Whether he was snapping up another hotshot recruit, uncorking another famous one-liner to a booster club or whipping up on Georgia in the biggest game of the year, Steve Spurrier always felt at home in Jacksonville.

And Jacksonville always felt at home with Steve Spurrier.

Forget Tom Coughlin. Spurrier has always been the No. 1 ball coach in this town -- a genius with an edge who lived 75 miles away in Gainesville, but always saved his best for his trips to the big city.

Today, the former Florida coach returns to the site of some of his greatest triumphs: the Gator Bowl-turned-Alltel Stadium, where he went 9-1 against his fiercest rival, Georgia.

This time, he'll be on the sideline as coach of the Redskins (4-4). They face Coughlin and the Jaguars (3-5) in a meeting of two rather ordinary teams. The game would be a blip on the NFL radar were it not for the sideshow taking place on the sideline.

Ever since the schedule came out, this has been viewed as the biggest pro game of the year in Jacksonville, a football-crazy city that bought into the cult of personality Spurrier built starting in 1990. That's when he returned to coach his alma mater and immediately pulled the Gators out of decades of doldrums.

This week, Jacksonville is abuzz about everything Spurrier. Will he air it out? Will he run it up? And how does Coughlin feel about coaching against the guy that many in the city feel should have gotten his job?

"You compete against everybody. The head coaches compete. The defensive coaches compete against the offense and vice versa. It's all about competition," Coughlin said as he droned his way through the week and stayed far, far away from anything that might stir up his nemesis.

For his part, Spurrier also is trying to play down the hoopla.

"I've always loved coming to Jacksonville," he said. "But basically, when you're trying to call the plays, you're trying to find a way to get somebody open and get your quarterback to throw it to him, you have a lot more to think about than, 'Hey, we had a lot of good memories here.' "

Of course, sometimes Spurrier saves his best material for after the games.

He is, as Georgia fan Ernie Marler so aptly put it last week before the annual Georgia-Florida game, the kind of guy who "beat you, then he came out and laughed at you about it."

Right now, however, there isn't much laughing going on with either of these teams.

The realities of the NFL have caught up with Spurrier quickly. His Fun 'n' Gun has been grounded. Washington has fallen to 24th in the NFL in passing, and Spurrier has been forced to adapt to playing close to the vest with the players he has been given.

In the coach's eyes, there's nothing really funny about it.

Asked to comment about a guarantee made by his former player, current Jaguars running back Fred Taylor, who said, "He knows what the fans want to see and I think he's going to try to give it to them," Spurrier replied: "I think Fred probably hasn't watched much tape of our offense."

Asked about Jacksonville's recent pickup of Kevin Lockett, the wide receiver just released by the Redskins, Spurrier said: "I know he's given them all our stuff, but I don't know how much stuff he can give them when we just hand off around right end."

Despite his troubles, Spurrier is riding a two-game winning streak, and Washington reached the .500 mark at the midpoint of the season.

It's a much better situation than Coughlin's. He is looking for better effort, more playmakers and is trying to avoid a five-game losing streak for the third straight season.

Earlier this week, owner Wayne Weaver defended Coughlin and explained, for the umpteenth time, his decision not to hire Spurrier when he resigned from Florida.

"When Steve Spurrier was available as a coach, I was not looking for a coach," Weaver said. "I had a coach I had tremendous confidence in."

If only all Jaguars fans felt the same.

Coughlin said he was spit on by a fan two weeks ago following a 21-19 home loss to the Houston Texans. He has refused to discuss the incident further.

The team, meantime, had to resort to literally giving away tickets for free through a deal with a local supermarket chain, which buys them at a reduced price and distributes them so the Jaguars will avoid local TV blackouts.

Thanks to Spurrier, there will be no need to hand out freebies this week.

On the mere power of his personality, Spurrier will pack the stadium the way he always has in Jacksonville. One of the biggest questions of the week, maybe even bigger than who will win the game, is how many fans will cheer for the Jaguars and how many will be there to see the coach?

"We have a lot of guys who are coming back to familiar territory," said quarterback Shane Matthews, one of no fewer than 13 Redskins players and coaches with ties to the Gators. "So, I guess it means a little more to all of us."

After leading the University of Florida to some of its greatest triumphs at the stadium in Jacksonville ... ... Steve Spurrier returns, hoping that his Washington Redskins will have the same kind of success against the Jaguars."GatorSkins" T-shirts have made their way onto display racks for this weekend's Jaguars-Redskins game.