),” Spurrier said, the crowd of over 14,000 ready to burst. “We’ve been fortunate to beat that big, orange team from upstate about five straight years — pretty convincingly.
“… We have learned life is a lot nicer when you’re in the top 10. Some people call the top 10 the Promised Land of college football, and we’re living there right now. We’re going to try our best to keep living there.”
During a big recruiting weekend for South Carolina, Spurrier had an opportunity to sell his program Saturday. He made the most of it.
Spurrier quoted former Georgia high school coach Wright Bazemore, who said many years ago the true mark of a champion is whether it can duplicate success. Then he noted the Gamecocks’ three straight seasons with an 11-2 record, and came to one conclusion.
“You talk about three years of duplicating your accomplishments,” Spurrier said. “That’s what these guys have done.”
For Spurrier, there was a point to sharing every accomplishment from the past three years. Up in the stands, in the minds of recruits South Carolina is trying to impress this weekend, Spurrier hoped he offered something to think about.
“You’re going to be on that floor maybe next year, and the next year and the next year,” Spurrier told reporters, referring to his message for the recruits. “What do you want me to say about you? Do you want to have 11 wins? Do you want to be top 10? Then we’ve got to work the way these guys have. I think they know that, and I think that’s why they’re coming here.”
While South Carolina hosted a batch of recruits, fans also said goodbye to some of their favorite players. Defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, receiver Bruce Ellington and cornerback Victor Hampton were in attendance. Quarterback Connor Shaw played in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl in California on Saturday, but he recorded a video message thanking the fans.
Spurrier had fun with the Gamecocks’ departing players, offering a couple nicknames.
Clowney wasn’t merely an All-American defensive end. Speaking to the crowd, Spurrier recalled his star’s “hit heard ‘round the world” against Michigan in the Outback Bowl.
It was Hampton who knocked out Wisconsin quarterback Joel Stave in the second half of the Capital One Bowl. Spurrier called it “The Hit against Wisconsin.”
Spurrier had a comparison waiting for Ellington.
“He’s caught three touchdowns against Clemson in his career. That’s three more than their first-round pick,” Spurrier said, indirectly mentioning Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins.
It was the type of fun a team can have after beating its rival not three, not four, but five straight years. They were also the type of barbs that have become commonplace in this rivalry, from Spurrier and Clemson coach Dabo Swinney.
Afterward, in the tunnel underneath Colonial Life Arena, Spurrier was asked about the war of words. He assured it was all in good, old-fashioned fun.
“Obviously, our fans love beating Clemson,” Spurrier said. “The old-time Gamecocks fans have suffered for years and years and years, as we all know. So they’re enjoying it, and they should enjoy it because they’ve sort of been on the short stick most of the time.
“I’m talking to our people. That talk is just all talk, as everybody knows. It’s for our people. It’s not for the other school’s people, and when Dabo talks it’s for his people. It doesn’t bother me, I can assure you, anything he says. That’s what we do in the offseason. We have to talk a little bit. So, I’m talking to the Gamecocks. The other people shouldn’t listen to me.”