Wuerffel plays it cool Quarterback: Florida's Heisman trophy winner keeps his composure on the field, and his perspective off it.

December 31, 1996|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

NEW ORLEANS -- Coach and player both have won Heisman Trophies. Coach and player are both the sons of preachers. After that, however, flamboyant Steve Spurrier and unflappable Danny Wuerffel operate on opposite sides of the street.

For nearly a month, Florida's "Coach Superior" has been on Florida State's case, complaining to the Southeastern Conference and anyone who will listen about the way the Seminoles roughed up Wuerffel in their regular-season showdown. The quarterback, meanwhile, doesn't come off as quite so righteous.

"The coach definitely has a responsibility to look out for everyone in his program," Wuerffel said, "but again, I'm staying out of that."

Wuerffel will attempt to guide No. 3 Florida past No. 1 Florida State in the Sugar Bowl on Thursday, and, as he has done throughout his career, he'll let his play speak for itself. He's your typical Heisman-winning quarterback, in that his NFL prospects are slim, but Wuerffel was pretty quiet coming into Gainesville, too.

"Because his throwing motion wasn't as sharp, I didn't expect much out of him, but he's grown to have a pretty good touch," said Lawrence Wright, Florida's starting strong safety. "You can't guess where he's throwing. You can't think the ball isn't going to be there simply because he doesn't have the motion."

Never mind that his build -- is he really 6 feet 2? -- and shot-putter's motion aren't classic. Has there ever been a pupil better suited to play for the impatient Spurrier?

"He [Spurrier] pushes players," Wuerffel said. "How you respond is totally dependent upon the person. I just always seemed to roll with it. I'll come to the sideline and he'll be yelling at me about a play. Almost every time, I'm just as mad at myself."

The anger never surfaces. Is that serenity the reason he was able to come on as a redshirt freshman in 1993 and unseat Terry Dean, then hold off Eric Kresser and send him packing to Division I-AA power Marshall?

"I don't know about that," Wuerffel said. "All quarterbacks want to be consistent, and be focused on what you have to do. Because of my faith, the pressure is off in areas that other people worry about. 'Oh, if I throw this interception, then I'll get benched, what will this mean?'

"Not to say, sluggishly, that it doesn't matter, but it doesn't in the big picture."

The son of an Air Force chaplain, Wuerffel's perspective isn't bounded by college football.

He isn't haunted by Florida's failure in last season's national championship game, a dismal 62-24 Fiesta Bowl loss to Nebraska in which he was sacked seven times. Ditto for the Gators' only loss this year, the 24-21 setback at Florida State in which Wuerffel was again treated like a tackling dummy, getting dropped six times.

If Florida can somehow erase those memories and come out of bowl week with its first national championship, there will still be .. the claims that that's all for Wuerffel, that his gaudy numbers are a product of Spurrier's system and that he still isn't good enough to play in the NFL.

"As long as I prepared my best, what do I have to worry about?" Wuerffel said. "Sometimes a lot of money brings a lot of problems. It can be a ruthless master, and I know the Lord will provide for me. I've got the opportunity to do a lot of different things."

Wuerffel, the GTE Academic All-American of the Year in 1995 and '96, has to decide where to spend all of the post-graduate scholarships he has earned. He might attend a seminary, or coach a junior high team, but whatever Wuerffel does, he'll continue to take seriously the business of being a role model.

"I've seen a lot of physically talented derelicts who never achieved anything," said Jimmy Ray Stephens, a Florida assistant who was Wuerffel's high school coach. "What Danny is as a person is what makes him a player. There's just nothing phony about him. He's sincere, polite, trustworthy, helpful -- pretty much all the things they teach you in the Boy Scouts."

Add humble. Wuerffel's Heisman sits in an office in the Florida sports information department. He doesn't enjoy talking about himself, and professed a liking for the Sugar Bowl over the Fiesta because he only had to do one news conference here. Time and again yesterday, he wouldn't take the bait on Spurrier's claims of dirty play by Florida State.

Wuerffel would rather smite the opposition with touchdown passes.

Danny Wuerffel by the numbers:

0: National championships.

1: Victory over Florida State in five games.

2: Times playing Florida State twice in one season.

3: Interceptions in Nov. 30 game against Florida State.

3.75: Grade-point average.

4: SEC championships.

6: TD passes against Tennessee in '95; Alabama in '96 (SEC record).

33: Days between Florida-Florida State games in '96 season.

39: TD passes in '96 (SEC record).

47: NCAA, SEC and school records.

93.7: Completion percentage against Georgia Southern (school record).

114: Career TD passes (SEC and school records).

121: Pass attempts without an interception (school record).

163.6: Career pass efficiency rating (NCAA record).

178.4: Pass efficiency rating in '95 (NCAA record).

462: Passing yards in game against Arkansas (school record).

3,625: Passing yards in '96 (SEC record).

10,875: Career passing yards (school record).

Sugar Bowl

No. 1 Florida State (11-0) vs.

No. 3 Florida (11-1)

Site: New Orleans

Time: 8 p.m. Thursday

TV/Radio: Chs. 2, 7/WJFK (1300 AM)

Line: Florida by 3

Pub Date: 12/31/96

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