Friday, January 3, 1997
So, NFL, Wuerffel can't play?

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Will Danny Wuerffel need a prayer to get an NFL team to give him a chance?
| ZOOM |
NEW ORLEANS - Danny Wuerffel might be done. For all he has accomplished at Florida - all the records, all the awards, and now a national championship - the Heisman Trophy winner faces an uncertain future in professional football.

He has a textbook release, if what you seek is a shot-putter. His arm strength is average by the standards of the quarterback position; his size only ordinary. So far as the National Football League is concerned, Wuerffel is a wonderful prospect for carrying clipboards.

Yet if Thursday night's Sugar Bowl taught us anything, it was that Wuerffel rates a second look. He threw three touchdown passes in Florida's 52-20 Sugar Bowl victory over Florida State - usually under pressure, often off balance and mostly right on the mark. He scrambled 16 yards for another score.

Whatever he lacks for the next level, Wuerffel still has much to offer.

He completed 18 of 34 pass attempts for 306 yards, most of the throws with a hand in his face or a helmet in his ribs. Florida ran its offense primarily from the shotgun formation to counter Florida State's fierce pass rush, but Wuerffel was compelled to watch much of his handiwork from the seat of his pants.

If it was not the most precise passing performance of his career, it was certainly the most tenacious. It made for a mighty impressive audition tape.

''We're here today,'' Florida coach Steve Spurrier said, ''because he has played so well.''

Florida State coach Bobby Bowden, who has seen a few quarterbacks in his time, called Wuerffel the most accurate passer ever.

''Give him too much time and you might as well line up for the extra point,'' Bowden said before the game. ''I kind of secretly hope to hold him to three touchdown passes.''

Some of Bowden's praise could be discounted because it fell under the heading of pregame hyperbole. Coaches customarily overstate the strength of upcoming opponents to motivate their own players and mitigate defeats. Yet Bowden could not have missed the mark by much.

Wuerffel's career pass efficiency rating (163.56) is the highest in college football history. So is his percentage of passes for touchdowns (9.74 percent). So is his touchdown-interception ratio (2.71). If his delivery does not suggest Dan Marino, his success does.

''That release - it might be weird,'' says Florida State defensive end Peter Boulware. ''But it's effective as heck.''

Which, in the end, is about all that matters. Stan Musial's peculiar batting stance might have made Little League coaches cringe, but his statistics sheet was a thing of beauty. Wayne Gretzky lacks a supersonic slap shot, but he puts the puck in the goal.

Football, too, is not figure skating. There are no points for artistic interpretation. Measure Wuerffel in terms of touchdowns, and he is masterful.

''I've always been compared with guys with real strong arms,'' he said. ''But you've got to be able to hit what you're throwing at, and you've got to make good decisions.''

Pro football is full of guys who can throw a ball through a building, but who can't seem to hit a receiver in stride.

Consider the telephone. What does it profit a man to dial long distance if he can't make a connection?

Yes, the Heisman Trophy has been a poor indicator of pro football success. Yes, it has been particularly unreliable regarding quarterbacks.

Yet it does not disqualify Wuerffel. A quarterback who can put the ball on the money is always a good investment.