Walk around the University of Florida‘s campus on a game day in the Swamp, and you’ll come across a few common outfits. The first is about one million Tim Tebow jerseys swarming the Gainesville campus. The second is that good ole southern look capped off by a Steve Spurrier-like visor.
There’s a reason for that. Tebow and Spurrier are idols at UF. They changed the Florida Gators athletic program forever and set the championship standard that still exists today. Those guys — both Heisman Trophy winners — are cemented forever in statue form on the west side of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
Look to the right of Spurrier’s bronze sculpture is a guy who is often unfairly overlooked in UF history: Danny Wuerffel.
The 1996 Heisman Trophy winner established himself as one of the best college football quarterbacks of his time and led the Gators to their first national championship the same year under Spurrier, then the head coach.
Danny Wuerffel’s University of Florida Career
Coming out of Florida’s Fort Walton Beach High School, the USA Today Florida High School Player of the Year was a highly regarded quarterback recruit and valedictorian of his class. He turned down offers from LSU, Alabama and FSU to join the Head Ball Coach in the Swamp.
Wuerffel and Spurrier were a perfect pairing in the 1990s. Spurrier needed a quarterback capable of airing the ball out in his “fun n’ gun” offense and Wuerffel had a rifle arm ready for the job.
In addition to throwing for more than 10,000 yards over his four-year career, the 6-foot-1 gunslinger led the FBS in touchdown passes in both 1995 (35) and 1996 (39).
His freshman and sophomore seasons weren’t spectacular. He averaged 20 touchdowns and about 2,000 passing yards. Then things began to click.
Wuerffel took an undefeated Florida team to the Fiesta Bowl National Championship game as a junior in ’95 but was decimated by Nebraska, 62-24.
A year later, Wuerffel threw for 306 yards and three touchdowns while running in another two to down Bobby Bowden and rival Florida State in the Sugar Bowl for UF’s first ever national title. It was by far one of the best ever games between the Gators and Seminoles.
Here are Wuerffel’s accolades and career ranks in UF passing history:
- College Football Hall of Fame (2013)
- UF Athletic Hall of Fame (2006)
- Four-time SEC champion (1993-1996)
- Heisman Trophy (1996)
- Maxwell Award (1996)
- Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award (1996)
- Walter Camp Award (1996)
- Draddy Trophy (1996)
- Sporting News Player of the Year (1996)
- Two-time Davey O’Brien Award (1995, 1996)
- Heisman Trophy finalist (1995)
- Sammy Baugh Trophy (1995)
- Two-time SEC Player of the Year (1995, 1996)
- Two-time First-team All-American (1995, 1996)
- Two-time First-team All-SEC (1995, 1996)
- Second in passing yards (10,875)
- First in passing touchdowns (114)
- Third in total offense (10,500)
- Second in total touchdowns (122)
A few other notable games stand out from Wuerffel’s time in Gainesville.
Wuerffel Torches Tennessee For 7 Touchdowns
Wuerffel was responsible for seven touchdowns against a Tennessee team led by Peyton Manning in 1995. His six touchdown passes were an SEC record at the time.
The game itself was a thriller. The Gators trailed 30-14 then won 62-37. Wuerffel finished with 381 passing yards. Wide receiver Ike Hilliard hauled in four of the six touchdown passes.
“I felt we could score every time we got it,” Spurrier told the Associated Press, “and we came awfully close.”
The best part? Sports Illustrated originally sent a team to cover the top-10 matchup and write about Volunteers quarterback Peyton Manning. They were going to put Manning on the cover of the magazine but instead put Wuerffel on the cover after the game.
That was the Vols’ sole loss that year, and Manning wound up going 0-4 in his career against UF.
Wuerffel also threw for a career-high 462 passing yards against Arkansas in 1996, which has since been eclipsed by Rex Grossman in 2001 (464) and Tebow in 2009 (482).
His Heisman campaign as a senior was by far his best season statistically. He threw for 3,625 yards (4th in NCAA) and racked up NCAA bests in passing touchdowns (39) and passing yards per attempt (10.1) while finishing second in passing efficiency rating (170.6).
Danny Wuerffel’s NFL Career
Despite his impressive collegiate numbers, Wuerffel wasn’t seen as a top NFL prospect entering the 1997 NFL Draft.
The New Orleans Saints took him with their fourth-round pick and he spent three seasons primarily as a backup there. He bounced around with the Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears and Washington Redskins, where he reunited with Spurrier, but ultimately never made much noise in the league.
Wuerffel may have finished his NFL career with more interceptions (22) than touchdowns (12), but he found brief success in NFL Europa, where he took the Rhein Fire to a championship in 2000 and won World Bowl 2000 MVP.
Danny Wuerffel Now
Born in Pensacola, Florida, to a Lutheran minister who served in the U.S. Air Force, Wuerffel has always placed an importance on his faith.
He currently serves as executive director of Desire Street Ministries, a faith-based organization focused on community development in under-resourced areas in New Orleans that is headquartered in Atlanta.
Only two football players in Florida Gators history have won a national championship and Heisman Trophy in their careers. Danny Wuerffel will never be revered the way Tebow is, but it’s time to put some respect on his name.
This article was originally published on July 26, 2019. We brought it back before Florida plays Tennessee in 2021. Show this to a Tennessee fan to piss them off.