Super Bowl: Grossman has learned to deal with cheers and criticism

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 27, 2007

By Eddie Pells

Associated Press

The browbeating, the nitpicking, the ever-present specter of the bench.

Rex Grossman was used to all that well before he became embroiled in his love-hate affair with Bears fans in Chicago this Super Bowl season.

Remember — he played college ball for Steve Spurrier.

It was a successful, if not always harmonious, relationship — one that led to a Southeastern Conference title for Florida and gave Grossman a slew of records, to say nothing of the layer of thick skin that has come in handy in Chicago.

“One wonderful thing about Rex is that if you jerked him out of a game, he wouldn’t pout,” Spurrier said Friday in an interview with The Associated Press. “He doesn’t complain. He always figures, ‘Maybe Coach had a reason to take me out, and maybe I’ll be back in there pretty soon.”‘

He kept coming back. Nearly won a Heisman. Became a first-round draft pick. And now, he’s one win from an NFL title.

But none of this journey through the pros has been easy. He played the apprentice role his first year, missed virtually all of 2004 and ’05 with injuries. He came back in time to flop in the 2005 playoffs. Yet despite that, Bears coach Lovie Smith — the anti-Spurrier — gave Grossman the job to start 2006 and stayed with him the whole way.

Even though the Bears scored exactly as many points (427) as the Colts this regular season, Grossman had his share of ugly moments. Tough times and nasty headlines were common. When things got bad, Smith played the role of the reassuring father, keeping Grossman calm and reiterating his faith in his fourth-year quarterback.

It was, well, a bit different from the coach-quarterback dynamic at Florida.

“Coach Spurrier was effective by being able to yank him out of games. That gets your attention,” his father, Dan Grossman, said Friday. “But it was more than that. He was very much into details — perfect, precise mechanics. Perfect routes run by receivers. It helped Rex immensely to go through the Spurrier times. He wasn’t always easy on Rex, but it’s all right. That makes you tougher.”

Spurrier’s quarterback carousel spun fast as ever during Grossman’s freshman year in 2000, one in which the Gators won the SEC even though their starting quarterback was announced seemingly on a week-to-week basis.

The Super Bowl will mark Grossman’s first appearance at Dolphin Stadium since the moment of his most dramatic benching and comeback. He missed curfew in the lead-up to the 2002 Orange Bowl, and Spurrier made him start the game as a backup to Brock Berlin despite a record-setting year that led Grossman to a runner-up finish in the Heisman voting.

He threw for 248 yards and four TDs in a little more than two quarters to lead a 56-23 romp over Maryland.

Spurrier says he’ll be pulling for the Bears on Super Sunday. A number of his former players — defensive linemen Alex Brown and Ian Scott and safety Todd Johnson — play in Chicago. So does Grossman.

He is overcoming the long-held belief that quarterbacks in Spurrier’s system don’t translate to the pros. Many who were successful at Florida, like Shane Matthews, Danny Wuerffel and Doug Johnson, went on to less-than-memorable NFL careers.

Grossman has broken through, in part because of his talent … and with help from some of the hard lessons he learned from Spurrier.

“Maybe Rex does have the most passing ability, maybe he’s the most pure passer, of anyone I coached down there,” Spurrier said. “He may have had the best chance to be successful. Who knows? The others were very good, too.”