In basketball, Spurrier averaged almost two-thirds of the points scored by his high-school team, led them to their local championship twice, and was selected to the All-State team in 1963, his senior year. That same year, he also played shortstop and pitched his team to a second state baseball championship, an accomplishment that Spurrier says is “the most fun I ever had as a player in any sport.” As quarterback, he gave his football team a comeback victory in their final game – the Exchange Bowl – overcoming a 21 – 0 halftime deficit with four touchdown passes.
from Attila’s Headset: Steve Spurrier Takes on the Pros
The New Yorker, November 11, 2002
I have copied the entire text of Mark Bowden’s November 11, 2002 New Yorker article here because The New Yorker website does a terrible job of allowing readers access to archived content. – dvg
In his début performance as head coach of the Washington Redskins — a home victory over the Arizona Cardinals on September 8th — Steve Spurrier was among the injured. It was hardly surprising, given his flea-on-a-griddle exertions on the sidelines. He paced, he fidgeted, he shouted, he pleaded, he writhed, he leaped, he threw his handwritten laminated play sheets on the ground in anger or waved them impatiently to demand someone’s attention. When his offense left the field, he dropped to one knee and bore into his play sheets, scratching his head and grimacing, and when the offense took the field again he was back in motion, leaning into passes and kicks as if he’d launched the ball himself. Sometimes, in a game, he will peer up at his assistant coaches in their boxes high in the mezzanine and throw his arms open wide, as if to say, “Help me out here, will ya!” He is a virtuoso of facial expression, with features that twist, flex, bend, stretch, slacken, and knot like putty, reflecting every nuance of mood during a game. In the opener, a bulky headset sat astride his sun visor, a trademark accessory that he had flung from his head many times during twelve seasons with the University of Florida Gators. He fiddled with the headset constantly. When one of his successful plays was nullified by a holding penalty, Spurrier tore it off and sliced his middle finger.
“The earphones had that little sponge padding on them and the edge went right through it — cut me pretty good,” he said after the game, displaying the bandaged finger to a room crowded with reporters and cameras.
In addition to the usual pack of Washington sportswriters, a number of scruffy writers from the Florida swamplands had shown up to see how their ol’ Gator “ballcoach” would fare in the big leagues. He did well this first time out, putting up thirty-one points (to Arizona’s twenty-three), dispelling predictions that his “collegiate system” would collapse in the face of a genuine pro defense. Spurrier faced the room with cheerful resignation, his usual pose in the spotlight. He is a lean, loose-limbed man with a mop of chestnut-colored hair and a quarterback’s physique. (He retired from the field twenty-five years ago, when he was thirty-two, and shows hardly a wrinkle or patch of gray hair.) After spending hours in the sun, his face was burned pink up to a distinct curving line under his eyes; above that, where the shadow of the visor had fallen, the skin was pale. His hair was tousled and matted with sweat, and his black cotton shirt — he has not worn the Redskins’ team colors, burgundy and gold, presumably because they resemble too closely the colors of his old rival F.S.U. (Florida State University) — hung limp on his sloping shoulders. He looked pleased and weary, as if he had just finished playing in the game himself.
In Washington, a city that straddles North and South, Spurrier’s down-home style has tilted the axis Dixie-ward. For many years, the Redskins were the capital’s only big sports franchise, and pro football is followed there with a passion that unites its widely disparate social classes like nothing else. Fans now speak of their “ballcoach,” and the “ballplays” with which he plans to “pitch and catch” the Skins back to the Super Bowl. “SPURRIER DAZZLES IN DEBUT” was the headline on the Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell’s account of the Arizona Cardinals game.
Spurrier built his career in a league that is made of raw talent and youthful exuberance. He says that there are only two ways to be successful. One is to work harder than everyone else; the other is to do things differently. He long ago chose the second path, refusing to work long hours. When practice breaks, he often runs on a treadmill and lifts weights for about an hour, and then he drives home.
“He’s the opposite of a workaholic,” his wife, Jerri, says. “He doesn’t overwork himself emotionally, mentally, or physically, and he doesn’t want those working for him to, either. If he sees them working late, he’ll kick them out. Some of them sneak back, but, eventually, when you work with Steve you get into that mode. You don’t have to grind, not in anything.”
Normally, college coaches who reach the N.F.L. spend years as relatively low-paid, overworked assistants. Pro coaches like to think they play a more sophisticated brand of football, so Spurrier’s sudden ascent was seen as an insult, and there has been some grumbling about the folly of bringing a collegiate system to the pros. The hard feelings were aggravated by Spurrier’s salary. Under the five-year contract he signed with the Redskins’ pugnacious young owner, Dan Snyder, he will earn almost five million dollars a season — making him one of the highest-paid coaches in N.F.L. history. Also, Spurrier is what even Jerri calls “a brat.” His zeal for winning extends well beyond the football field. His family avoids playing games with him. On the golf course he insists that his partners keep strict count of their strokes, and is known to needle them at the tee. In speeches and at press conferences, he sometimes teases or belittles his opponents. When he’s ahead, he tends to run up the score. He ridicules other coaches’ punishing work habits, tangles spiritedly with reporters, and has an unassailable confidence in his own eventual success — which, judging by his season so far, he will need.
After the opening win, the Redskins lost four of their next five games. It wasn’t surprising. It usually takes a head coach at least two years to rebuild a team in his own image. Spurrier has been successful wherever he has coached — at Florida, where he took over as head coach in 1990, he compiled a record-setting hundred and twenty-two wins (to just twenty-seven losses and one tie), won seven Southeastern Conference championships, and captured the national championship in 1996 by defeating his rival F.S.U. — so his owner and his fans are likely to be patient with him. If he does well, and many expect he will, he may change the definition of the job. “Steve Spurrier is the future,” Snyder told me. “I believe he will be very influential in the N.F.L., just as he has been in college ball.”
Forty years ago, the prototype for a football coach was Vince (St. Vince) Lombardi, the avuncular head of the Green Bay Packers. He was blunt and unassuming, intensely competitive, and unfailingly sportsmanlike, and he experienced victory only vicariously. Lombardi’s ethos of humility began to erode in the nineteen-seventies, when personalities like Don Shula, with the Miami Dolphins, and Tom Landry, with the Dallas Cowboys, assumed C.E.O.-like status in the increasingly corporate N.F.L. As the value of its franchises surged with television profits, and as the price for season tickets approached that of a small car, the teams’ front offices tripled or quadrupled in size and their coaching staffs expanded and specialized. Teams moved from cramped, dirty locker rooms in the basements of drafty stadiums to state-of-the-art, multimillion-dollar campuses, with sprawling air-conditioned offices, three or four training fields (each with a different style of turf), and NASA-style weight rooms and physical-therapy facilities. The head coach became a paragon of corporate leadership and public-relations savvy, working eighteen-hour days and seeking to control aspects of the team that had traditionally been the owner’s prerogatives — scouting and drafting players, negotiating contracts, managing the team’s salary cap. The mark of true status in today’s N.F.L. is not just to be head coach but to run the whole show, to be general manager or president of football operations. Such ambitions sometimes get coaches in trouble. Marty Schottenheimer, Spurrier’s predecessor in Washington, was fired because, Snyder said, he wanted “power I wasn’t willing to give up.” Schottenheimer now coaches in San Diego.
Spurrier wants less responsibility, not more. He shuns many of the traditional roles: he doesn’t mentor his players or get overinvolved in scouting and recruiting talent. He has little or nothing to do with its defense — for that, Snyder hired Marvin Lewis away from the Baltimore Ravens. The result so far has been disastrous — the Redskins defense has given up more points than all but a handful of teams. Spurrier delegates to assistants responsibility for coaching blockers, tacklers, kickers, and receivers, whom he calls “catchers.” He works primarily with his quarterbacks, his “pitchers.”
And for that the N.F.L. affords him a tool he never had in all his years of winning at the University of Florida. Eight seasons ago, the league decided to allow head coaches to talk by one-way radio directly to quarterbacks on the field between plays. Once the ball is officially replaced on the field after a play, the offense has forty seconds to plan before the next snap. For the first twenty-five of those seconds, the coach is allowed to talk to his quarterback, who has a transmitter in his helmet. It’s as close as Spurrier will ever get to being back on the field.
In his début game against the Cardinals, Spurrier rode the transmission button on his radio so heavily that his quarterback, Shane Matthews, complained afterward that on top of the general din of eighty-five thousand screaming fans he had to contend with the coach’s breathing, sideline conversations, and the relooped roar of the crowd piped into his helmet. Matthews was voted offensive Player of the Week in the National Football Conference for his performance. At that moment, the future looked bright for both the new coach and the quarterback. Matthews encountered Spurrier in a hallway underneath the field after the game, held out his hand, and congratulated his coach.
“Some of it was you, some of it was me,” Spurrier told him. “We’ll sort it out when we look at the film.”
Long after the rest of the team headed for the showers on the sunny campus of Redskins Park, in Ashburn, Virginia, this September, Spurrier stayed on the field with his three quarterbacks, Danny Wuerffel, Shane Matthews, and the rookie Patrick Ramsey. Wearing shorts and a white polo shirt with the collar turned up, Spurrier took snaps from center and, moving in slow motion, demonstrated again and again the proper execution of the three-step drop: head level, eyes downfield, ball poised under his right ear, arm cocked for a quick release. He was working with young men who have been playing quarterback — in high school, college, and the pros — for years, and still no detail of the mechanics was too minor for Spurrier’s further instruction.
When he finished, he jogged off the field with the careful, slightly mincing steps of a middle-aged athlete whose knees are tender. He greeted the assembled local reporters who monitor the team daily — “Boys and girls, are you still here … I was trying to outlast you. I don’t want y’all to write that we stayed out here and practiced.”
A few minutes later, I followed him into the air-conditioned Redskins building, where he has a big office with windows that look out over the practice fields. Framed photographs of Spurrier romping with his various championship teams — sweaty, bloodied, and gleeful, in the heady glory of victory — fill one wall. Another group of pictures features his family: Jerri and their four children and seven grandchildren, including a set of triplet boys. The desk was piled with paperwork. At one end was a well-thumbed, highlighted, underlined copy of “The Art of War,” by Sun Tzu, and on top of it the Wess Roberts best-seller, “Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun.” He picked it up.
“I gave Dan Snyder this book,” he said. “There’s some good advice in there, the way Attila there used to treat his Huns, or the generals under him. It’s the same thing, Attila and his Huns, me and my players. There was one story in there. Attila lanced the boil on one of his soldiers and sucked out the pus and blood himself, and spit it away. The soldier’s mother cried when she heard the story. She was asked why it made her cry, and she said because Attila had done the same thing for her husband, the boy’s father, and afterward he had been so loyal he’d marched gladly off to his death in the front ranks of Attila’s armies. ‘Now my son will do the same,’ she said.”
Spurrier is less likely to find this kind of selfless player in the pros than at the college level. N.F.L. locker rooms are filled with cynical, hard-bitten athletes, most of whom have already tasted a measure of glory elsewhere, some of whom are in the game solely for the money, and some of whom know that their worth to the team — and their paycheck — easily outweighs the coach’s.
Spurrier compiles and memorizes lists of coaching maxims. There are thirty on his “Guidelines for a Good Ball Coach.” No. 1 reads: “Treat all players fairly; the way they deserve to be treated.” No. 18: “Make the game fun for your players.” No. 20: “Don’t ever use foul language in front of your players.” But Spurrier’s magic lies not primarily in planning and motivating — the traditional skills of the head coach — or even in devising the complex plays in his thick book, which sportswriters consider the key to his success. His talent is for calling plays. Among the thirty-two head coaches in the pros, he is unusual in having been a celebrated football player himself. He has a gift for thinking on his feet, for understanding game situations and reading defensive formations. In the seconds between plays, he chooses from the subtle variations in his playbook or invents minor adjustments on the spot in order to surprise and snare his opponent.
For most coaches, victory is something carefully plotted in the film room, where the game’s mysteries are dissected. Unless you have the luxury of studying game film, slowing it down and isolating different portions of the field, and you know exactly what was supposed to happen on a given play, you can’t know for certain why most plays succeed or fail. The coach’s painstaking strategies for the next game are kept deliberately obscure. They are printed out by computer in long coded patterns on the laminated play cards that the coaches take to the sidelines. Spurrier is more improvisational. His handwritten play cards look like something he threw together over breakfast. His offensive style has been called the “Fun ‘n’ Gun,” because he disdains the slow, laborious methods that many N.F.L. coaches consider basic to success in the pros. The traditional road to victory in football is to wear your opponents down. Spurrier prefers to fool them.
“Some people use tricks more often than others, and some people do it better than others,” Bobby Bowden, Spurrier’s rival coach at F.S.U., said. “He will do anything to move the ball forward, and he’ll sometimes come up with things that make you ask, ‘Where’d he get that thing?’ or ‘How’d he think that one up?’ Especially in the passing game. It wasn’t so much that he came up with plays or formations I hadn’t seen before — it was his timing. Timing and execution. His timing was so good that unless you were really on your toes and at the top of your game he was going to get you.”
Steven Orr Spurrier was born in Florida in 1945 to Marjorie and John Graham Spurrier. He was the youngest of three children. His father, a Presbyterian minister, took sports nearly as seriously as he took God. He coached his two sons in Little League, where he was known to lecture on the old saw about winning being less important than how you play the game. The point of playing the game, he informed his players (and his sons absorbed the lesson), was to win.
In basketball, Spurrier averaged almost two-thirds of the points scored by his high-school team, led them to their local championship twice, and was selected to the All-State team in 1963, his senior year. That same year, he also played shortstop and pitched his team to a second state baseball championship, an accomplishment that Spurrier says is “the most fun I ever had as a player in any sport.” As quarterback, he gave his football team a comeback victory in their final game — the Exchange Bowl — overcoming a 21-0 halftime deficit with four touchdown passes. He was famous for drawing up plays in the huddle, a skill that his coaches at first didn’t appreciate. Ken Lyon, one of his old teammates, told two reporters who were writing a story about Spurrier for the Lakeland (Florida) Ledger that Spurrier got in trouble once at practice for fiddling with a play:
One of our coaches, Snake Evans, called everything to a halt and asked him, “What was that?” Steve said he thought it would be better if we did it this way. Coach Evans said, “You know, we’ve got a problem here. I thought I was the coach. Do you agree with me that I’m the coach? Well, if you can agree to that, then go back and run it my way. Otherwise, go get you a shower.”
When Spurrier did the same thing in a game, however, and scored a touchdown, no one complained.
“He’d just draw it out on the ground,” another teammate said.
Spurrier’s high-school success led him to the University of Florida, where, after three years of quarterbacking for the Gators, he won the Heisman Trophy. In Gainesville, they called him by his initials, S.O.S., because he led the team to so many come-from-behind victories in the fourth quarter. His other nickname was Steve Superior.
“Steve just had that drive,” said John Higbe, who snapped the ball to Spurrier in some of those games. “He seemed aloof even then — some people thought he was arrogant — but when you were with him in the huddle, no matter how bad things looked, you never felt like you were going to lose.”
In 1967, the San Francisco 49ers took Spurrier in the draft, but they already had a quarterback, John Brodie, who was the highest-paid football player of his time. For the next five seasons, Spurrier did a lot of watching, enjoyed a lot of golf, and saw playing time mostly as the team’s punter. He did well when he got the chance. In 1972, when Brodie was injured, Spurrier led the 49ers to a third consecutive Western Division championship, winning five of the team’s last six games. When Brodie retired and Spurrier finally took over, he separated his shoulder in a preseason game and sat out the whole season. After yet another disappointing season, he was taken by one of the league’s expansion teams, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Buccaneers consisted of rookies, washouts, has-beens, and might-have-beens, and they lost every game. “Hey, we set a record that year,” Spurrier said with mock pride. “The only oh-and-fourteen record in N.F.L. history! I remember a speech our coach, John McKay, was giving us at one point during that season. He was emphasizing that games were lost in the trenches, by failing to block and tackle on the front lines. And as he was talking he noticed a lineman asleep in the back. He called his name, woke him up, and asked, ‘Where are most games lost?’ And the lineman says, ‘Right here in Tampa, sir.’ ”
“John McKay was the most caustic individual I ever met in my life,” Spurrier’s former teammate the wide receiver Barry Smith recalled. McKay was particularly tough on Spurrier, the biggest star on the roster. “I tell you this,” Smith said. “If there was one man in this world who was totally shocked by Steve’s later success as a coach it’s John McKay.”
Spurrier was released by McKay after one season. He was picked up by the Denver Broncos, who cut him, and then he landed with Don Shula’s Miami Dolphins just before the 1977 season was about to start. He and Jerri had three small children. The situation in Miami looked stable. They rented a house and sent the children off to school. Days after settling in, Spurrier phoned his wife with bad news. Shula had cut him.
They returned to Gainesville, where they had always kept a home for the off-season. Spurrier’s whole career had been in football, and at that point he didn’t have his college degree. He was offered work selling insurance and selling cars, prospects that he and Jerri found deeply unappealing. Their financial situation was deteriorating.
“I did not make much money as a pro football player — a little bit, not a lot,” Spurrier said. “I watched the Gators play and thought I needed to get a job. Coaching was something that seemed like fun and not a lot of work.”
Spurrier went on, “I’m not very good at working. We all need to do as a profession something that we find fun. I’d been around a lot of good coaches and sorry coaches in my career … or average coaches, I should say, not sorry … and I thought, By God, if he can do this for a living, so can I.”
Unfortunately, nobody was hiring. Just to break in, Spurrier agreed to help out with the Gator quarterbacks. Nearly twenty years later, in 1990, after coaching at Georgia Tech, at Duke, and for the Tampa Bay Bandits, of the ill-fated United States Football League, he returned to the University of Florida as head coach. He led the Gators to their first national championship, in 1996, and in his twelve-year tenure there Spurrier compiled one of the most successful records of any major college coach in history. He recently told Pat Summitt, the University of Tennessee’s celebrated women’s basketball coach, “You and I both know why we do this. We do it so we can play games our whole lives. This way, we don’t ever have to grow up.”
It isn’t easy playing for Spurrier. He does not always live up to the rules on his “Guidelines.” No. 2 reads: “After chewing out a player, say something positive to bring him back tomorrow.” No. 4 reads: “If you must criticize, do it to a player’s face, not downtown or to the media. End all criticism with something positive.”
“Sometimes he’s as biting with his players as McKay was to us,” his former teammate Lee McGriff said. “I know how much he hated it when McKay did it to him, but now he does it to players himself.”
Since quarterbacks are the focus of Spurrier’s attention, they feel his perfectionism the most. Bobby Sabelhaus, an All-American who set records as a high-school quarterback in Maryland, and who was actively courted by many university football programs in 1995, says he still has nightmares about Coach Spurrier. He chose Florida not because Spurrier went out of his way to recruit him — “Of all the coaches who made pitches to me, he was the least appealing” — but because he knew Spurrier was a winner. His experience with Florida was a disaster that ultimately drove him out of football.
“Everything I did was wrong,” Sabelhaus said. “I was used to coaches yelling at me, but they would also sometimes pat you on the back. Not Spurrier. Even when I threw a touchdown pass in practice once, he said to me, ‘Are you just stupid or is it a lack of talent?’ I hadn’t run the play the exact way he wanted me to. I had an odd, sidearm throwing motion that had served me pretty well” — Sabelhaus had broken all records as a high-school passer — “and Spurrier wanted me to change it to the way he threw the ball. I tried, but it threw me off so badly that I couldn’t throw accurately anymore. He was constantly berating me. I would wake up in the morning and spend the entire day dreading the afternoon meeting. The other quarterbacks went through the same thing. Danny Wuerffel” — who would win the Heisman Trophy leading Florida to the national championship in 1996 … “tried to help me. He encouraged me, and told me Spurrier had treated him the same way as a freshman. Wuerffel was the kind of guy who could take it. Not me.”
To those willing to endure Spurrier’s treatment, the payoff is the coach’s undying loyalty. When he joined the Redskins this year, Spurrier didn’t recruit the top names among available quarterback free agents; he signed Wuerffel and Matthews, neither of whom had translated his success at the University of Florida into a stellar N.F.L. career. Both have been given a rare second chance with the Redskins, in part because of Spurrier’s loyalty to them, in part because he knows they have learned to run his plays the way he wants them run.
Spurrier is impatient with the tact that his position demands. By tradition, the head coach does not boast, speak ill of opponents, or complain. In the N.F.L., whatever he says is amplified a hundred thousand times, especially if he loses his cool or breaches the unwritten code. The more outrageous a comment can be made to seem — whatever its original intent — the more widely it is broadcast, dissected, criticized, and gleefully commented on by the sports media. A person in this position would be wise not to speak at all, but head coaches are constantly called upon to give speeches and interviews, and to answer the goading questions of the press. Most head coaches talk a lot but say little. Spurrier is incautious and irreverent, and the media loves him for it.
As head coach in Florida, he gave speeches all over the state to Gator booster clubs. They roared when he described his rival F.S.U. as “Free Shoes University,” after a local shoestore gave F.S.U. players free cleats, and when he lamented the destruction of books in a fire at Auburn University, because some of them “hadn’t even been colored yet.”
“Where I come from, talking a little smack is part of the game,” he said. “You dish it out, but you got to be able to take it, too. It’s all in the spirit of fun. A lot of it comes about because what I say gets misrepresented. Like taking over this job. Folks ask me how I expect us to do. Well, I expect to win my division. I didn’t predict that I would, but that’s what I expect of my football team. We may make it or we may not, but what am I supposed to expect? That we’ll lose?”
Spurrier reads everything that’s written about him, and says he remembers every word. “And if I don’t like it I call them and let them know about it,” he said. “They can criticize me, that’s fair, but when they start saying things that I didn’t say, that gets me going.”
A number of Florida writers have been the recipients of insulting notes from Spurrier. He called Gerald Ensley, of the Tallahassee Democrat, an “a-hole,” and said that Mark Bradley, of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, was “chickenshit.” In 1996, one of the big games on the Gators schedule was against the University of Tennessee Volunteers. The Knoxville News-Sentinel phoned the Orlando Sentinel’s Gator-beat reporter, Chris Harry, before the season started and asked if he would file four stories for them in advance of the big game, offering analysis from the Gainesville perspective. It’s a common practice on sports pages.
Harry filed the stories. Without his knowledge, the News-Sentinel was running them under the rubric “From the Enemy Camp,” illustrated with a pair of binoculars.
One morning, Harry’s phone rang, and he picked it up to hear Spurrier, his voice almost a whisper. “How much are they paying you?” the coach asked.
“How much are they paying you, Chris Harry, to be a spy?”
“Everything I saw at the scrimmages was seen by thousands of other people!” Harry protested.
“Yeah, but they didn’t have to send their own people down here, did they? Because they had you.”
Spurrier said he was going to bar reporters from all future practices and scrimmages. The shutdown prompted a story in a Gainesville newspaper, which quoted Spurrier naming Harry as the culprit. According to Harry, the story, and Spurrier’s remarks, resulted in phoned death threats at his Gainesville home.
The Gators won the game easily. The next week, Spurrier reopened practices, and he slapped Harry on the back when he saw him.
“Hey, Chrissie, how you doin’?” the coach asked.
Harry felt less forgiving. He explained about the death threats, how alarmed he and his wife had been.
The coach was unapologetic.
“Well, you shouldn’t have done that story,” he said.
Spurrier’s contract with the Redskins will expire after the 2007 season, when he’s sixty-two. According to his longtime friend Norm Carlson, who is an assistant athletic director at the University of Florida, Spurrier has said for years that he plans to retire in his early sixties. When he announced his decision to step down as Florida coach earlier this year, he said he wanted to see “if my ballplays will work in the pros.” So far, his record is mediocre.
The Redskins were crushed in their second game, on September 16th. In front of eighty-five thousand Washington fans and a national ABC “Monday Night Football” audience, the Philadelphia Eagles beat them, 37-7. Spurrier’s offense looked as lame and collegiate as his detractors had predicted. It scored no points (the touchdown came on a punt return) and managed to move the ball into the Eagles’ half of the field only once during the entire game — after an Eagles penalty handed them fifteen yards.
On the sidelines, Spurrier, wearing a white shirt, was in agony, head in hands, his face a mask of disappointment and frustration. After one blunder, he flapped his lips in such a genuine and original display of disgust that it made the TV program’s highlights reel, and was replayed over and over in slow motion the rest of the week.
The next two weeks weren’t much better. Midway through a third-week loss to the San Francisco 49ers, Spurrier benched Matthews for Wuerffel, but still the team failed to score more than one touchdown. Spurrier replaced Wuerffel the following week, against the Tennessee Titans, with the rookie Patrick Ramsey, and got a win and a surprising performance out of the young quarterback. Afterward, Spurrier expressed delight in the rookie’s play — Ramsey threw two touchdown passes and completed twenty of his thirty-four passes for two hundred and sixty-eight yards — and pronounced him the team’s new starting quarterback. The next week, though, Ramsey threw three interceptions, and the Redskins lost, 43-27. Spurrier said, “It’s a little frustrating. You think you have things set, and it doesn’t always work out.” He replaced Ramsey with Matthews for the team’s seventh game, against the Indianapolis Colts, and won with a meat-and-potatoes game plan that bore little resemblance to his usual trickery.
The team’s performance has been so ugly that Spurrier has started coming to work early and showing up on weekends. The season still has a long way to go, and the other three teams in the N.F.C. East (the division Spurrier expects to win) have also struggled. The Eagles had opened up a two-game lead on them when this story went to press. The Redskins might surprise everybody, but it’s looking more and more doubtful.
Spurrier is patient, for now. His various lists of coaching maxims all include reminders that the journey is its own reward. No. 16: “The road is better than the end. The games, the competition, is more fun than the trophies.” But note that the road ends with a trophy. One of the reasons Spurrier “talks smack,” runs up the score when his team is winning, and taunts his opponents — whether over a chessboard, on the golf course, or before a football game — is to raise the stakes. Having something personal on the line enlivens the joust and sweetens the victory. Of course, when you play this way losing is more humiliating, too, but Spurrier accepts the bargain.
He was bewildered, and insulted, when, in the final minutes of the Monday-night Eagles blowout, Philadelphia’s head coach, Andy Reid, chose not to kick an easy field goal to add three more points. Earlier in the game, pepper spray from a fracas with police had drifted out of the stands, sending Reid and his team sprinting from the sidelines, gasping for air. After the Eagles gallantly declined to run up the score, Spurrier caught a whiff of something else from across the field.
It smelled like pity.
“I still don’t know why he did that,” Spurrier said.