|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.
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.
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.
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?
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
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
Sept. 29 bye
Oct. 6 at Tennessee
Oct. 13 vs. New Orleans
Oct. 20 at Green Bay
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
Nov. 10 at Jacksonville
Nov. 17 at New York Giants
Nov. 24 vs. St. Louis
Nov. 28 at Dallas
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
Dec. 22 vs. Houston
Dec. 29 vs. Dallas
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."