Average athlete earns hero status

Great athletes are like beautiful people–the focus of the
imagination; though not necessarily the heart. An average player
has fewer admirers, but their allegiance is enduring: a
relationship built upon hope and disappointment. And so is the case
for myself and my personal hero, the very admirable (but very
average) Danny Wuerffel, who, sadly, seems to have played his last
game in a football jersey.

The former Florida quarterback, national championship winner and
Heisman trophy winner, has been my champion since the early days of
the Steve Spurrier administration, when the Gators were still only
the third best football program in the state of Florida and
fighting for the recognition that they so rightfully deserved.

Built like God intended him to be a lifelong altar boy, complete
with an eternal babyface and the unimposing frame of, sadly to say,
a kicker, Wuerffel still found a way to win, or at least to play.
You see Wuerffel, like Charlie Ward, Rashan Salaam and Van Wilder,
peaked in college.

It has been said that adversity causes some men to break, and
some men to break records. Well let’s just say that when Wuerffel
was done at Florida, he held almost every single Gator and SEC
passing record that existed, and probably a few others that people
hadn’t even thought of. And Wuerffel’s handling of adversity is
precisely what did it for him.

You see, Wuerffel was able to do something that no other player
has ever been able to do and it is something that no player should
ever have to do again: put up with Spurrier for four years.

No collegiate quarterback before or after Wuerffel, nor any
professional quarterback, were able put up with “Stevie Superior”
the way he did. He came out a better man, not to mention a smarter
man, because of it.

He had to be the shrewdest and the gutsiest guy out there every
Saturday, because his shotput-like delivery and his stocky
5-feet-10-inch frame was not going to help propel him past the
athletically gifted defense he usually opposed. And boy did he
oppose them. Most of the time it wasn’t pretty and he usually spent
more time on his back than a medical school cadaver, but he got the
job done. And after every touchdown pass he’d clasp his hands in
front of him, give a nod-to-God in an upward gaze to the sky,
congratulate his elated receiver and jog casually over to the
sideline, ready for next time.

Sadly, Wuerffel’s brains did not translate into the same type of
success in the pros that it did in college. He was always the type
of quarterback that looked better on paper than he did in

In college he was legendary for the statistics he put up, but in
the pros he was ridiculed for the ones he didn’t.

Sadly, Wuerffel’s story is repeated yearly by numerous good
college quarterbacks who find that the glory of the NFL is usually
only reserved for men who’s athletic ability is surpassed by very

With more teams drafting braun over brains and only signing
quarterbacks who can run a sub-4.5 40 yard dash, regardless if they
can recognize the zone blitz, read the cover 2 or audible to a run
when the weak-side linebacker is blitzing, the days of generals
like Wuerffel, cut in the mold of Johnny Unitas and Joe Montana,
seem to be over.

A product of his own successes, Wuerffel could in no way come
close to putting up the gaudy numbers he did at Florida and thus,
after stints starting in New Orleans, ending in Washington, and
hitting four cities and two continents in between, I say goodbye to
the man who made me believe that a short, stocky kid with a mind
which ran three steps ahead of his body could be a sports icon, if
only for awhile.

And while an autographed picture of Wuerffel in full Gator garb
and a his infamous No. 7 jersey still hang on my wall, right above
a signed game-ball from the 1996 season, again with his signature
attached, only mean more to me now that he has retired, it still
pains me to remember that I will never again turn on a television
on a crisp Sunday afternoon in the fall and catch a glimpse of him
holding a clip board or warming up the starting quarterback on the
sideline. Sure he’s average, but who isn’t?

He’s a constant reminder that in sports, as in life, the lows
are low and the highs are high, and that it’s just how we deal with
each that matters.

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