- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 3, 2003

Steve Spurrier came to town as the Darth Visor of football coaches, as the “Mouth of the South, Part Deux,” ready to walk on water in the NFL.

He was Robert Conrad with a smirk, daring anyone to knock the Eveready battery from his shoulder. He exuded fun times, good times. He had a fire in his belly and a glint in his eyes. He was the anti-Marty Schottenheimer, dripping with personality and color. He was ours to embrace, to clutch in that uniquely Washington small-town way.

That was then, and this is now, and now Spurrier has fallen and can’t seem to get up.

His personality, at least what is left of it after 17 losses in 28 games, cavorts between bland and milquetoast, with the occasional bristling for effect, as if to let everyone know that he still has a pulse.

The poor guy. He has that hangdog look about him now, as if he is carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders instead of a battery. He looks beaten, tired. He has dealt with one mini-crisis after another this season, and the cumulative effect is showing in his sad, hollow countenance.

He has accepted the bull’s-eye affixed to his back and the darts being hurled in his direction. His players are among the dart-throwers. They wonder with the rest. Spurrier probably could not lead his players out of a burning house at this grim point in the season.

Spurrier appears to have had his fill of it, his nearly lifeless form to be pitied. It has been all downhill for Spurrier since Osaka, Japan, 16 months ago. That turned out to be his one moment in the NFL, a preseason game. Redskins 38, 49ers 7. It was his Super Bowl. It was what he wanted to be in the NFL, a pass-happy, run-up-the-score field general who left most of the details to his assistants.

Spurrier is no longer that person, the swashbuckling Errol Flynn of the high seas. He has morphed into one of those down-on-his-luck characters favored by William Macy. The verve is gone, victimized by the team’s dysfunction, defiance and stupidity.

Spurrier is the coach of the team, though uncertain what that title entails. He is not the coach of Danny Wuerffel. He is not the coach of Bruce Smith. He is barely the play-calling coach. His players recognize his incredibly shrinking presence and respond accordingly, with questions that diminish his previously high IQ.

Spurrier and the Redskins have come to be the NFL equivalent of “Groundhog Day,” doomed to repeat their 60-minute exercise of futility each week. They are just good enough to lose by a couple of points, regardless of the quality of the opposition. Their consistency is stunning in a car-wreck way.

Spurrier, almost with a hint of resignation, often says, “We have to do a better job.”

He issues this bulletin or a variation of it in that down-home, shrug-his-shoulders manner, as if he is mouthing the words to a script he has read a zillion times. He could be speaking to the Kiwanis Club.

There is no fieriness to the words, no conviction, no sustenance to implore a season-saving stand in his audience. This is in contrast to a profession that demands passion from its authors, from Knute Rockne to Vince Lombardi to Bill Parcells, leaders both feared and respected.

Spurrier has lost that Wizard of Oz-like aura about him. The curtain has been pulled back, and there stands a humbled man, neither good nor bad, just a man looking desperately to find the magic again.

Smith, the creaky, crackling, crabby defensive end, embodies the worst of this badly frayed team, being on the cusp of an overstated sack record that does not resonate beyond a few hard-core football geeks. His is hardly the stuff of Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak or Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game.

Yet the pursuit of the sack record is all there is left of Smith, and he has made that mind-numbingly clear to the owner, coaches and innocent bystanders, stripping the joy from it.

Spurrier, as with so many other circumstances, seems nonplussed by Smith’s ruminations, uncharacteristically diplomatic for someone accustomed to employing a razor-sharp needle. This is the coach who once called Florida State University, in a time of scandal, Free Shoes University.

That part of him, alas, is buried under the rubble of 28 NFL games.

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