Grossman grounded for missing curfew

Wednesday, January 2, 2002

MIAMI -- The latest turn of Steve Spurrier's quarterback carousel might be the most curious of all.

Spurrier said Tuesday he was pulling Heisman Trophy runner-up Rex Grossman from the starting lineup for the Orange Bowl against Maryland because Grossman missed curfew on the team's second night in Miami.

Grossman's replacement will be Brock Berlin, who is strongly considering transferring to the University of Miami because he doesn't play enough. He suddenly finds himself preparing for his first college start Wednesday night on a mighty big stage.

"We're going to play the guys we think deserve to play and have earned the right to play," Spurrier said.

Spurrier fidgeted his way through a 20-minute news conference that, as always with the outspoken coach, made for entertaining theater.

He made it clear that Grossman, who started all 11 games this season and came a scant 62 votes short of winning the Heisman, was no sure thing to play when the No. 5 Gators (9-2) face the No. 6 Terrapins (10-1).

"Whoever starts always gets an opportunity," Spurrier said. "It doesn't mean they're going to finish it. But I never start a guy and say, 'If you screw up, you're out the next series.' It takes a bunch of screw-ups to take a guy out."

But clearly, through his 12 seasons at Florida, Spurrier never has been shy with the hook.

In fact, as impressive as Grossman's school-record 3,896 yards or his 34 touchdown passes may be, the fact that he made it through the entire regular season without being yanked is as remarkable as any. He's the first to do it since 1996, when Danny Wuerffel won the Heisman.

Also missing curfew were starting defensive lineman Bobby McCray, backup center David Jorgensen and two other players who wouldn't play anyway.

"They'll be eligible to play in the game," Spurrier said of Grossman, McCray and Jorgensen. "Their coaches will put them in accordingly."

Spurrier, of course, is the quarterbacks coach.

Playing the role of bemused bystanders are the Terrapins, 15-point underdogs who have listened all week to the long list of Florida distractions: the Berlin-Grossman thing, tailback Earnest Graham's knee injury and, of course, Florida's disappointment over not playing for the national title this season.

Terps coach Ralph Friedgen insists the circus that has become Florida football probably won't help his team.

"They're so talented, they can probably get away with it," he said. "We're very happy we're here and I can't control the way they feel. We've got to deal with our players, not theirs."

Spurrier insists his team is focused, and the Gators won't miss much with Berlin.

"Brock and Rex, sometimes at practice you can't tell a difference who's out there," he said. "If we lose the game, you know what, you can blame it on me. If Rex plays and we lose the game, you're going to blame that on me, too."

These pre-bowl distractions are nothing new for Spurrier. Last year, players from Florida and Miami brawled on Bourbon Street the night they arrived in New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl. Before the 1995 Sugar Bowl, one Florida player landed in the hospital after fighting with a teammate at a team meal.

Other than Berlin's performance Wednesday, the next big question will be whether this affects his decision to stay or go.

About 10 days ago, he visited Miami. Berlin and Grossman are both sophomores and Berlin doesn't want to sit on the Florida bench for another season.

But Spurrier, who has seen talented quarterbacks Eric Kresser, Bobby Sabelhaus and Tim Olmstead leave under similar circumstances, isn't giving up easily.

Earlier this week, before the Grossman issue surfaced, Spurrier said Berlin would get playing time in the second quarter of the Orange Bowl, a clear enticement for the sophomore from Shreveport, La.

The coach said this was not a last-minute ploy to keep Berlin at Florida.

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