Wuerffel, Ward enjoy first pitch experience
As if on cue, the sky had parted into a perfect blue.
After all, this was Faith Night at Blue Wahoos stadium on Wednesday.
And here were Charlie Ward and Danny Wuerffel — accomplished passers and preachers — slipping on their white Blue Wahoos jerseys as two Heisman Trophy quarterbacks and men of faith getting ready for their first experience tossing a first pitch.
“I never have done anything where they didn’t let you warm up first,” said Wuerffel, jokingly, after he tossed a strike amid cheers moments before the Blue Wahoos game against the Mobile BayBears.
“I’m grateful that I had an opportunity … at least one time … to experience what major league (baseball) seems like,” said Ward, who was actually drafted twice — as a pitcher, no less — by two different MLB teams while at Florida State.
Beyond the cheers and the enjoyment both men got to share with their sons, there was the significance.
The Blue Wahoos were able to arrange a first pitch with two Heisman winners, two former quarterbacks, both of whom led respective rivals to their first national championship seasons.
“When Charlie was playing (for FSU), we couldn’t beat him at Florida, but once he finally left, we were able to get them for our first national championship,” said Wuerffel, who led the Gators to a 52-20 rout of Florida State in a rematch at the Sugar Bowl to cap the 1996 season.
“To all you Gators out there, congratulations!” he said.
More irony, of course. Wuerffel, 40, was born in Pensacola. His family moved to Fort Walton Beach where Wuerffel became a prize prep quarterback at Fort Walton Beach High.
Ward, 43, now lives in Pensacola, preparing for his first season as head football coach at Washington High.
“The only time I see Charlie regularly is if we both go back to the Heisman (Trophy) presentation (in New York),” said Wuerffel, who now lives in Atlanta where he works with his Christian-based organizations. “His new hometown, my hometown and here we connect at a Wahoos game, so it’s a lot of fun.”
The connection occurred when Blue Wahoos owner Quint Studer learned Wuerffel was going to be in town at the same time Ward was set to participate in the Blue Wahoos’ Faith Night. He asked Wuerffel to join with Ward, and he eagerly agreed.
The two paraded around the field together, then put on their Blue Wahoos jerseys and separately tossed out first pitches.
“It was like a perfect storm,” said Jonathan Griffith, Blue Wahoos vice president. “They were both here, both in town, and we thought what a great idea to have two Heisman Trophy winners together.
“It’s very cool, especially with having one Heisman winner from Florida State and one from Florida. We’re excited to have them.”
Both were multi-sport athletes in high school. Ward played prep baseball, in addition to basketball and football.
After leading FSU to the national title in 1993, then helping the Seminoles’ basketball team reach the NCAA Tournament’s Elite Eight, he attained the unthinkable by becoming a first round draft pick by the New York Knicks.
He played 12 seasons in the NBA as a point guard.
“Charlie Ward is my hero,” said Blue Wahoos manager Delino DeShields, smiling, in reference to Ward’s two-sport fame.
Wuerffel played basketball and football at Fort Walton High. He became the favorite quarterback of former Gators coach Steve Spurrier, who perfected the “Fun N Gun” offense with Wuerffel’s pinpoint passing.
After six seasons as a backup quarterback in the NFL, including with the New Orleans Saints, Wuerffel founded Desire Street Ministries, a nonprofit, faith based organization designed to help struggling people and families in New Orleans.
Wuerffel also dealt with a rare illness, Guillain–Barré syndrome, a disorder of the nervous system, but he has recovered.
“Even though he’s a Gator, he’s a Godly man,” said Ward, smiling. “It is very great to see him, and I’m grateful to see him healthy. I know he had a bout with illness. I am grateful he’s healthy and can enjoy this with his sons.”
For both men, it was their first time inside the ballpark.
“I was blown away,” Wuerffel said. “It is as beautiful as it can get. The Gulf Coast is home for me and so it is great to be back, great to be here. I’m so excited to see the success of the Wahoos (organization) and what’s happened here, so it’s fun for me and my family.”
Standing near the dugout, Blue Wahoos president Bruce Baldwin surveyed the scene and the rarity of having two famous quarterbacks together.
“Isn’t this amazing?” he asked. “I think the next thing we should do is have two Hall of Famers throw out the first pitch.”
That might happen, too, if Derrick Brooks and Emmitt Smith ever happen to be in town together.