It was a Saturday night in the fall of 1965 in Gainesville, Fla., and Steve Melnyk was entering college at the University of Florida.
I walked into the ATO fraternity house for rush next to this bowlegged, southern-talking guy from Johnson City, Tenn., Melynk said.
It was in that fraternity house that Melnyk and the bowlegged guy were taken under the wing of Jerri Starr, a big sister at the fraternity house. Melnyk would go on to win the U.S. Amateur and British Amateur and play on the PGA Tour before an elbow injury pushed him from the course to the broadcast booth.
The bowlegged guy would go on to win the Heisman Trophy, be the youngest coach in professional football at the time of his hiring by the Tampa Bay Bandits and upend the Southeastern Conference.
He also can join the college coaching fraternity of 200 wins with a USC victory against UAB on Saturday.
But before all of that, Steve Spurrier of Johnson City, Tenn., married Jerri Starr of Miami, Fla. Steve and Jerri Spurrier began their 46th year of marriage this fall, and, while their life has some storybook elements, there was no dramatic opening scene.
I dont know, she said, we just met.
They shared a lecture class, they both remember.
I ran into her one day there, Steve Spurrier said. Might have been some kind of biology lecture.
They shared an immediate bond, Melynk remembers, but the relationship followed the standard college path.
We started going out pretty soon, but like most of them we would halfway break up sometimes and get back together, Steve said.
It eventually stuck, though, and Steve Spurrier made his first move toward cementing the relationship just before Jerri headed out of the country for a study abroad program during the summer after their junior year at Florida.
Thats when he invited me to all the football games his senior year. I thought that was kind of interesting. That wasnt like him, she said. Then he gave me a little ruby ring and he said, Now this is not an engagement ring, this is not an engagement ring.
Eventually, though, it became her engagement ring, and, after getting the blessing of Gators coach Ray Graves, the Spurriers and a few friends piled into a car on the Wednesday before football season began and drove to a Presbyterian church in Kingsland, Ga., because there was no waiting period for weddings in Georgia.
We just didnt want to have a lot of people there so we didnt, Jerri said. Plus, it was football season.
On the way home, the newlyweds stopped for a BLT sandwich and Steve celebrated with a cigar. When they got back to Gainesville, Fla., that day he went to football practice and she went to a sorority rush event. Her wedding ring, like the corsage she wore at the wedding, was purchased at a bait and tackle store for $10, and it still is the only ring she wears.
So far, it has served the purpose, she said.
The marriage was so low key that Melnyk didnt know until he accompanied Jerri to the season-opener.
She said, Ive got something to show you after the game, he said. After the game, they showed me the ring.
The Spurriers relationship has been arranged around football ever since.
We both love the same thing, she said. The game. Thats (the secret), since the beginning.
Jerri Spurrier loved sports before she loved Steve Spurrier. She became the sports editor of her high school yearbook so she could cover the football team. Jerri grew up with her mother and two sisters in a home without a father so anywhere where there was all men was fine with me, she said.
Its why she became a big sister at the ATO house, where she was given five charges, Spurrier and Melynk included.
I guess your main responsibility was to try to keep them out of trouble, she said.
How successful was she with her future husband?
Oh, not very successful, she said. He was your basic quarterback.
Not only has Jerri Spurrier seen all 199 of her husbands college football wins in person, but shes only missed two of the 419 games he has coached as a head coach or an assistant. Her only absences came when Spurrier was an assistant coach at Georgia Tech and the Yellow Jackets played at Notre Dame in 1979 (Georgia Tech didnt pay for assistants wives to attend) and a Tampa Bay Bandits game in Portland, Ore., on the weekend their daughter Lisa graduated from high school.
Shes seen a lot of ball, Steve said.
Shes also seen a lot of golf. The most remarkable aspect of the Spurriers public relationship is not how many football games she has attended, but how many other events she has. When Steve travels to offseason golf events, Jerri goes, walking the course. When Steve travels to offseason coaching events, Jerri goes, spending her down time jogging and reading.
(Jerri stopped taking classes at Florida after her wedding but finished a degree in psychology during Steves coaching career in Gainesville and hasnt stopped taking college courses since. She will soon earn a degree from South Carolina. She likes learning, Steve said. She makes better grades in her 50s and 60s than she did in her teens and 20s.)
Virtually everywhere Steve Spurrier goes, Jerri is by his side.
I figured I better be there, thats how it started out, and then I just never got out of the habit of going, she said. Somebody told me a long time ago, the lady who used to baby-sit for my children, she said, There are a lot of people who can take care of your children, but youre the only one who should be taking care of your husband. So I never felt guilty about leaving my kids, which is why some women dont come.
Jerris demeanor is the perfect complement to Steves, Melnyk said.
She has a perfect personality to be married first to an athlete and then a coach and then a celebrity, he said. Its almost like they were meant for each other. Each is the others best friend. I think that sums it up.
Jerri Spurriers outgoing personality is a tremendous balance to her husband, said former Georgia coach Vince Dooley, a longtime acquaintance of the couple. It also is a terrific benefit to Steve Spurriers teams, said Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, who was on Spurriers staff at Florida from 1996 to 1998.
I think Jerri has been a very important part of Steves success, he said. She is as committed and dedicated as anybody on the staff in terms of helping and encouraging and bringing a positive energy and attitude.
Jerri works hard to develop a family atmosphere on all of Steves jobs, Stoops said.
Ive heard some of them say shes the best (coachs wife), Steve said. Id rather you quote somebody else though. Id be prejudiced.
In return for all that energy poured into Bandits and Blue Devils and Gators and Gamecocks, Jerri has gotten to spend the last five decades around the game, and the man, she loves.
My life is never, ever, boring, she said, and he isnt either.