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Column - Bob Gretz

Thinking about Quarterbacks

Sep 12, 2003, 5:57:00 AM by Bob Gretz - FAQ
Presented by Citi Cards
By Bob Gretz

September 12, 2003 (morning)--Preparing and studying the Chiefs and Steelers for this Sunday’s game, I was struck by the interesting juxtaposition of the two quarterbacks in this game.

One, of course is Trent Green, a former eighth-round draft choice who banged around for a bunch of years before he finally got a chance to start in 1999 over in St. Louis. Injury befell him and we all know what happened after that, and how he ended up making Kansas City his home.

The other is an even more amazing story of perseverance, that of Steelers QB Tommy Maddox. He came into the league as a first-round draft choice, a guy who left college early (with two years of eligibility remaining) and was drafted by Dan Reeves in Denver to be the next John Elway. When the Broncos got around to winning back-to-back Super Bowls in 1997-98, Reeves was gone, Elway was still the quarterback and Maddox was out of pro football completely.

He had to fight his way back into the game through the Arena League and the one-year wonder known as the XFL, where he was the MVP of that one season wonder of a league and led his Los Angeles team to a championship.

Maddox shows up at Arrowhead this week as the AFC’s offensive player of the week, based on his performance last week against Baltimore. Green’s numbers last Sunday didn’t match Maddox’s, but he wasn’t too shabby in leading the Chiefs offense to a dominating victory over San Diego.

These two stories led me to ponder the whole idea of quarterbacks in the NFL. How many times have we heard the chorus of some Chiefs fans lamenting the fact the team hasn’t developed a young quarterback since the days of Len Dawson. And, how many times has the media fed the misconception that the only way to the top is to have your own, homegrown quarterback.

And that led me to consider these two franchises that meet this weekend, a pair of teams that this year are considered among the AFC’s upper echelon of contenders. Both the Chiefs and Steelers have Hall of Fame quarterbacks in their history. In Kansas City it was Dawson; in the ‘Burgh it was Terry Bradshaw.

Since then, the Steelers haven’t had a quarterback who would be a contender for a bronze bust in Canton. The Chiefs had Joe Montana for two years at the end of his splendid career. After that: nothing. Look at the history of starting quarterbacks for both teams.

Pittsburgh (since 1982, Bradshaw’s last year as a full-time starter:) Cliff Stoudt, David Woodley, Mark Malone, Scott Campbell, Bubby Brister, Todd Blackledge, Steve Bono, Neil O’Donnell, Mike Tomczak, Jim Miller, Kordell Stewart, Kent Graham and Maddox.

Kansas City (since 1975, Dawson’s last season:) Mike Livingston, Tony Adams, Steve Fuller, Bill Kenney, Todd Blackledge, Frank Seurer, Matt Stevens, Doug Hudson, Steve DeBerg, Ron Jaworski, Steve Pelluer, Mark Vlasic, Dave Krieg, Joe Montana, Steve Bono, Rich Gannon, Elvis Grbac, Warren Moon and Green.

Let’s just take the last 15 seasons; Pittsburgh has had eight different quarterbacks start games and the Chiefs have had 11 different starters.

OK, so what’s the point? Check out the records of these two teams since 1989. The worst record either team had was 6-10. In 14 seasons, each team had only three years where they finished with a losing record. The Steelers made the playoffs eight times, the Chiefs seven times.

These teams never bottomed out, so they never got a shot at a Peyton Manning, Michael Vick, Donovan McNabb, Joey Harrington, Drew Bledsoe and those other top passers in the draft. They never got the so called “franchise” quarterback.

They won because they had top-notch organizations, stable ownership and good coaching. In essence, they had good franchises and did not need a quarterback to validate that fact, or to be an instrument for winning. They went ahead and found ways to win.

None of that sounds very sexy in a football sense. And yes, neither franchise has won a Super Bowl in that time. But they put solid, winning football teams on the field, and they will again on Sunday. They’ve done it with quarterbacks who have fought their way up from the bottom, not quarterbacks that started at the top. They will do that again on Sunday.

Hall of Fame quarterbacks do not grow in every garden. Not having one, is no excuse for losing. The Chiefs and Steelers have proven that.


Mailbag
From Mark Montana:

“Since you used to cover the Steelers you might have some insight into this: is there any truth to the rumor that if Coach Vermeil retires after the season that Bill Cowher might come back to the Chiefs as Head Coach?

From Bob Gretz
Mark, there are some people who have read your question and are laughing at the notion of Cowher coming back to Kansas City. I’m not one of them. This is not farfetched. It’s unlikely, but not out of the realm of possibility. Understand this: there is no clear-cut successor if Dick Vermeil walks away after this season. That’s fact No. 1. Here’s fact No. 2: Carl Peterson will hire only someone who has been a head coach before. Fact No. 3: Carl is a big Bill Cowher fan, and vice-a-versa. Now in this case, 1, 2 and 3 do not necessarily add up to Cowher leaving Pittsburgh for Arrowhead. Right now, he’s unavailable. But should he be available at the right time, he would be near the top of Peterson’s list.



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The opinions offered in this column do not necessarily reflect those of the Kansas City Chiefs.

The opinions offered in this column do not necessarily reflect those of the Kansas City Chiefs.


A former beat reporter who covered the Pittsburgh Steelers during their glory years, Gretz covered the Chiefs for the Kansas City Star for nine years before heading up KCFX-FM's sports department. He is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Board of Selectors. His column appears three times a week during the season.