-- Chris Doering owes much of his longer-than-expected football career to Steve Spurrier, who as coach of the University of Florida and Washington Redskins gave the wide receiver opportunities when other teams wouldn't.
Doering was a walk-on at Florida who became a starter in the "Fun and Gun" offense and went on to catch the most touchdown passes in Southeastern Conference history. And when Spurrier left to coach the Redskins after the 2001 season, Doering was one of several former Florida players signed. Doering caught 18 passes for the Redskins in 2002, 12 more than he had in his previous six NFL seasons combined, and he signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers as a free agent the following season.
"I'm indebted to Coach forever," Doering said. "I was a walk-on and most coaches won't put walk-ons on the field. And then he helped me jump-start my NFL career, so I definitely owe him a lot."
So it will come with much pain Saturday when Doering cheers against his old coach. In a game that has some Florida fans re-evaluating their allegiances, Spurrier faces the No. 12 Gators for the first time when they play South Carolina at Williams-Brice Stadium.
In a scene that once seemed unimaginable, Spurrier will be wearing a black and maroon visor on the home sideline, across from the blue and orange jerseys and helmets that often struck fear in opposing defenses during his ultra-successful, 12-year tenure as Florida's coach.
From 1990 to 2001, Spurrier led the Gators to 122 victories, six Southeastern Conference titles and the 1996 national championship. He was credited with changing the way college football was played in the South, from three yards and a cloud of dust to sophisticated, pass-happy offenses.
"It's a weird deal because he's obviously the most recognizable figure of Florida football," said Doering, who played the past two seasons for the Steelers before he was waived during training camp this year. "He won the Heisman Trophy at Florida and came back and created a dynasty as coach. He's the guy that everybody associates with Florida football. But for four hours on Saturday, me and a bunch of other Gators are going to be rooting against him."
When Spurrier agreed to replace Gamecocks coach Lou Holtz nearly a year ago, Florida fans knew they would have to face their former quarterback and coach every season in the East Division. But the Gators didn't think they would have to worry about losing to him for a few more seasons.
The Gamecocks were, at best, mediocre during Holtz's last two seasons, and their prospects under Spurrier didn't seem very good after he kicked leading rusher Demetris Summers and defensive end Moe Thompson off the team during the offseason. And three SEC East opponents -- Tennessee, Georgia and Florida -- were ranked in the preseason top 25.
After South Carolina struggled to beat Central Florida, 24-15, in its opener and then lost three of its next four games, including a 48-7 setback at Auburn on Oct. 1, many SEC football fans wrote off the Gamecocks. But even after losing more players to injuries, South Carolina has won its last four games, including a 16-15 upset at Tennessee on Oct. 29, its first victory over the Volunteers since 1992. Last week, the Gamecocks became bowl eligible by winning at Arkansas, 14-10.
"We've been very fortunate to win the close games," Spurrier said. "I'm not one of the coaches who thinks he's got all the answers when you win. Getting to a bowl game was our goal. We knew it wasn't going to be easy. We thought six or seven wins would be a great season."
Spurrier won't say it, but beating the Gators would make this season that much more special. The Gamecocks haven't beaten Florida since 1939, losing their last 14 games in the series. A victory over the Gators would move the Gamecocks into a second-place tie with Florida in the SEC East, and would give them their first five-game winning streak in SEC play since joining the conference in 1992.
"I'm glad he's finally on our side," Gamecocks defensive end Orus Lambert said.
While Spurrier and Florida Coach Urban Meyer have played down the matchup, it has been the most talked about subject on both campuses. Some Gators fans were upset about the way Spurrier left, abruptly resigning to take his high-octane offense to the NFL for two disappointing seasons. Some Florida fans even blame him for leaving them with Ron Zook, who was fired last season after three abysmal seasons.
Spurrier seemed interested in returning to coach Florida after Zook left, but when Athletic Director Jeremy Foley and president Bernard Machen seemed intent on hiring Meyer, who led Utah to a 12-0 record last season, Spurrier withdrew from consideration.
"I had 12 wonderful years there, and I thought it was time to move on," Spurrier said. "Hopefully, our fans are happy I'm the coach here, and Florida fans are happy with their coach. Everybody's happy, so let's go play the game. That's what we should focus on, but we probably won't."
The Gators can win the SEC East if they beat South Carolina and Georgia loses to Auburn on Saturday night. The Gators haven't won the SEC championship since 2000 with Spurrier.
With that much at stake, many Gators seem anxious about facing Spurrier for the first time.
"I've heard many people say this week, 'I'm sure Coach is drawing up some ball plays for the Gators,' " Doering said. "It seems like there is a lot nervousness among the Gator faithful."
Spurrier said he doesn't blame Florida fans for cheering against him.
"They're supposed to root for the Gators," he said. "They all say, 'We pull for South Carolina every game but one,' and I sort of say that's where I am, too. I pull for Florida every game but one."