Legends, Champs to sweeten Sugar Bowl

NEW ORLEANS — Two world champs, a national champ and an almost champ will help sweeten the Sugar Bowl.

Danny Wuerffel, Emmitt Smith, Tom Jackson and Muhammad Ali will take part in the coin toss ceremony prior to Wednesday’s 8:30 p.m. ET kickoff here between No. 3 Florida (11-1) and No. 21 Louisville (10-2) in the Superdome.

Former Florida football players and Sunshine State natives Danny Wuerffel and Emmitt Smith will represent the Gators while Jackson and Ali will represent the Cardinals. Jackson played linebacker at Louisville while Ali is a native of the city.

“It’s a great honor to have such a fine group of men participating in the coin toss for this year’s Allstate Sugar Bowl,” said Jack Laborde, the President of the Sugar Bowl Committee. “Both Louisville and Florida are well represented by these men and their respective accomplishments. Having them involved adds a nice touch to the game and its pageantry.”

While the accomplishments of the three former football players are remarkable, an appearance by Ali will be historic. The living legend and cultural icon will turn 71 on Jan. 17. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s syndrome in 1984, but continues to awe and inspire all those he comes into contact with.

The 1960 Gold medalist made a brief appearance to help kick off the London Olympic Games, which The Huffington Post called one of the most memorable Opening Ceremony moments of all time.

Nicknamed “The Greatest,” “The People’s Champion” and appropriately “The Louisville Lip,” Ali was named the Sportsman of the Century by Sports Illustrated in 2009. At the age of 22 Ali — known at the time as Cassius Clay before changing his name three years later — beat Sonny Liston to win the world heavyweight boxing championship in 1964. He is the only three-time lineal World Heavyweight Champion. He fought in many of the more memorable bouts in boxing history and was 56-5 as a professional.

Smith and Wuerffel are among the most decorated former Gators’ football players in the school’s history.

Smith is the NFL’s all-time leading rusher with career records of 18,355 yards, 164 touchdowns and 78, 100-yard games. He won three Super Bowl with the Dallas Cowboys and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2010.

He also was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, the Gator Football Ring of Honor and the University of Florida Athletic Hall of Fame as a “Gator Great” after a brilliant career from 1987-89.

After breaking Florida’s 40-year-old single game rushing record with 224 yards in his first collegiate game, Smith surpassed the 1,000-yard mark by the seventh game of his true freshman. He finished the year with 1,341 yards and was named the SEC and National Freshman of the Year. He rushed for 988 yards despite missing significant time with an injury.

As a junior, Smith set a then-UF record with 1,599 yards rushing to earn his third consecutive spot on the All-SEC first team. He was a unanimous first-team All-American and named the SEC’s Most Valuable Player.

When Florida hired Steve Spurrier and his fun-and-gun offense on Jan. 1, 1990, Smith was reportedly concerned about playing in a pass-happy offense and declared early for the NFL draft. The Cowboys selected Smith No. 17 overall.

Wuerffel quarterbacked Florida to the 1996 National Championship and four consecutive SEC Championships from 1993-96. He also won the Heisman Trophy in 1996. Other honors Wuerffel won were the SEC Player of the Year, first-team All-American and Davey O’Brien in 1995 and 1996. In 1996, he also won the Johnny Unitas Award, Maxwell Award, Walter Camp Award and the Touchdown Club of Columbus (Ohio) Quarter of the Year.

He was one of only two Heisman Trophy winners to also earn the Draddy Award for the nation’s top scholar-athlete. The award is presented annually by the National Football Foundation and College Football Hall of Fame.

Wuerffel was a fourth-round draft pick by the New Orleans Saints, where he stayed from 1997-99. He played with the Green Bay Packers and the Rhein Fire in 2000, the Chicago Bears in 2001 and the Washington Redskins, where he ended his professional career in 2002 under Spurrier, his coach at Florida.

Jackson was coached by ESPN college football analyst Lee Corso at Louisville and was named the Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year twice. He was selected in the fourth round of the 1973 NFL Draft by the Denver Broncos, where he spent all 14 years of his professional career and was selected to the Pro Bowl twice.

Jackson, who has been an NFL analyst for ESPN since 1987, and the Broncos reached the Super Bowl twice, but did not win.

The Broncos lost 27-10 to the Cowboys in Super Bowl XII, which was played in the New Orleans Superdome on Jan. 15, 1978.

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Mike Capshaw brings a wealth of experience to the Gator Country team. He’s been overseeing all editorial aspects of GatorCountry.com and Gator Country magazine by managing our team of staffers, interns and freelancers. He is now moving into a bigger role as a reporter by covering the football and basketball beats as well as providing coverage of all sports on campus. Mike’s 15 years in the business has included more than six years of covering SEC sports and recruiting at a daily newspaper in Arkansas. He has also helped launch a newspaper, magazines, websites and even a sports talk radio show. Because Mike puts family ahead of his career, he left the place where he was established when his wife received an opportunity to further her career at UF. He took a leap of faith that he could find a job in the Gainesville area and worked for a year at a newspaper group before joining the Gator Country family in November, 2011. Mike has won Florida Press Association awards for Best Sports Game Story and Best Sports Feature Story in the past two years as well as a company-wide award at his former newspaper group that includes some 60 publications, for Excellence in Sports Reporting. You can follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeCapshawGC.