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Evil genius just another coach for Bulldogs

ATHENS - There was a time when Georgia fans would've been looking forward to this game like no other, largely because of the coach on the other sideline.

When someone dubbed Steve Spurrier the "Evil Genius," rest assured that everyone wearing red and black nodded their heads in agreement. He used to beat the Bulldogs with numbing regularity, which was bad enough for those between the hedges.

But the way his Gators racked up points against the Bulldogs and his snide little comments about any and all things Georgia just made things worse.

My, how things have changed.

When Spurrier trots on the field Saturday night with his South Carolina Gamecocks, he will undoubtedly hear plenty of boos from the Georgia faithful. But it's not likely to be much worse than the reception given to any other visiting team or coach venturing into Sanford Stadium.

Over the last few years, this once bitter feud has changed dramatically. Georgia has beaten South Carolina three out of four times since Spurrier took over in Columbia, a striking reversal from the 11-wins-in-12-years dominance he once lorded over the Bulldogs as the mastermind behind Florida's "Fun 'n' Gun" offense during the 1990s and early 2000s.

Back then, he was the Evil Genius. Now, he's just another coach on the schedule.

"All that has worn off," Spurrier himself conceded. "I think it's just Georgia and South Carolina playing now. Simple as that. Us against them. No more this coach or that coach. Us against them."

Funny how Spurrier's once intimidating aura has largely been wiped away by what's happened since Florida. He lasted only two years with the NFL's Washington Redskins, calling it quits after going 12-20.

He then moved back to the college ranks, but has yet to light a fire under a South Carolina program that has spent most of its history mired in mediocrity. A victory at the start of his fifth season with the Gamecocks improved his record to 29-22 - not even close to the 122-27-1 ma rk he put up during a dozen dominating years in Gainesville.

The most noteworthy assessment of Spurrier's teams was given by Georgia linebacker Rennie Curran. No offense was intended, but it was telling nonetheless.

"When I've watched him, they're just a gritty offense," Curran said. "They like to run the ball down your throat. They're not going to be fancy or try to trick you too much. They're going to play hard-nosed offense and run the ball."

Georgia coach Mark Richt has gone against Spurrier much of his career, beginning with his tenure as an assistant to Bobby Bowden at Florida State.

"I have a lot respect for coach Spurrier," Richt said. "I've not always liked playing against him and losing games against him from time to time, whether it was at Florida State or here at Georgia. But I've learned a lot from him just by watching his film. He's always shot people straight. You may not like it all the time, but he's always been a guy who tried to play within the rules, which I respect."

Florida was the only college team to score 500 points in four consecutive seasons at the height of the "Fun 'n' Gun." Last season, the Spurrier-led Gamecocks put up 270. In this year's opener, they slogged out an ugly 7-3 win over the N.C. State, throwing for a measly 148 yards and putting up just 256 yards overall.

"Obviously you know his reputation and what his teams are capable of," Georgia defensive end Roderick Battle said. "But we're just looking at this game like it's South Carolina vs. Georgia. We're just trying to play the game and not worry about him too much."

Indeed, No. 21 Georgia (0-1) is more concerned about avoiding its first 0-2 start since 1996 than taking down Spurrier another notch. It's just not as much fun as it would have been, say, a decade ago.

"He's still a well-respected coach," Georgia safety Bryan Evans said. "But at the same time, you're never supposed to fear an opponent. We look at every game, every team, the same way. Just go out there and get this win."

SideBar: Gamecocks at Bulldogs

When: Saturday, 7 p.m.

Where: Athens

TV/Radio: ESPN2/790-AM