Tuesday January 1, 2013Wuerffel returns to New Orleans for Sugar Bowl, a new Desire Street Ministries project
Updated: 7:39pm, January 1
Updated: 7:39pm, January 1
Danny Wuerffel speaking at a Beef O'Brady's Bowl Luncheon last month (Tampa Tribune).
NEW ORLEANS -- He's back. Back in a place he never really leaves.
Former Florida quarterback Danny Wuerffel will be here Wednesday night to represent the Gators, along with Emmitt Smith, during the coin toss prior to the 79th edition of the Sugar Bowl.
In the final game of Wuerffel's UF career, he passed for 306 yards and three touchdowns in the Superdome to lead the Gators to a 52-20 win over Florida State, clinching Florida's first national title.
A few months later Wuerffel was selected by the New Orleans Saints and played three seasons here before moving on to other NFL stops. But he made a much more lasting contribution to the city than anything he did for the Saints.
Wuerffel helped build the non-profit Desire Street Ministries, a faith-based organization that works to help revitalize inner-city neighborhoods and spread the gospel.
And then disaster struck.
Hurricane Katrina washed away Desire Street's headquarters in the Ninth Ward in 2005, and Wuerffel's home was also destroyed by the storm. Wuerffel basically had to start over.
He has relocated to the Atlanta area and now lives near Desire Street's new headquarters with his wife and three children.
Back in New Orleans this week Wuerffel held a brunch to raise awareness and interest in a new multi-purpose facility that Desire Street is building on the same site in the Ninth Ward where its headquarters were before Katrina visited.
"I'm excited that Desire Street -- while we are moving our focus to a more regional and national level -- we're still very much committed to New Orleans,'' Wuerffel said.
Wuerffel said New Orleans will always feel like home even though he hasn't live here for several years.
"[Desire Street] started before I got there and I just got involved when I was playing for the Saints,'' Wuerffel said. "New Orleans is a unique city in so many ways for me, so many unique connections with it from the Sugar Bowl and the national championship, playing there with the Saints and getting involved in Desire Street and going through Hurricane Katrina.
"All those things are significant points of memory in my life. It's a great place and will always be special for me."
Wuerffel is feeling like himself again after being diagnosed more than a year and half ago with Guillain-Barré syndrome, a rare autoimmune disorder that can cause paralysis.
Wuerffel's nervous system was under attack and there are still days he fatigues easily. But there have been much better days of late.
"I'm definitely past the biggest hurdles,'' he said of the disorder. "I'm mostly doing well and thankful for it."
While Wuerffel's life work is far from the football field, he still follows the Gators and remains one of the program's most prominent ambassadors.
When he walks onto the field prior to Wednesday's game, Wuerffel expects the memories to rush back.
"I'm still just a great big fan and part of everything,'' Wuerffel said. "I'm really excited for Coach Muschamp and the team and happy for [quarterback Jeff] Driskel. To be part of the game and involved in the coin toss, that's a thrill, especially since it's the Sugar Bowl where I have a lot of memories."
He'll have another one come Wednesday night.