- The Washington Times - Monday, September 9, 2002

By his own admission and the testimony of others, Steve Spurrier is tough to please and hard to impress. But Spurrier was happy with his debut as the coach of the Washington Redskins yesterday, tossing around praise more easily than when he tried to toss his headset during the game and suffered a cut finger.
Spurrier cited the work of his quarterback Shane Matthews, his running back Stephen Davis, his offensive line, his receivers and his defense. He even appreciated the boisterous atmosphere at FedEx Field.
"I was really excited," Spurrier said after Washington's 31-23 victory over the Arizona Cardinals. "Our fans got loud. A lot of pro stadiums don't have the noise level you had today. I appreciate our fans doing their part."
Added offensive tackle Chris Samuels: "They were pretty excited. I tell you, we've got high expectations, and they got into it. It helped out a lot."
The paid sell-out crowd of 85,140 (not counting no-shows) withstood some anxious moments that curbed their enthusiasm. The heat also contributed. Many fans baking in the sun were leaving their seats for the comfort of shade as the Cardinals built a 13-10 halftime lead.
"It's not supposed to be happening like this," one fan, headed for some cooler air and probably something cool to drink, said to usher Herman Williams.
"I catch it, win or lose," said Mr. Williams, who has worked at the stadium since it opened in 1997. "This crowd is a very sensitive crowd. If they play lousy, I've seen them get up and leave in the third quarter."
That wasn't necessary yesterday. The Redskins in the second half seemed to become more comfortable with new coaches, new offensive and defensive systems, and several new players. It also helped that the Cardinals last year had one of the league's worst defenses and apparently haven't gotten any better.
As a result, the comfort level of the fans also picked up, and it wasn't just because of the shadows that began to creep over the stands.
At the half, longtime fan Peter Connolly of Bethesda said he thought the Redskins were passing a little more than they should. "But I still think Stephen Davis will carry the day," Mr. Connolly said of Washington's running back.
Davis gained 69 of his 103 yards in the second half, scoring the touchdown that put the Redskins ahead for good, 17-13, with 9:51 left in the third quarter. They extended the lead to 31-16 early in the fourth quarter before the Cardinals scored to make things slightly more interesting, but then the defense held fast.
"I feel better about the talent, the [attitude in the] locker room and the coaching than I have in a long time," Mr. Connolly said. "If we beat the Eagles [next Monday night], this town will erupt."
This was an opener different from previous ones for the Redskins. This was almost solely about Steve Spurrier. Since he was hired in January to replace Marty Schottenheimer shortly after resigning at the University of Florida, Spurrier has been the subject of intense scrutiny and speculation. The big question is whether he can duplicate his success with the Gators in the NFL, which presumably is a far more challenging environment, the Cardinals notwithstanding.
Spurrier downplayed the significance of the game. All openers are "wonderful," he said, but no more memorable than any other game he has coached. Still, after all the hype and all the talk, Spurrier is undefeated, for at least a week. More important is that he seems to have captured the hearts and minds of his players.
"He doesn't think we can be stopped," cornerback Champ Bailey said. "It rubs off on everybody."
That includes the fans.
"I think he'll be very successful," Mr. Connolly said. "The guy has won everywhere he's been. I don't think this will be any different."

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