Leak, Wuerffel share lifetime Gator bond
Published: Sunday, January 14, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 14, 2007 at 1:42 a.m.
On a day where hands were sore and voices rough from clapping and cheering, there had to be something special at the end. Florida officials kept it a secret to all but a handful of people.
Urban Meyer didn't even know until Friday night.
"I got choked up when I was told," he said. "And I got choked up again when he came up there."
You could have seen it as an intrusion. After all, every quarterback since 1996 has lived in his shadow. And the cynical humorist could point out that once again Chris Leak had to share the spotlight with another quarterback.
But this was special.
This was Danny Wonderful handing the baton, handing icon status, handing the shadow to Leak. Or at least sharing all of those things with the other national championship quarterback from Florida.
Near the end of the celebration of Florida's second title in 10 years, Wuerffel was brought to the stage. The idea was the brainchild of Mike Hill, a Florida associate athletic director who choreographed the event.
He kept it on the down-low, wanting it to be a pleasant surprise for everybody. He also thought about the ramifications, how it might look to some, maybe even to Leak, that bringing Wuerffel into this moment was another reminder of the shadow.
"I thought about it," Hill said. "But at the end of the day, I felt it would be great for everyone to see the two national championship quarterbacks on the same stage. And to have Danny hand the MVP trophy to Chris would be symbolic."
And it was.
"When they asked me to do it, to be able to hand the trophy to Chris Leak, I said yes right away," Wuerffel said. "It was awesome to be able to relive some memories (of the '96 celebration). It was a great day for Florida football."
Hill arranged for a private jet to pick Wuerffel up on Saturday morning and deliver him to Gainesville. And when the Heisman winner started up the steps at the back of the stage, just to watch the fans start realizing who was about to make an appearance was amazing.
It started as a murmur, then some shrieks, then an outright ovation. Wuerffel took the microphone and said, "Isn't it great to be a Florida Gator?"
Nobody at The Swamp disagreed.
These fans had been waiting for 10 years for another football celebration like this. On Saturday morning they started getting in place outside the stadium up at 9 a.m., the lines taking left and right turns and smothering Lemerand Drive.
They knew this would be a special day with perfect weather. But they didn't know about the special guest.
The moment was not lost on Leak. The stoic one got emotional when he started to speak after being introduced by Wuerffel.
"It was a big surprise for me," Leak said. "I was in awe. I can't say how much I appreciated that. It means a lot from someone who accomplished so much."
Saturday was Appreciation Day for Chris Leak. After all he has been through, to get the biggest ovation of the day, none of us could possibly imagine what that felt like.
It was the perfect ending to an imperfect career.
And Meyer couldn't help but take advantage of the situation. As long as Wuerffel was "passing the baton" to Leak, he might as well take it another step.
He told Wuerffel to keep passing it.
And that he did. After talking about the two quarterbacks who have national championship rings, Wuerffel said, "There's room for another one next year, Timmy Tebow."
"That was a neat thing, that he called Tim Tebow out," Meyer said. "I asked him to do that. Chris Leak never got handed a baton by a quarterback. They just handed him the ball as a freshman."
"I can't imagine being closer to a player than I am to Chris Leak. Did it start off rocky? No. It started off bizarre. But good things happen to good people."
But certainly this time.
Contact Pat Dooley at 374-5053 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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