Florida Football Coach Steve Spurrier and Florida State's Bobby Bowden, Ready to Do Battle Again in the Sugar Bowl, Were Both Raised by Families Deeply Committed to the Christian Faith. but When It Comes to Spreading God's Word, Spurrier and Bowden Have . . . DIFFERENT SCHOOLS OF THOUGHT

Article excerpt

It's not something that jumps out at visitors when they walk

into Steve Spurrier's office. You have to scan the bulletin

board with all the tacked-up papers, look for the one entitled

"30 Guidelines for a Good Ball Coach," and focus on No. 26.

That guideline reads: "Your priorities should be your God, your

family, then your team."

So the Florida Gators are third on Spurrier's priority list,

which just happens to be their current standing in the polls.

Family -- his wife, Jerri, and their four children -- gets

second billing.

The No. 1 vote goes to God, which should be no surprise, seeing

as how Spurrier is the son of a Presbyterian minister. And

eminently proud of his father, the Rev. John Graham Spurrier,

and everything he stands for.

But when it comes to spreading the word of God, to using his

position to trumpet his Christian beliefs, the Gators football

coach turns ultraconservative. He pulls back, mostly because

Spurrier has never felt comfortable espousing philosophy in

public that's unrelated to his professional calling.

The coach who will draw plays just about anywhere, who

admittedly draws strength from his faith in God, draws a line on

witnessing. And he believes it shouldn't be crossed.

"My profession is coaching," said Spurrier. "I leave the

preaching to the ministers."

Bobby Bowden takes a different route. Before the Florida State

head coach took his first job in 1953 as an assistant at Howard

(now Samford) University, his alma mater, he was already

preaching as the youth pastor at Ruhama Baptist Church in

Birmingham, Ala.

The son of a bank teller-turned-realtor, Bowden felt a duty to

be a witness for God long before he ever made a name for himself

in coaching. It was not only a part of his Southern Baptist

upbringing, but he had the gift -- the charismatic personality

-- to deliver that message effectively.

And once Bowden went to FSU in 1976 and rejuvenated a

floundering program, his platform magnified, to the point where

he's now recognized as one of coaching's leading proponents of


Unlike Spurrier, who is more low-key about his religious

beliefs, Bowden is totally at ease with a public image where

faith and football always seem to be intertwined.

When he's not coaching, Bowden is often preaching. Not just at

his Baptist church in Tallahassee, but in virtually any church

of any denomination -- Catholic, Methodist, Lutheran,

Presbyterian, Mormon -- or any Christian-based group that

invites him to talk.

To Bowden, it's not which church you go to that matters. Just

that you go.

"I speak in any church that asks me," said Bowden. "I hope I

don't say anything that offends people, but they keep inviting

me. All I know is what I believe, that God put us on this Earth

to be messengers of His word."


It would be the gospel truth to say that there's been no

greater male influence in Stephen Orr Spurrier's life than his

father. The Rev. Spurrier and his wife, Marjorie, gave their

last of three children the name Stephen, after the first

Christian to die for his religious beliefs.

But the impact that John Graham Spurrier had on the most famous

Gator in history extends far beyond instructions in the faith.

The Rev. Spurrier was also Steve's mentor on the field.

It was Dad who laid the foundation for Steve's fierce

competitive drive, reminding him over and over again that if it

didn't matter who won or lost, then why do they bother to keep

score? …


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