Fine wine vs alter egos18th July, 2014 by Rupert Millar
Does one of the UK’s leading wine figures, Steven Spurrier, have a secret past as an NFL quarterback he’s not telling anyone about?
Those in the UK and indeed international wine world know Steven Spurrier as the well-dressed, authoritative figure who brought about the ground-breaking Judgement of Paris tasting, founded l’Academie du Vin and who has written several books about wine and to this day writes a column for a well-known wine publication.
However, beneath the suave British reserve lies another Steven Spurrier, a ball-slinging, All-American football quarterback.
Regular readers of this small corner of the website (if they haven’t been scared off already) will know two cold, hard facts about this series.
One, I have a strange obsession with the NFL; two, no topic is off limits and three, I can find a link between fine wine and just about anything (e.g. how en primeurs are becoming like the Snoopy cartoons crossed with Monty Python and how wine can be linked to gravity, the alphabet, Cambridge degrees and Super Bowls).
The “Fine wine vs” series will now reveal the truth behind Stephen Spurrier, the man, the myth…the football legend?
The case began when I stumbled across a collection of photos of classic American football games from the 1970s.
Having tweeted it, a buyer for a respected merchant joked that there was a Steven Spurrier in the mix. I looked again and my golly there it was clear as day.
Steven Spurrier, in cleats, pads and helmet as quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers charging over the line against the Seattle Seahawks.
I did a little more digging and found that this same Steven Spurrier spent most of his career as backup QB and sometime place kicker at the San Francisco 49ers where future hall-of-famer John Brodie was ruling the roost.
This period lasted from 1967 to 1975 before he quit for the newly formed Tampa Bay Bucs in the 1976 season following the expansion of the NFL.
Now consider this. Between the end of the ’75 season and starting in Tampa the Judgement of Paris took place in May ’76.
There’s a rum do, a Steven Spurrier knocking around northern California in the late 60s/early 70s and then another (the same?) Steven Spurrier championing Napa wines in Paris in spring ’76 (the off-season for gridiron). Coincidence? Not as far as this series is concerned.
“Yes,” you say (as you always do), “but what about Steven’s role in setting up Les Caves de la Madeleine or L’Academie du Vin? He couldn’t do that if he was a pro-footballer? He didn’t even go through the US college system!”
Well, yes, you have half a point but this is my world and what I say goes. I say it’s perfectly true! And I counter your irrefutable and eminently sensible proof by ignoring it and replying to it with the fact that the NFL regular season is quite short, just 16 weeks, so players spend most of the year not playing football.
Other football fiends will tell you that life as a punter or backup QB doesn’t always give you much time on the field either.
Hell! Let’s not forget that American football games also take so long to finish that you could leave the stadium catch a plane to Paris, do a day’s work, fly back and still have time enough to take a punt in the third or orchestrate a 40-yard drive late in the fourth quarter.
Anyway, “working” and “France” are actually oxymoronic and no one really worked in the 1970s either so people had lots of spare time to kill.
There’s even a very vague passing resemblance – if you squint….or close your eyes. Just look at that hair. It’s a veritable mane.
So there you have it. Steven Spurrier wasn’t just helping bring the world’s attention to Californian wines on his visits there, he was slinging a pigskin all over Candlestick Park to the roar of thousands of adoring sports fans.
He’ll never admit it of course though you could ask him next time you bump into him at a tasting.