He’s the kind of kid every parent wants, the kind of student every teacher praises, the kind of player every coach loves.
Little boys gaze at Danny Wuerffel with adoration, adults reach out to touch him.
And the 23-year-old Wuerffel has a moment for everyone, a hand shake, a direct smile, an arm around a shoulder for a picture.
The New Orleans Saints’ newest quarterback has yet to throw a pass in the NFL, but next to coach Mike Ditka, he’s the biggest star on the team.
“He’s had a lot more attention than most fourth-round draft picks get,” Saints public relations director Greg Bensel said. “And he’s handled it beautifully. He’s just very nice and very, very cooperative with everyone.”
Wuerffel, who looks like an overgrown 12-year-old with his mop of blond hair, pug nose and direct blue eyes, won the Heisman Trophy and enough other athletic honors to start his own hall of fame. He led Florida to a national college championship and set nearly four dozen NCAA, Southeastern Conference or school records, becoming the first quarterback to play a major role in four straight SEC titles.
On top of that he hit the academic honor rolls for the SEC every year, earned CFA Scholar-Athlete Team honors and Academic All-American accolades with a 3.68 GPA at Florida.
Wuerffel, the son of an Air Force chaplain, has stayed serene whether he’s being pounded by opposing defenses, being berated by a high-pressure coach, or besieged by fans and media.
“He comes off a little bit as ‘goody two shoes’ but not too much,” said rookie wide receiver Keith Pool, Wuerffel’s roommate at training camp. “He’s a great guy. I thought he was going to be a tough roommate just being so religious, but he’s great. He’s down to earth. He knows how everyone is, he’s just one of the guys.”
Forget the flash, the mirrored sunglasses, the bad-boy image that many young stars embrace. Wuerffel’s style is more an “aw shucks” modesty.
“Football is such a team sport that it doesn’t really seem right to single out one person as being more important than anyone else,” Wuerffel said. “I know that’s how reporters have to work, so I want to help, but I feel I’m just a small part of why things happen on the field.”
About the only people who haven’t liked Wuerffel were the pro football scouts who, despite his outstanding college career, dubbed him an unlikely candidate for NFL stardom.
His success at Florida was due to Steve Spurrier’s system, critics said. They claimed Wuerffel’s arm was weak, his delivery odd, and that his phenomenal accuracy with the Gators would end when he went against pro secondaries with much greater speed.
“All I can tell you is when he’s got the ball, he gets it where it has to go,” said Saints quarterback coach Tom Clements. “You can look like the perfect quarterback but unless you win, who cares. Danny has always been a winner.” When Mike Ditka drafted Wuerffel, he compared him with Jim McMahon, who led the Chicago Bears to the championship in 1985. Since watching him at training camp, Ditka is even more impressed than he was on draft day.
“He has great vision,” Ditka said. “He has great command. He understands the offense as well as any of those guys right now. And when he doesn’t, he asks questions. Sometimes the questions he asks make us think about what we’re doing wrong.”
In fact, Wuerffel has analyzed offensive plays to the point he’s made the coaches aware of design flaws, offensive coordinator Danny Abramowicz said.
“He’ll say, ‘Coach, we can’t do that the way it’s drawn up,’ ” Abramowicz said. “You know, sometimes when you script plays, you might make a mistake. Well, he’s so sharp he picks that up.”