Back in 1996, University of Florida quarterback Danny Wuerffel lead the University of Florida to the school's first national championship under head coach Steve Spurrier. Danny also ended up winning the Heisman Trophy that year, which is the biggest honor in college football. He ended up being drafted to the New Orleans Saints, spent some time with the Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears, and then was reunited with his old college coach with the Washington Redskins, but it never truly took off. Danny Wuerffel is now retired from the NFL and working with Desire Street in New Orleans, Louisiana as a director of development. The Organization helps in community development and spiritual development with less fortunate kids.
First off how are you?
"I am doing great."
Tell me about the Desire Street Organization and how you got involved with this organization.
"I get so excited obviously to pour my life into what I am doing and to officially retire from the NFL. Desire Street Ministries is a faith based non-profit organization in New Orleans, Louisiana. We work in one of the nation's toughest and poorest communities. It is an inner city community centered around the Desire neighborhood and housing project, and at one point was the second largest in the country. We do spiritual development and community development. We work on health, housing, have a school, and lots to do."
You seem to want to help and impact kids' lives as a sports role model through this organization and anything else, correct?
"Absolutely. I have been really blessed throughout my career. I know I wouldn't have gotten where I am without the help of people. To talk about a place with kids with so much potential, but so many things going against them is unfair. We strive to help these kids use their God given abilities to have productive and great lives."
Would you agree that religion and school are the most important thing for a kid growing up?
"Well, I think there are a lot of things that are most important. I think stability is one thing these kids don't have and that's what we try to be. We try to be sort of a mentor program and show the foundation that we have in our faith in God. I think when you have something to stand on, you have somewhere to go."
You show that not all athletes are selfish and care just about football through your story.
"Well, you know that's really true. Unfortunately we live in a society where that is not the most exciting story to read about. Whenever someone gets pulled over for drunk driving or domestic abuse it's all over the news. Rarely do you hear about the other good things. There are a lot of neat guys that use their talents and resources very wisely. I am thankful to know many and work with some."
Many sports journalists have said you were pushed into an early retirement in the NFL. Was it truly your choice to retire?
"Well, I have a card that someone sent me and it has a picture of a very big woman in a Roman outfit, and it says some players see me coming and some don't, but eventually I think for them all. Everybody gets transitioned out of football at some point. I don't know what the future would have held. I had an opportunity a few months ago to continue to play for the Washington Redskins and we turned that down. I am not sure what would have happened, but it's very nice to know I made the decision I wanted to do instead of sitting around for three more years to continue that dream."
Do you feel you were given a fair shot in the NFL with the teams you played for?
"I was on plenty of teams and had lots of opportunities. When you look at football you have to be in the right place at the right time with the right people. I have been in so many great situations through my career through high school, college, European League, that I feel so blessed. I do feel very confident that at the right place and right time I could have been a successful quarterback in the NFL. I don't have any grudges against anybody. It just didn't work out and sometimes that's how life goes."
How was coach Steve Spurrier different as a college coach with Florida compared to an NFL coach with the Washington Redskins?
"The biggest difference was that he was hyper successful in college and that he really mastered that game like no other. Things didn't work out so well in the NFL with that particular organization. I do think if there was more time or different circumstances he could have done very well. I do expect he will be back coaching somewhere next year and I think he will do very well."
On January 2nd, 1997 you lead the Florida Gators to a 52 to 20 win over the Florida State Seminoles in the Sugar Bowl and the University of Florida's first National Championship. What do you remember most about that night?
"That was like a dream come true. We had a special night. A couple funny memories is that I remember my dad was on the sideline somehow doing an interview, and he came over and slapped me on the shoulder wanting to give me some advice, and I was like what are you kidding? At one time I was talking with coach Spurrier and some girl from the band came over and tapped me on the shoulder to get an autograph right in the middle of the game. Those are a couple funny stories, but to hug the teammates after a championship like that is one of the greatest things ever."
The year before that in the National Championship game Florida lost 62 to 24 to Nebraska in the Fiesta Bowl. Do you feel coach Spurrier brought in a better game plan for the second national title game against FSU?
"I think it's hard to compare those two games to each other. We certainly were ready for FSU. We put in a shotgun I think that really helped us at the end of that season. We just had a great night. We were blessed."
In 1996 you were honored with the Heisman Trophy college football's biggest honor. What are your thoughts on your memories of winning the Heisman Trophy and the night you were honored?
"That's another one that you have to wonder if it really happened. Sometimes I pinch myself to see if that was true or a dream. Just to be named with so many players and to be recognized as the Heisman Trophy winner is something I will never forget. It was really more so special for me because my family and close friends were there. Just to be able to celebrate that with people you love makes it special."
Were you surprised when Steve Spurrier left the University Florida as their head coach after the 2001 season?
"I would say yes and no. One thing I have learned from coach Spurrier is to not expect anything and one thing you can count on is that you can't count on anything. That's one of the reasons he is such a good coach. He is very unpredictable. On one hand yes and one hand no."
What are your thoughts on where current Florida coach Ron Zook has taken the program?
"They're doing a phenomenal job in recruiting and that's really the back bone to the really big programs. I think they have a great staff who is working very hard. Last year I think they were a few situations away from having a great season. I remain a Florida Gator fan and Ron Zook is our coach."
After your college career you were drafted to the New Orleans Saints and your 1997-1999 seasons with that franchise. What do you remember about the New Orleans Saints organization?
"I am very thankful for coach Mike Ditka for drafting me. I really appreciate Mike Ditka for all he is and what he stands for. I guess the worst thing is that in a lot of ways I felt we really had some special things going on. Unfortunately it didn't transfer into wins on the field and that's the way you're judged. We were all shipped out as they got rid of the coaches, trainer, and even the little mascot dog that ran out to get the kicking tee."
After New Orleans you ended up with the Green Bay Packers for the 2000 season. What do you remember about that organization?
"It is a phenomenal place. I loved the chance to play with Brett Favre. It was like watching a legend up close. It was a very fun and exciting year. I stayed cold too."
Your 2001 season was spent with the Chicago Bears, thoughts on that organization?
"Couldn't have more respect then for someone like Dick Jauron. We got a chance to go 13 and 3 and that was my only run at the playoffs. I am very thankful."
You then ended up with coach Spurrier with the Washington Redskins for the 2002 and 2003 seasons. Do you feel under your old ball coach that was your chance to prove something in the NFL?
"Well, it certainly was my best opportunity. I was very excited about that. Things just weren't in the cards. The time that I played I got injured very quickly. That's part of football, life, and you move on."
Why do you think the NFL didn't work out for Steve Spurrier like it did in college with Florida?
"There are a lot of things. If he had a little more time and was in a different working environment, he might have had a better chance. One thing he has always been in good at is finding a way to win and sometimes it takes time to take it to that level."
Where do you think Steve Spurrier's head coaching career is headed in football as he said recently that he might be done forever?
"I think he will resurface again. He is very competitive. He loves football. I wouldn't be surprised to see him show up and be a big force in college football again."
What do you think of college sophomores, freshman, or even kids straight from high school being able to enter the NFL draft?
"That's a tough question. I certainly believe for a maturity level, that it is a bad idea. I mean it's bad enough when you graduate from college and the 21 and 22 years old I feel aren't mature enough to handle the things that come your way. It's a tough call, but if guys are physically developed and able then ok, but I am just glad I am not the one making that decision. In the sport of football the rule should state you have to be three years removed from college."
Finally, what else will you be doing besides working with the Desire Street Organization?
"Well, I have a lot of plans and hopes. I am working on a book this fall about just my career at the University of Florida. I am doing a lot of speaking with different organizations. I am staying involved in other community type things. I am also spending time with my beautiful wife Jessica and our three month old son Jonah."
For more information on Danny Wuerffel's career and community involvement with Desire Street Ministries check out Desire Street's website.
Chris Yandek has spent four years in the world of sports entertainment. Over the last year he has spent his time interviewing in the college and NFL football outlets. He has interviewed NFL legends including Emmitt Smith to 1996 Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerffuel to University of Florida head coach Rob Zook. He can be emailed at LYandek@aol.com.