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Top Five Backup Quarterbacks of All Time

by Shane Satterfield   September 19, 2011 at 4:00PM  |  Views: 96,687


Blue Mountain State is about to kick off season three on Spike TV September 21 at 11/10c, and in honor of long-term backup QB Alex Moran finally getting a shot to start, we thought we'd dig through the annals of football to deliver the top five backup QBs of all time. With rookie QBs debuting a lot earlier than usual these days (hey there Cam Newton and Sam Bradford), this list goes a good ways back.

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5. George Blanda

For starters (see what we did there), Blanda played an astounding 26 years of professional football. Not only was he a quarterback, but he was also a kicker. He also lined up at linebacker from time to time. Try walking onto an NFL squad with that resume these days. Blanda actually called it quits after the 1958 season because his coach refused to play him at quarterback. He then went on to the upstart AFL where he was the field general for the Houston Oilers and won the Player of the Year Award in 1961 when he led the league in passing yards and TD passes. He moved onto the Raiders in 1967 and once again found himself as the backup QB. However, in 1970 (and at the ripe age of 43) he again came off the bench to play quarterback and delivered some thrilling come-from-behind performances--culminating in a dramatic comeback in the AFC title game that the Raiders eventually lost.

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4. Steve Young

Steve Young has an especially interesting story because he didn't even begin his pro football career in the NFL. Instead, he signed on with the new USFL back in 1984. He got a monster contract, but the league only lasted a couple seasons. He signed on with the woeful Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1985 where he played two seasons and only won three games as the starter. He was then traded to the San Francisco 49'ers to serve as backup to who many believe is the greatest QB in NFL history, Joe Montana. He would serve this role for a staggering four years, putting up mind-blowing stats every time he got a shot to play. Finally, in 1991 Montana suffered an injury in the preseason giving Young the chance to play a full schedule. The season started out rough for him, though, and after banging up his knee, he was replaced by Steve Bono. The following season Montana was still not ready, so Young got the start once again and led the team to the playoffs. Before the 1983 season Montana requested a trade to the Kansas City Chiefs and Young became the starter for good, and he went on to win Super Bowl XXIX where he threw six TD passes and was named the game's MVP.

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3. Kurt Warner

The trials and tribulations of Warner's career have been well-documented. He went undrafted in 1994, didn't make the cut as a walk-on with the Packers, and started packing groceries. In 1995 he joined the Iowa Barnstormers of the Arena Football League where he led the team to two consecutive Arena Bowl appearances. He finally signed with the St. Louis Rams in 1998, but was forced to play for its NFL Europe team, the Amsterdam Admirals. He led the league in passing and TDs. He spent the 1998 season as the third-string QB of the Rams and only threw four passes all season. In 1999, the Rams' starter, Trent Green, had his knee torn up in the preseason and Warner was finally called upon to start. He went on to put up one of the best seasons for a quarterback in NFL history. The team went on to win Super Bowl XXXIV against the Titans and Warner was named both Super Bowl and League MVP. Two years later he would lose to the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVI in what has become a controversial game. Later it was discovered that New England had videotaped the Rams' defensive practice. He would eventually move on to the Arizona Cardinals to serve as the backup QB after a forgettable stint riding the pine for the New York Giants. He then came off the bench to take the Cardinals to the Super Bowl after the 2008 season where they would lose to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

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2. Jim Plunkett

Unlike a lot of backup QBs, Jim Plunkett started his career at the top of the mountain. Drafted with the first overall pick in 1971 by the New England Patriots, his first season was solid by rookie standards, but his performance eventually fizzled and he was traded to the San Francisco 49'ers in 1976. After two uneventful seasons he was eventually cut and moved across the bay to play for the Oakland Raiders. He rode the bench for two straight years, but in 1980 he was forced into action when the starting QB broke his leg. At the age of 33, he was a starter again and he led the Raiders to nine victories in 11 games--eventually leading them to a Super Bowl XV victory as a wild card team. It was the first time it had happened in NFL history, and Plunkett was named the game's MVP. In 1983 Plunkett had again returned to a backup role when the starter went down. Once again he rallied the Raiders to an NFL championship in Super Bowl XVIII. After that season he went back to his familiar role on the bench before retiring a few years later.

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1. Earl Morrall

Much like Blanda, Morrall had a long professional football career. He played more than two decades for a plethora of teams, but almost always found himself coming off the bench. He started his career jumping from team to team, but eventually landed with the Detroit Lions where he started at QB for a handful of years. After a shoulder injury, he was eventually traded to the Colts to serve as Johnny Unitas' backup. When Unitas went down in the Colts' final preseason game, Morrall came in and delivered, leading the Colts to a 13-1 record and Super Bowl III. Of course, you probably remember that game as one of the biggest upsets in NFL history as Joe Namath and the Jets won 16-7. Morrall was selected as league MVP that season. A couple years later he replaced Unitas in Super Bowl V and the Colts won the championship. He later moved to the Dolphins and took over the QB position in week five of 1972 to lead the team to the first, and only, undefeated NFL season in history. He was replaced in the playoffs by Bob Griese, but was an integral cog in this monumental achievement.

Be sure to tune into the season three debut of Blue Mountain State on September 21 at 11/10c and see if Alex can begin to create his own legend.


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