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Inside College Football | Chris Dufresne ON COLLEGE
FOOTBALL

It's Missing a Key Ingredient

September 19, 2002|Chris Dufresne

It's still as important as a sunrise to the South and definitely pivotal pigskin in terms of the Southeastern Conference East Division race, but No. 10 Florida at No. 4 Tennessee this week without Steve Spurrier feels like "The Three Tenors" at the Hollywood Bowl without Pavarotti.

As Tony Soprano might say, "Whaddayagonna do?"

Spurrier has taken his ball plays and flapping lips to the NFL--we're guessing he'd rather have played Vanderbilt last Monday night instead of Philadelphia--depriving the college game its annual three-ringed football circus and sideline sideshow.

No one poked, prodded and psychologically tormented Tennessee more than Spurrier, who went 7-3 against Volunteer Coach Phillip Fulmer and never failed to remind us.

"He could annoy you from time to time," Fulmer confessed Wednesday on his weekly conference call. "Whether it was intentional or planned, I don't know."

Would you believe intentional and planned?

Florida whipped Tennessee five consecutive years at one stretch in the 1990s and likely deprived Volunteer quarterback Peyton Manning the Heisman Trophy in 1996 and '97. Manning was winless in three games against the Gators.

It was Spurrier who suggested Manning returned to Tennessee for his senior season to lead his team to another Citrus Bowl, Spurrier who liked to call Tennessee the "Knox County Champions" and Spurrier who said you couldn't spell Citrus Bowl without "UT."

With Spurrier manning the microphone, Fulmer sometimes came off nationally as a whistle-blowing Elmer Fudd.

The irony is Spurrier's superior national appeal eclipsed the extraordinary and parallel achievements of another SEC school and coach: Tennessee and Fulmer.

In the 10 years since the SEC split into six-team divisions, only two schools have won the East Division: Florida or Tennessee.

In the 10 seasons as SEC contemporaries, Fulmer won as many national titles as Spurrier, one, and boasted the better winning percentage.

You read it right. Spurrier's 122-27-1 record in 12 years at Florida worked out to a percentage of .817, while Fulmer's 10-year record of 95-20 entering play this year is .826.

Fulmer was even gaining ground in his personal battle, splitting the last four games against Spurrier's Gators.

Fulmer, though, was never going to match his adversary in the war of words.

"Steve had a very dominant type of personality," Fulmer said. "I guess he was the media-friendly type of guy. We just tried to go about our business here and be ourselves. I don't feel like I felt dominated by him, but certainly he demanded a lot of attention."

With Spurrier gone, and Florida floundering a bit already in the first days of first-year Coach Ron Zook, you'd think this is Tennessee's time to make up for lost headlines.

Naturally, the mild-mannered Fulmer doesn't see it that way.

"I don't really concern myself with that," he said. "I do think we get very good national attention, at least from the people who are important, and that's the fans and the prospects. We've done OK."

Fulmer says he never disliked Spurrier and acknowledged the coaches' wives are friends.

Professionally, Spurrier's success no doubt pushed Fulmer to heights he might otherwise never have reached.

"You have to be, I guess, an admirer of what he was able to do while he was in the conference and respect that," Fulmer said of the former Florida coach. "He had a tremendous amount of success and deserves his due from that standpoint."

Now, perhaps, Fulmer will reach his due point.

Not Yet in Bloom

Colorado freshman receiver Jeremy Bloom returned to practice this week and hopes to play against UCLA after a toe injury forced him to miss last week's USC game.

Bloom has yet to catch a pass but did return a punt 75 yards for a touchdown in the opener against Colorado State.

Bloom made national headlines last month when he was forced to choose football over skiing after the NCAA refused his request to allow him to keep endorsement money earned as a star on the World Cup freestyle circuit.

Bloom postponed his football career last year so he could compete in the Salt Lake City Olympics. He finished ninth in freestyle moguls but went on to win the World Cup title in his event.

Bloom was torn between his love of two sports. Collegiate athletes are allowed to maintain their amateur status in one sport and play professionally in another, but are not allowed to accept endorsement money. In World Cup skiing, however, endorsement money is critical to subsidizing one's career.

Interviewed recently in Boulder, Bloom said his "ski career is in jeopardy" and that he remained displeased with the NCAA's decision.

"You feel so helpless," Bloom said. "There were two things I wanted to do when I was little, play football and ski in the Olympics. I never thought an organization would take that away from me."

Bloom's rise as a freestyle moguls skier was remarkable given he started the year on the "C" team.

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