Spotlight on Spurrier

All of a sudden, in the course of a three-hour game, the harsh glare of the interrogation lights on Steve Spurrier turned into a warm glow, more like sunshine.

After a week filled with rumors of his imminent departure, Spurrier got back where he is most comfortable, on the sideline, Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks. When the game started he was a bumbling fool in over his head without a clue as to how to handle NFL defenses. After the game he was once again the mad genius who came from the University of Florida with a knack for ignoring the NFL's conventional wisdom.

What caused the sudden reversal in perception? Well, of course, there was the fact that the Redskins won a game for the first time since September, breaking a four-game losing streak. But there was more new and different than just winning a game. We saw three strokes of genius by the Ballcoach.

Going for It—This was the most mad of the calls by Spurrier. Even the fans in the stands weren't doing their usual cheer to go for the first down in fourth and inches from the Washington 25 with a little over six minutes left in a tie game. But the players wanted a shot to make it and Spurrier did, too.

"We only needed a little bit and it seemed like we needed to keep the ball. They weren't scoring but they were moving and I felt like we had to keep the defense off the field and keep moving the ball offensively. When you've lost four in a row you don't have to play too convertiave(ly)."

Rock Cartwright gained two yards and the Redskins held the ball. What turned the call to go for it from reckless gamble into inspired strategy was what happened after that. The Redskin offense, somewhat listless since a third-quarter drive to a field goal and a 20-17 lead, suddenly had spring in its step. The Ballcoach, in whom nobody, not even the players, had expressed much confidence, had made the ultimate statement of confidence in his players. My offense will make the first down, I know it, said Spurrier. And even if I'm wrong, my defense will hold them.

* The Sandlot Play—Rod Gardner's game-winning touchdown pass to Trung Canidate has been characterized as some sort of crazy, risky play that was probably conceived at a Gainesville frat house. In fact, it was a very safe play given the circumstances.

"We've been throwing that pass all year [in practice]," said Spurrier. "It's a good play against a man to man because the ball is thrown and you kind of sneak it back out to the other side. It won the ballgame."

And there was virtually no chance that it could have lost the game. Primary on Gardner's mind was to make sure that they didn't turn the ball over. "All I was worried about was not throwing an interception," said Gardner.

Had a defender been anywhere in the TV picture with Canidate, Gardner would have either thrown the ball into the third row of the stands or tried to run or just flopped down and let John Hall come in to kick the go-ahead field goal.

* Handing Over the Keys to the Car—Of course, it wasn't exactly as though Spurrier gave Hue Jackson the keys to a shiny new Ferrari. The way the offense has been performing, Spurrier letting Jackson call the plays was akin to the Ballcoach letting his Offensive Coordinator drive a '71 El Camino, one with a lot of dents in it.

Of the trio of bold moves that Spurrier took on that day, this one may have the most lasting implications. While Spurrier may retake the play-calling duties at some point, he at the very least needed a break. He needs a chance to observe the play calling from an objective standpoint to let him sort out which the problems with the offense are due to execution and which are due to the wrong plays being called at the wrong time. The cook is not the best judge of the soup.

Rich Tandler is the author of The Redskins From A to Z, Volume 1: The Games. This unique book has detailed coverage of every game the Redskins played from 1937 through the 2001 season. For details, go to

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