Today, we continue our foray into the history of Ohio quarterbacking by looking at those spawning from institutions of higher education and landing in the NFL. As expected, get ready for a great deal of Ohio State.
If you haven’t read Part I, click here.
(Lead image is a picture of Terrelle Pryor’s fumble against Penn State in 2008. My way of saying the Pryor won’t be featured because he was a Supplementary Draft pick, but wanted to include him nonetheless. Though, in the spirit of fairness, here’s Pryor doing something good.)
Part II: Quarterbacks Drafted from Ohio Colleges and Universities
Ron Jaworski, LAR (2nd round, 27th pick, 1973, Youngstown State)
If a random person on the street under the age of 30 identifying as a causal football fan had to name five random NFL quarterbacks from the 1970s, Jaws would probably make the list based on the familiarity of younger generations who know him as a broadcaster and ESPN analyst. He risked fading into obscurity early with the Rams, as he showed little in parts of three seasons with the exception of a playoff win in 1975. Jaws got another chance when traded to the Eagles prior to the 1977 season, where new head coach Dick Vermeil installed him as the starter. So began nearly a decade of solid but unspectacular play in Philadelphia, with the exception of his magical 1980 season (27 TD – 12 INT, 91 QB Rat, Pro Bowl, Super Bowl appearance). However, that particular campaign stands as an outlier in much the same way as Esiason’s 1988 season. Outside of 1980, Jaworski led the league in sacks taken three times and never again had a rating higher than the mid-70s. In 1985, he was quickly usurped by electric rookie Randall Cunningham and retired four years later as a backup.
Gene Swick, CLE (4th round, 97th pick, 1976, Toledo)
A record setting MAC quarterback brought in to compete with Sipe who never panned out and faded into obscurity, and the first of the “Quarterbacks Drafted by Ohio Teams from Ohio Colleges and Universities” to be featured here. Swick led a storied career for the Rockets, culminating in a 1975 senior season where he led the nation in total offense, won the Sammy Baugh Award as top passer, and finished tenth in the Heisman voting. However, he tore his rotator cuff in training camp, was released, and never played in an NFL game.
Mark Miller, CLE (3rd round, 68th pick, 1978, Bowling Green)
The Browns try another record setting MAC quarterback, but lacking in all of the national accolades, making him something of a poor man’s Gene Swick. Miller was a local legend from Canton who led the MAC in passing yards in 1977, but showed little in ten appearances over two seasons with the Browns, most coming when he replaced an injured Sipe in a 1978 game against the Bengals. He was traded to the Packers in 1980 and made a brief appearance in the USFL before leaving professional football entirely.
Art Schlichter, BAL (1st round, 4th pick, 1982, Ohio State)
When I think of the worst-case scenario for Johnny Manziel, this is who immediately comes to mind. In Columbus, Schlichter was the star that emerged in the wake of Archie Griffin and bridged the gap between Woody Hayes and Earle Bruce. His pedigree in four years as a starter: 8,850 total yards from scrimmage and 85 total touchdowns, three consecutive finishes in the top six of the Heisman voting. He also threw 46 interceptions, one of which led to Hayes punching a Clemson player in the closing moments of the 1978 Peach Bowl and ending his career. As encapsulating moments go, this one frames Schlichter’s subsequent life in football as well as any. Upon entering the league, the specter of his gambling and alcohol problems overwhelmed him entirely. In 1983, NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle suspended him for the entire season for betting on games, the first such punishments handed out by the league in twenty years. The Colts cut ties with him during the 1985 season, and he last appeared in the NFL as a training camp casualty with the Buffalo Bills in 1986.
Schlichter was briefly able to harness some of his massive talent in the Arena Football League, where he the Detroit Drive to the title while being named MVP in 1990. But an incident involving a bad check led him to leave football entirely to focus on his various addictions. Since 1995, Schlichter has been in and out of prison, most recently convicted of running a ticket scam in 2012. Jeff Snook wrote an interesting book regarding Schlicter’s rise and fall that is worth the time.
Mike Tomczak, CHI (UFA, 1985, Ohio State)
Arguably the most professionally successful OSU quarterback since the merger, making it strange that he wasn’t even drafted in a year that still had twelve rounds. Tomczak won a Super Bowl ring riding the bench for the 1985 Bears, and ended up starting 31 games in five seasons for the franchise. Pittsburgh fans will remember him best as a stalwart backup during the first decade of the Cowher administration. He led the 1996 squad to the playoffs, and spent the next few years stepping in when Kordell Stewart produced bouts of puzzling play on the field. Tomczak’s career numbers were nothing spectacular (88 TD – 106 INT, 68.9 QB Rat), but given its start his career can be thought as nothing other than highly successful.
Tom Tupa, PHX (3rd round, 68th pick, 1988, Ohio State)
Owner of a surprisingly productive, if slightly strange, career in professional football. In his senior year with the Buckeyes, Tupa was both the starting quarterback and an All-American punter. Phoenix used him as a backup at QB and punter and primary kick holder before handing him the starting QB job during the 1991 season. His poor numbers (6 TD – 11 INT, 62 QB Rat) sealed his fate behind center, but afterward he managed a long and solid career as a punter, even making All Pro with the Jets in 1999. If that weren’t enough oddity for one player, he also holds the distinction of scoring the NFL’s first two-point conversion with the Browns in 1994.
Larry Wanke, NYG (12th round, 334th pick, 1991, John Carroll)
Will forever hold the distinction of being 1991’s Mr. Irrelevant, a moniker given to the final player selected in every draft. And as with most 12th round picks, Wanke never saw game action in the NFL, but he rewrote the record books at John Carroll after transferring from Pitt following the 1988 season. In the depths of my imagination, I like to think that the Giants reaching down taking a Division III quarterback was the straw that finally prompted the league to whittle the draft down to seven rounds, which happened two years later.
Kent Graham, NYG (8th round, 211th pick, 1992, Ohio State)
His career was hardly prolific, yet still managed to hang around for ten years with eight different teams. Transferred to Ohio State from Notre Dame, and didn’t show much as a starter his senior year stepping into the shoes of the departed Greg Frey. But the Giants grabbed him in the 8th round as a developmental lottery ticket, mostly due to his prototypical size (6-5, 230). Had some solid seasons as a part-time starter with Arizona (1996) and the Giants (1998-9), but was seen by most as an average backup for much of his career.
Kirk Herbstreit, JAC, (7th round, 212th pick, 1993, Ohio State)
Just kidding. The Jaguars didn’t even exist in 1993. Wanted to see if you were paying attention.
Bobby Hoying, PHI (3rd round, 85th pick, 1996, Ohio State)
The most highly regarded post-Schlichter quarterback who teamed with Eddie George to come within a breath of a national championship in 1995. Hoying had a decent 1997 season as a part time starter before bottoming out badly in 1998 (0 TD – 9 INT, 45.6 QB Rat). New Eagles head coach Andy Reid would take Donovan McNabb with the second pick in the 1999 draft, exile Hoying to Oakland, and he was out of the league within two years. He still holds the strange distinction of completing the most consecutive passes without a touchdown.
Joe Germaine, STL (4th round, 101st pick, 1999, Ohio State)
Was a big reach for a guy who was never a full-time starter in college and was undersized (6-0, 202) even for quarterbacks in the late-90s. Appeared in three games in his rookie season, and never played in the NFL again.
Steve Bellisari, STL (6th round, 205th pick, 2002, Ohio State)
Never appeared in a game, but certainly fit the mold of athletic college quarterbacks that Mike Martz constantly tried to turn into wide receivers (i.e. Nebraska’s Eric Crouch). It’s more fun, though, to think that the Rams drafted him just to troll cynical Buckeyes fans, given that Bellisari was one of the most disliked OSU quarterbacks in recent memory.
Ben Roethlisberger, PIT (1st round, 11th pick, 2004, Miami OH)
Far and away the best quarterback on this part of the list, but people sometimes forget that he came within a hair of having it all slip away. There was the motorcycle accident after his second season, requiring reconstructive surgery on his face. Then the rape allegations, which led to a civil suit settled out of court and almost prompted a trade to the Raiders. On the field, Roethlisberger has become the face of the franchise, and is now either the best or second best quarterback to ever play in Pittsburgh with an opportunity for a bust in Canton when his career is finished. But the specter of his off-the-field decisions will linger on the Steelers franchise long after his retirement.
Craig Krenzel, CHI (5th round, 148th pick, 2004, Ohio State)
The man who succeeded Bellisari in Columbus, and by contrast one of the most beloved OSU quarterbacks in recent memory. Though possessing a limited ceiling of professional potential, he got his shot to start five games as a rookie for the Bears. His play wasn’t as bad as Hoying in 1998, but showed little enough that the next season Chicago turned to 2005 4th round pick Kyle Orton, and made the playoffs on the strength of their defense and running back Thomas Jones. Krenzel never got another chance and faded out of the league.
Charlie Frye, CLE (3rd round, 67th pick, 2005, Akron)
Had the unenviable task to serve as the Browns’ first young reboot to the position following the failure of Tim Couch. Frye was a local boy (Willard, OH) who set fifty-three records at a local school (Akron), and had the support of the fanbase and local legend Bernie Kosar. He showed enough in a few starts during a lost 2005 season that he was named starter in 2006 with the team trading incumbent Trent Dilfer. His numbers that season were bad but hardly catastrophic (10 TD – 17 INT, 72.2 Rate) given the state of the team, but Frye’s hold on the job slipped the moment that Brady Quinn fell to the Browns in the draft. He was named starter during training camp in 2007, but replaced by Derek Anderson in the middle of the first game that season against the Steelers. While Anderson went to the Pro Bowl, Frye was quietly traded to Seattle and left the league a journeyman after the 2009 season.
Bruce Gradkowski, TB (6th round, 194th pick, 2006, Toledo)
Has led a nice career as a solid backup for several teams (most recently the Steelers), making him better than most 6th round quarterbacks not named Brady. He also broke all of Gene Swick’s passing records at Toledo, though Swick’s were arguably more impressive given the era that he played in.
Troy Smith, BAL (5th round, 174th pick, 2007, Ohio State)
Former Heisman Trophy winner perhaps hurt most by his lack of size (5-11, 206). Never really given a shot by the Ravens, though he played decently in six starts with San Francisco in 2010. He was released following the season and been out of the NFL ever since, most recently playing for the Montreal Alouettes in the CFL. Strangely enough, both of his NFL releases have come at the hands of Harbaughs (John in Baltimore, Jim in San Francisco).
Coming tomorrow, PART III: Emblematic Edition, featuring a longer essay on the man I consider to be the spiritual source of the decades of Ohio quarterbacking failure featured above.