NFL: Subs into stars
NFL: Subs into stars
GOLDBERG ON FOOTBALL: Subs into stars
In 1999, Trent Green went down with a knee injury and an unknown named Kurt Warner stepped in and led St. Louis to a Super Bowl victory. Two years later, little-known Tom Brady did the same for New England.
Now Brady is out for the season with a knee injury, leaving the Patriots to hope Matt Cassel can be the latest Supersub to step up.
Force-feeding an unknown at quarterback when a starter gets hurt is a coach's nightmare. But as Warner and Brady show, history is full of obscure backups who stepped in and did better than the guy they replaced.
That's why Bill Belichick's favorite phrase - ``it is what it is'' - is the standard by which coaches live. All of them know that stars - quarterbacks and otherwise - are one hit away from being gone for the season. If it happens, they matter-of-factly throw in an often untested substitute and hope for the best, knowing that injuries go with the territory.
``We all have to do our jobs. That's what every player has to do,'' Belichick said Monday in his stoic fashion. ``He played one position and played it well. There will be somebody else playing that position now and I have a lot of confidence in him. Everybody has to continue to do his job just as they always have. Just as they always need to.''
That's what happened for Dick Vermeil when Green was knocked out for the '99 season in an exhibition game by San Diego's Rodney Harrison, who is on the other side now as the leader of New England's secondary. In stepped Warner, a former Arena League and NFL Europe player who not only became the league's MVP but led the Rams to a Super Bowl victory and won that MVP trophy, too.
It's what happened to Belichick two years later, when Drew Bledsoe was severely injured in the second game of the season. In came Brady, a second-year man who had thrown three passes as a rookie. He led them to the Super Bowl, where they beat Warner and the Rams in an upset on the same scale as the Giants' win over the 18-0 Patriots in the title game last February.
In fact, the only team to finish a season unbeaten, the 1972 Dolphins, won with a substitute quarterback, 38-year-old Earl Morrall, starting nine games after Bob Griese broke his leg.
Morrall wasn't exactly unknown or untested, as Warner and Brady were. He had played 190 games going into that year, starting most of them, and was the NFL's MVP in 1968, when he filled in for an injured John Unitas with the Colts and threw 26 touchdown passes in a 14-game season.
That year finished on a down note when the Colts lost in the biggest Super Bowl upset ever, the 16-7 win by Joe Namath and the Jets.
Now it's Cassel's turn to step in. He played well enough Sunday after Brady was hurt to lead the Patriots to a 17-10 win over Kansas City, completing 13 of 18 passes for 152 yards and a touchdown. His biggest play was a 51-yard completion to Randy Moss on third-and-11 from his 1-yard-line, the start of a 98-yard drive that ended with a 10-yard TD pass to Moss.
A seventh-round pick in 2005, Cassel said Sunday that once he got into the flow of the game, he was fine. But with a week to think about his first NFL start, he's liable to be more nervous. On Sunday, he just had to put on his helmet and run on the field with no notice at all.
``It's one of those things where he's going to give the impression that he's in control, that he has all the answers and there's probably a part of him that's a little nervous,'' said Jim Sorgi, in his fifth season backing up Peyton Manning in Indianapolis and who has never has started a game.
``I've had thoughts about that happening with No. 18. If it happens, you just hope you do what he (Cassel) did yesterday.''
Some backups do. And some don't.
Last season, for example, Carolina's Jake Delhomme injured his elbow in the third game and was lost for the season, undergoing Tommy John surgery, a rare operation for a football player. The Panthers thought they had insurance in David Carr, a former No. 1 overall draft pick with Houston. But Carr failed and Carolina ended up with 44-year-old Vinny Testaverde and Matt Moore, an undrafted rookie.
The result: A team that was one of the favorites in the NFC South finished 7-9.
Delhomme came back more quickly than expected and led the Panthers to a 26-24 upset in San Diego on Sunday, throwing a 14-yard touchdown pass to win it as time expired.
Delhomme himself is another example of a QB from nowhere.
An undrafted free agent, he was a backup in New Orleans when the Panthers took a chance on him in 2003 in hopes he would fill a big hole at quarterback. He did, leading them to the Super Bowl and almost to a comeback win over Brady and the Patriots in the 2004 title game, which New England won 32-29 on Adam Vinatieri's field goal in the final minute.
In a lot of ways, it all ties together.
Warner, now 37, eventually lost his job in St. Louis to Marc Bulger, a little-known backup. Warner bounced to the Giants, where he helped break in Eli Manning, and then signed with Arizona. This season, he beat out Matt Leinart, a former Heisman Trophy winner and first-round draft choice, as the starting quarterback.
Matt Leinart's backup at Southern Cal?