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Enshrinement hits close to home for Wuerffel

IF YOU GO

What: College Football Hall of Fame dedication gala and enshrinement ceremony

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday (reception from 5-7 p.m.)

Where: 250 Marietta Street in downtown Atlanta, near Centennial Olympic Park

Tickets: $250 apiece through www.cfbhall.com/events. Includes open bar, heavy hors d'oeuvres, commemorative program and voucher for a future visit to the Hall of Fame.

TV: The ceremony will be streamed online live by ESPN3 beginning at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday. A taped, edited version will be televised on ESPNU at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Note: The College Football Hall of Fame and Chick-fil-A Fan Experience will be closed to the public Tuesday until the event.

ENSHRINEMENT CLASS

The 14 former players and coaches who will be enshrined Tuesday night in the College Football Hall of Fame:

Ted Brown, RB, North Carolina State, 1975-78

Tedy Bruschi, DE, Arizona, 1992-95

Ron Dayne, RB, Wisconsin, 1996-99

Tommie Frazier, QB, Nebraska, 1992-95

Jerry Gray, DB, Texas, 1981-84

Steve Meilinger, E, Kentucky, 1951-53

Orlando Pace, OT, Ohio State, 1994-96

Rod Shoate, LB, Oklahoma, 1972-74

Percy Snow, LB, Michigan State, 1986-89

Vinny Testaverde, QB, Miami (Fla.), 1982, 1984-86

Don Trull, QB, Baylor, 1961-63

Danny Wuerffel, QB, Florida, 1993-96

Wayne Hardin, coach, Navy (1959-64) and Temple (1970-82)

Bill McCartney, coach, Colorado, 1982-94

Fourteen new members will be enshrined Tuesday night in the College Football Hall of Fame, one of whom can be spotted throwing the football around local parks on occasion.

“That’s what I love about football: just going out and throwing the ball and having somebody catch it,” said former Florida quarterback Danny Wuerffel, 40, who lives in Decatur. “In between my kids’ flag football games, I play catch with the kids running around the field. Oh, yeah, still love it.”

Wuerffel played throw-and-catch so well at Florida for coach Steve Spurrier in the 1990s that he broke all sorts of records and helped lead the Gators to four consecutive SEC championships and one national championship.

Wuerffel’s football career will be celebrated at the first enshrinement ceremony to be held in the Hall of Fame’s new Atlanta home, which opened in August. He is one of three former Heisman Trophy winners in this enshrinement class, along with former Wisconsin running back Ron Dayne and former Miami quarterback Vinny Testaverde.

In all, 12 former players and two former coaches will be enshrined, bringing the Hall’s membership to 1,155 out of the 5.06 million who have played or coached college football in the past 145 years.

Wuerffel played his final college game 18 years ago, and nine of the players being enshrined with him waited even longer to get into the Hall of Fame.

“I’ve had a chance to grow up and look back and reminisce from a little bit different place in life,” Wuerffel said. “It’s really special, not just the honor but also the timing.”

One of the former players entering the Hall of Fame with him, Kentucky’s Steve Meilinger, finished his college career 61 years ago and plans to be on hand for enshrinement at age 83.

Wuerffel, who played sparingly in six NFL seasons, is executive director of Atlanta-based Desire Street Ministries, which works to revitalize impoverished urban neighborhoods. Wuerffel’s New Orleans home was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and he and the Desire Street organization settled here six years ago after a temporary move to Destin, Fla.

“Atlanta’s been a wonderful place for us to be,” he said.

Then he laughed and confessed that being a Gator in the heart of Bulldog Nation “was a lot easier a few years ago when we were winning all the time. The past few years have been more difficult.”

That’s because Georgia has beaten Florida the past three seasons after the Gators won 18 of the previous 21 meetings, including the four in which Wuerffel played by a cumulative score of 184-64.

These days, Wuerffel is healthy and energetic after a battle with Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare autoimmune disorder that struck him in 2011. He temporarily lost feeling and strength in his arms and legs and experienced prolonged muscular weakness and fatigue.

“I went through a really difficult time. It lasted longer than I ever thought it would. But fortunately I feel like all of that is in the rear-view mirror,” Wuerffel said. “I’m healthy and able to be active and to exercise, and I’m just very grateful.”

He said his biggest current connection to football is through his two sons — ages 10 and 8 — and occasional trips to Florida games. He also has a 5-year-old daughter.

As Wuerffel throws the football around youth parks in Decatur, he sometimes is recognized as the guy who passed for 10,875 yards and 114 touchdowns with the Gators in 1993-96.

“I’m older and look different and have no hair, but there are still folks who remember,” he said. “Thank goodness for ESPN Classic, or all of this would be forgotten.”