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Friday, August 2, 2002
Feeling Superior in the NFL

By Ralph Wiley
Page 2 columnist

Bernie Mac had a signature line he delivered to open his old stand-up routine, the one he used before he blew up and got big.

Bernie would look out over the audience and say defiantly, "I ain't scared of you m-----------s!" Yes, it is a profanity, by some lights, depending on how you use it, but it fits if you're trying to make a tough room laugh ... or describe Steve Spurrier's latest mission.

Steve Spurrier
Steve Spurrier never hides his confidence in his own abilities.
All I know is, it was funny. It made you laugh. Mission accomplished. Don't care how. Just how many.

One gets that feeling about Spurrier. If you are a Washington Redskins fan, one way or another, Ball Coach is going to make you laugh.

If you are a fan of another team, he is going to make you nervous.

That's what it says here anyway, inside Spurrier's head; yes, I am also looking at the Redskins' schedule, and it is no picnic. Add to that the fact he has offended, belittled and made insecure so many coaches with his off-the-cuff comments that sound like subtle digs, but are actually just a product of good ol' boy honesty. Hey, if somebody gave you a bad haircut, he says you've got a bad haircut. He's not going to pretend like it isn't there. Yes, Spurrier believes he is all that.

Don't you believe you're all that, too? Sure you do. Only you usually don't go around admitting it. You hide your own opinion of you. You try to come off humble and lovable. Shoeshine boy.

Spurrier doesn't do that, but he also doesn't bite off more than he can chew. Steve Spurrier's Sole Supposition: I Get People Open On The Gridiron And Cause Touchdowns To Happen. Hey, Steve Spurrier won at Duke. In football. Period. End of story.

So take the points in every 'Skins game this year, and you'll make a profit, no matter whether the 'Skins end up with a winning record ...

... and the only way they end up with a winning record is if they beat the New York Giants twice.

Steve Spurrier
Spurrier's good-ol' boy style made him a folk hero in Florida.
I'm not saying Spurrier is going to thrill the entire NFL with his acumen every single week. He did not invent football, no, but he is the best offensive coordinator I've ever seen, outside of Obi-Walsh Kenobe. He's definitely the highest-paid.

I'm not calling him "Stephen Orr Spurrier," like they do in Florida, where he connects with good 'ol boy-dom like nobody's business and in their dreams at night they are Steve Spurrier. I'm not saying Spurrier is the President, but when he wins with the 'Skins, as he will, sooner or later, he'll be like Babe Ruth, in that he'll have had a better year. He's already more popular. Dick Cheney better watch out. A Bush-Spurrier ticket would win Florida in a landslide. And then Spurrier would speculate that the ticket had the wrong guy's name first.

And he'd just be being honest.

How do I know? Like Alec Baldwin's Jack Ryan said of Sean Connery's sub captain Marko Ramius, "I know this man."

How and why that is, we'll save that for another column.

His secret? His secret is so cool. What is it? He doesn't have one.

His style is the best style, because it is no style. He has no tendency you can sit there and chart off videotape. The opposing coaching staff on the sidelines with their Polaroids, printouts and erasable colored ink boards and the coordinators up in the boxes with their hidden cigarettes and flow charts will be short-circuited, vapor-locked.

Pro football has become so scripted, an improvisational genius such as Spurrier is going to be refreshing to watch operate, the difference between watching who'll dot the "i" for the Ohio State Marching 100 band and digging on Satchmo's "Hot Five."

Spurrier has no gimmick plays because all his plays are gimmicks.

In the lock-step do-as-I-do world of the NFL, he's Picasso.

Most NFL coaches make the mistake of trying to control too much. They all want to be like Bill Walsh or Bill Parcells. They don't want to delegate because they don't trust anybody. They get all paranoid. They figure that if their speciality is offense, and the D-coordinator throws a few shutouts, how is that going to make them look? And suppose he doesn't? They look for scapegoats. They follow everybody else's trend.

Steve Spurrier
Spurrier, left, expects to make a lot of headlines in Paul Tagliabue's league.
Right now, the Patriots' "scheme" is in vogue. That would be, what, pay with money and draft picks for a bland coach who speaks in a monotone worthy of Calvin Coolidge or somebody who can scheme a defense? The Patriots won the Super Bowl somehow, so that's in vogue.

Doesn't that set up perfectly for Spurrier?

Sure it does.

This ain't Mike Martz we're talking about here. They want me to think Mike Martz is a genius because he can call Isaac Bruce's number, or Torry Holt's number, or Marshall Faulk's number? The genius was the guy who traded for Marshall Faulk, who drafted Orlando Pace to block for Marshall Faulk. Mike Martz is like the lucky beneficiary in Dick Vermeil's will. Mike Martz is no Steve Spurrier. Please. Oh please. They won't beat Spurrier by trying to out-offense him. In the end, they'll have to beat him by defending his schemes, and damn few will be lining up to try that one.

So you want me to believe that, given equal personnel, Spurrier won't be able to find space in a Bill Belichick defense? Please.

It's the "given equal personnel" part that's a problem.

The Redskins are short on offensive personnel. On offense, they should be called the Gainesville Redskins. Or the Washington Gators. Roll all three of their quarterbacks into one and you still don't have one Donnie McNabb. Danny Waffle, Shunned Matthews and Slain Rosenfelds? Who are we kidding here?

Has Spurrier shot himself in the foot already? He made it worse by not drafting the one Florida Gator who could've helped him this year -- receiver Jabar Gaffney, taken by the gleeful Houston Texans with the first pick of the second round, after Big-Time Dan Snyder weighed in for Tulane's Patrick Ramsey with the Redskins' last pick of the first round. Isn't Patrick Ramsey just Shaun King with a bigger head?

Yeah, he is.

So considering that he's short on offense, and is playing a killer schedule that seems designed to put a would-be genius in his place, how is Steve Spurrier going to do it? The hard way, is how.

He delegates. And in three years' time, everybody in the NFL will be delegating. The vogue will be head coaches who don't even pay attention to the defensive huddle, who snap off one-liners and who draw up plays in the dirt and in the sweat on guys' necks, who leave the office early and go fishing and say, "Hopefully," and then have entire defenses running around like headless chickens.

Delegate to whom?

Lest we forget -- Marvin Lewis won a Super Bowl with two fine corners, a vicious linebacker in the middle, a jailbreak pass rush and not much help from an offense. And he won with another self-described genius coach in Brian Billick. And Brian Billick ain't bad. A little full of himself, but that is apparently no crime in this league. But Spurrier's offensive scheme makes Billick's look like something designed by Fred Flintstone after a few six-packs on bowling night in Bedrock.

Billick's scheme went belly-up in the NFC Championship game four years ago, when his Vikings had more weapons than the U.S. Army Rangers. Give Spurrier a back like Robert Smith and wideouts like Cris Carter and Randy Moss and ... well, can you say "wiiide open"? How many times can you say it?

Steve Spurrier
For the 'Skins to be successful in 2002, Spurrier might have to play quarterback.
Spurrier doesn't really need a quarterback. Well, he does, but he doesn't know it yet. They tried like hell to move up to get Joey Harrington, and if they had, school would have been out. A year for seasoning, and boom, happy landings, NFC East. So for this season, Spurrier's the quarterback. Spurrier always has been the quarterback. This is obvious, like saying your problems are all due to your mother and father neglecting you during preadolescence.

Even at Florida, he gave scholarships to lame, halt, somewhat gimpy QBs; think if he'd gone after Michael Vick, he wouldn't have gotten him? But he keeps looking for the Son of Spurrier, the one who looks, acts, walks and has the fine feel for the game that he has. Good luck finding that. If he ever does, watch out. Until then, he makes do designing schemes for the Danny Waffles of the world. Take Spurrier away from Danny, and Waffle's a car salesman.

Spurrier makes up for it by getting the best receivers money can buy for his spavined quarterbacks to throw to. He did it in college, and eventually he'll do it in the pros. Right now he thinks that's one and the same, and maybe Jacquez Green will help him some. That still doesn't explain passing up Gaffney, or bringing in the rest of those Florida husks. Unless Spurrier knows something about Gaffney that we don't know. He had better receivers at Florida last year than he'll have with the Redskins this year.

At least he finally gave that fraud Michael Westbrook the gate.

The problems Spurrier has for the 2003 season are his division and his schedule. Or, "sked-yool," as Spurrier himself might say.

Dallas has more offensive weapons, the best pair of safeties in ball, and probably the better overall team. If the Redskins beat out the Cowboys this year, it will be because Spurrier can find open space better than Dave Campo can. Philadelphia is better offensively at quarterback, O-line, receiver and equal in the secondary. It comes down to this. The Redskins have to beat the Giants twice in order to finish with a winning record. And that will be Spurrier's first miracle. Look at the schedule and channel along with me.

R-Dub's crystal ball for 2002 Redskins

Sept. 8 vs. Arizona
16-13, Cardinals. Mulligan, only it counts.

Danny Wuerffel
If it weren't for Steve Spurrier, Danny Wuerffel would be a car salesman.
Sept. 16 vs. Philadelphia
24-10, Eagles. FedEx Field should be renamed McNabb Memorial Showcase. John Madden will talk about the old days of "Redskin Football," with the Hogs, and Riggo, and Joe Gibbs, and Biff! Boom! This is not Spurrier's speed. Hogs are for making bacon, far as he's concerned. There's a new sheriff in town, and he just got his rear-end roundly kicked. Grumpy Spurrier will be saying as much afterward. "I'm accountable," he says. "And I'll be accountable when we win, too." Asked about Danny Waffles' status as a starter, Spurrier will say, "As long as he plays well, hopefully, he'll play." Coach, he just got his nipples blitzed off!

Sept. 22 at San Francisco
26-23. Niners. Heartbreak hotel for the Redskins. But the offense is coming around, this time under Shunned Matthews. Spurrier is getting antsy, Bobby Bowden sends him a Don't Get Well Too Soon card, but Marvin Lewis tells Spurrier to be patient, the D-scheme is going to jell soon. Lewis also tells him what real NFL coaches do after three-game losing streaks, which Spurrier, after 12 years at Florida, knows nothing about. "Tell me how it's gonna be again, Marvin," Spurrier will say, sounding like Lenny in "Of Mice and Men." Michael Wilbon will pronounce Spurrier a fraud. Tony Kornheiser will say let's wait and see, but then admit that the handcrank of his Bandwagon gimmick is missing, and pile on.

Sept. 29 bye
"You get those?" Spurrier asks Marvin Lewis.

Oct. 6 at Tennessee
20-16, Titans. "Sometimes you're a just a bug with maroon and yella insahdes on the windshield of lahfe," a philosophical Spurrier will say as the 'Skins tumble to 0-4. Dan Snyder looks as if he might choke Pepper Rogers, but he refrains. The Washington Post wonders if Spurrier is in over his head. Spurrier chuckles and says, "Hell, I'm not in over my ankles yet -- but I'll take that Stevie McNair. That much ah'll guarantee ya. Dawg." Spurrier is starting to figure out certain realities of the NFL. McNair survives kidnapping attempt the following week.

Oct. 13 vs. New Orleans
27-10, Redskins. Saints coach Jim Haslett said all week he hadn't forgotten how Spurrier said staying in the office all day and night hadn't done him any good. And really, it hadn't.

Oct. 20 at Green Bay
16-13 Redskins. Skins' D begins to congeal, starting around Favre's receivers. Three concussion day, courtesy the firm of Arrington, Trotter, Armstead & Advil.

Shane Matthews
Shane Matthews won't make 'Skins fans forget Joe Theismann.
Oct. 27 vs. Indianapolis
17-16, Colts. 2004 Super Bowl preview. Marvin Harrison beats Champie Bailey with an in-up move, and Dwight Freeney sacks Danny Worthless on the Colts' 10-yard-line with not one but two 'Skins receivers wide open in end zone. 'Skins brings in Jeff George, "just for the hell of it," says a sputtering Spurrier.

Nov. 3 at Seattle
20-6, Redskins. Spurrier sees Lewis for first time. I mean, really sees him. "Oh ... hey there," he says.

Nov. 10 at Jacksonville
27-6, Redskins. Homecoming for Spurrier. Tom Coughlin trampled by media rush to get to Spurrier. "Oh, God!" Coughlin screams in pain. "Call me, Steve," Spurrier corrects.

Nov. 17 at New York Giants
30-10, Redskins. In the run-up to the swing game of season, a war of words erupts featuring Giants coach Jim Fassel, once-warmed-over genius, and GM Ernie Accorsi, disciple of Johnny Unitas, and Spurrier, the Cornpone Unitas, Unitas with a scheme off the field, something of an idea, and Jesse Armstead, one of the state of Florida infantry. (What do they feed them down there?) Lewis blitzes Kerry Collins from angles that would mystify a Gold Club contortionist. Jeremiah Trotter ends up wearing Collins' uniform. Accused of cross-dressing by Spurrier. Armstead mad, but Lewis explains that it is Spurrier's idea of a joke. George W. Bush asks for luxury box at Fedex Field, wonders what Spurrier is doing in fall of 2004, for instance ...

Nov. 24 vs. St. Louis
24-23, Rams. "Oh, yeah, this 'un stings a li'l bit," says Spurrier after Waffles throws two pick-and-gos. The Redskins offense surrenders 17 points. Spurrier knows this, knows Martz will probably never beat him again. Martz waves him off at end of game, doesn't meet at the middle of the field. Spurrier says it would be nice to see Rams again in the playoffs. Some wise guy at ESPN runs tape of Jim Mora: "Playoffs!? Playoffs?!"

Nov. 28 at Dallas
20-17, Cowboys. Emmitt Smith becomes NFL's all-time leading rusher, but Redskins punish him in the process. Rocket hits 'Skins for a 75-yard touchdown, per usual. Shunned Matthews sacked six times -- three times by rookie free safety Roy Williams. Spurrier had the right play called every time, the hot read to Jacquez Green on the skinny post. But Matthews must've thought he called for the Statue of Liberty. He looks totally frozen, like Han Solo in carbonite, as Dat Nguyen sends another kind of rocket up his tail pipe. "Hell y'all, maybe next week I'll suit up," Spurrier says. Press laughs. Spurrier doesn't.

Jeff George
Maybe Spurrier will bring back Jeff George ... just for the heck of it.
Dec. 8 vs. New York Giants
31-0, Redskins. Jeff George throws four TDs. "Marvin knows what he's doing," Spurrier says. "And maybe I do too." And Jeff George? "Eh," Spurrier says. "He's around."

Dec. 15 at Philadelphia
13-10, OT, Redskins. Body Bag Game, the Sequel. Only this time Trotter and Arrington grab Duce Staley by both legs, make a wish and ... oh snap! Champ Bailey makes a pick over Antonio Freeman, thoroughly disgusting McNabb. By now, Eagles are coasting into the playoffs. The question is, will three NFC East teams make it in? Privately, Spurrier tells Marvin Lewis, "We're way ahead of sked-yool here, Marvelous. Wait 'til I get some guys I can use." AOL-Time Warner floats merger trial balloon with the Redskins. Snyder says it doesn't hurt anybody to listen. The acquisition AOL-Time Warner really wants is Spurrier.

Dec. 22 vs. Houston
34-6, Redskins. Bands begin to play "Hail to the Chief" as well as "Hail to the Redskins." George Bush denied access to FedEx Field. Spurrier says he doesn't want to jinx anything. Bush gains access to the stadium by dressing as one of the Hogettes. Finds it strangely liberating.

Dec. 29 vs. Dallas
Cross that bridge when we come to it.

It all adds up to an 8-7 record, going into the Dallas game in Week 17.

Think not? Well, we'll soon see, won't we?

Ralph Wiley spent nine years at Sports Illustrated and wrote 28 cover stories on celebrity athletes. He is the author of several books, including "Best Seat in the House," with Spike Lee, "Born to Play: The Eric Davis Story," and "Serenity, A Boxing Memoir."