Steve’s superior debut

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 8, 2002

Sports Editor

The wait is finally over. Football is here.

Sure, not real football yet, when the games mean something, when we get to gripe about Notre Dame being ranked in the polls, and when you can find your way to any high school football stadium in South Alabama just by following the glow in the sky on a Friday night.

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Nevertheless, it’s here.

Questions that have lingered throughout the short, yet far too long, off-season will begin to be answered. Will Alabama be motivated enough to win, knowing there is no championship to shoot for? Will Auburn settle on a quarterback, and will he be the right one? Will this be the year my high school alma mater returns to its glory days?

Will Spurrier win in the NFL?

Although it’s only the preseason and it doesn’t really count for anything, the last of those questions took the first step in the direction of being answered, as former Florida Gator coach Steve Spurrier led his Washington Redskins to an impressive 38-7 defeat of the 49ers.

The win kept Spurrier undefeated for his career in preseason games, as he managed to win every one during his three years with the USFL’s Tampa Bay Bandits. An odd stat, but one that may say a lot about his approach to the exhibition games.

While Niners coach Steve Mariuchi was content to play conservative while giving his reserves playing time, Spurrier was still calling for the deep ball late in the game. Even on a fourth and one in the second half, when most coaches would have punted, since the game doesn’t mean anything, Spurrier elected to not only go for it, but to go for it ALL. With the Niners stacking the line to show the "upstart rookie coach" he wasn’t going to come into the NFL and run over teams like he was accustomed to in the NCAA, former Gator QB Danny Wuerffel calmly dropped back and threw a strike to Derrius Thomas for a 31-yard touchdown.

Now that’s the old Steve Superior we all know andandnah, he’s still the same smug, visor-spiking, scowling, red-faced coach that virtually everyone outside of Gainesville has loved to hate for these many years. Yet nowdon’t ask me whyI actually find myself kinda pulling for the guy.

Maybe it’s the fact that he’s a product of the greatest football conference in the world, the SEC. Maybe it’s because I like the way he’s going about his business ­ bringing in a slew of his former pupils to spearhead the offense that they have already perfected, thus speeding the learning process; making it clear that he would leave the defense in the hands of his defensive staff while he concentrated on his forte, the Fun ‘N Gun offense.

Or maybe it will make our teams, which were perennial punching bags for the Gators, look better somehow if Steve proves to be a great pro coach.

Either way, I have believed all along that Spurrier would make an excellent NFL coach, given the right situation and the right players. I believe he may have both in Washington, where the owner of the franchise has wanted him all along.

I couldn’t help but wonder, though, how he felt when his team took the field sporting their new throwback-style helmets that featured a very Seminole-esque spear on the side. It’s bad enough that the Skins’ team colors are nearly identical to FSU’s.

And speaking of having the right players, an immediate problem most rookie coaches face is the learning curve involved with bringing in a new offensive scheme. Yet when I heard that one of Spurrier’s first moves was to acquire former Gator QB Danny Wuerffel, possibly the best ever at running Spurrier’s deadly attack, I thought it was a stroke of genius. And it has begun paying off already.

Sage Rosenfels started the game against the Niners by throwing two incompletions and an interception on his first three plays. After regaining his composure and finishing out the half with a respectable 10-of-20 with 172 yards and TD passes of 10 and 65 yards, it was Wuerffel’s turn in the second half.

Although Wuerffel had endured a less-than-stellar pro career since leaving Florida, he now was once again teamed with his mentor. It was like Luke back together with Obi-Wan, Daniel-san with Mr. Miagi. The old master reunited with his star pupil.

It seemed as if Wuerffel had been waiting all this time for one more chance to be at the steering wheel of the offense that he steered so beautifully in the good ole days when he battled Tennessee’s Payton Manning for SEC supremacy.

Besides the aforementioned 31-yarder on fourth and one, he also threw scoring strikes of 14 yards and 44 yards to Darnerian McCants. He led the Skins to four scoring drives on four straight possessions and ended the evening with a 16-of-25 passing performance with 269 yards and three TDs, all in the second half. Although Shane Matthews, another Gator alum, is scheduled to start next week against the Carolina Panthers, it seems that Danny may be the man to beat on the depth chart.

Will Spurrier’s offense work at the next level? 434 passing yards479 total yards12 different players with receptions45 pass plays to 21 running playssounds awful familiar to us SEC fans.

It’s just a matter of time before the visors start flying.