The QB Question

Can an NFL man eliminate the NFL madness that afflicts most college football teams? A professional football team can have a five touchdown lead in the fourth quarter and no one is surprised to see the first team quarterback trot back onto the field.

Alabama Coach Mike Shula has indicated the Crimson Tide might put a back-up quarterback on display without an injury forcing the issue. It seems most college coaches and all NFL coaches stick with just one quarterback, and Shula admitted that is the way he has always done it. But in the NFL, a quarterback might stick around for a decade or so, often longer than the head coach. And if you lose your quarterback in the NFL, you can add another one.

In college, as Shula learned last year, it is treacherous to play with an inexperienced quarterback. After Brodie Croyle went out with a knee injury in the third game of the season last year, the Tide passing offense struggled.

Alabama's back-up quarterback this year is true freshman John Parker Wilson. This week Shula said he is giving thought to getting Wilson into action in early games. It is all but certain that Croyle will not be Alabama's quarterback next year. If it is going to be Wilson in 2006, it would be good to give him some meaningful experience this year.

For a couple of decades, Alabama fans became used to seeing the back-up quarterback (and back-ups at every other position). Coach Paul Bryant said, "Once we have the game won, I start thinking about next week and next year," explaining his wont to play back-up players.

But Bryant didn't just wait until the game was won. Although it might be a surprise to see the second team in a game in the early part of a contest, it ceased to be a shock. In 1977 in a tight (and important) game at Nebraska, Bryant replaced starting quarterback Jeff Rutledge with sophomore Steadman Shealy.

The ABC announcers were astounded, sending a message to the sidelines to find out why Rutledge had come out.After the game, Bryant said he just wanted "to let the other guy play, too."

In the book, "What It Means To Be Crimson Tide," Shealy said, "It was not an auspicious debut. On the first play, I fell down for about a five-yard loss."

In that book, Shealy also pointed out that in the Sugar Bowl, against Ohio State, with the national championship possibly at stake, "Coach Bryant showed a lot of faith in me…That game was on the line, and he put me in at quarterback. Our second unit went on two 80-yard drives."

Bryant also believed that a fresh second team player was often more effective than a tired first-teamer.

Finally, Shealy said, "Coach Bryant believed in playing men if they had earned it. I probably played about 10 snaps a game as a sophomore and about 25 snaps a game as a junior, backing up Jeff. And why not play the back-up quarterbacks? Everyone needs to play. I'm convinced that when the back-up gets a chance, he gives about 110 percent effort. I think it's ridiculous the way teams play just one quarterback."

When Ray Perkins replaced Bryant as Alabama's head coach, he proclaimed, "I'm a one-quarterback guy." And for most of the past quarter of a century, except when injuries dictated a change, Alabama has used primarily just one quarterback.

Had Jeff Dunn not been injured in the second game of the season in 1989, we might never have seen Gary Hollingsworth. Hollingsworth holds a handful of Alabama records, including most yards passing in a season (2,379), most touchdown passes in a game (5 vs. Ole Miss), best completion percentage for over 30 passes (32 of 46 vs. Tennessee, 69.6 per cent), and most pass completions in a game (32) and season (205).


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