Brodie Croyle Looks Forward To Winning

For over half a century, the Gulf Coast city of Mobile has celebrated and embraced two long standing traditions--the Senior Bowl and America's Junior Miss Pageant. Among the photographss adorning the walls of the famous Wintzell's Oyster House on Dauphin Street are past Senior Bowl all-stars and former winners of America's Junior Miss.

On an afternoon in May, the beloved former Alabama quarterback Brodie Croyle and his stunning wife, Kelli Lynn (Schutz), 2005 America's Junior Miss had lunch at the downtown establishment to promote the 51st AJM National Finals to be held June 26-28 at the Mobile Civic Center Theater.

Brodie's affection for the Port City reaches beyond Senior Bowl memories and appreciation for the surrounding vast Alabama fan base. "Its always fun to come back," he said. "I love the city of Mobile. I really like coming down here. They have a great Alabama fan base. Junior Miss introduced me to my wife"

His life was forever changed one day by a chance meeting. "I was at the Senior Bowl and we we're going to the children's hospital to go see the kids," he said. "When I got there I saw this girl and I was like ‘I got to meet this girl.' I wasn't looking for a wife. I wasn't looking for a girlfriend. I just wanted to meet her. My mother and sister always told me that when you meet her, you'll know it. From the first date I said that's the girl I'm going to marry. Here we are three years later, married and fixing to come up on our first anniversary (July 14th)."

Wentzell's Oyster House, the oldest sponsor of America's Junior Miss, holds a special place in the heart of Kelli Croyle as she fondly recalled the introduction to her husband. "I was here for the 2006 Senior Bowl and it was actually here at Wentzell's Oyster House," she said. As an NFL wife, her life is filled with community service obligations scheduled by the Kansas City Chiefs women's organization. She travels to every game as does Brodie's mother and father. She first saw her husband play in the Senior Bowl and has continued to be indoctrimated into the game. During an off weekend last fall, the Croyles attended an Alabama home game in Tuscaloosa which left the Brandon, Mississippi native spellbound as she replied, "I had been to some State (Mississippi State) and Ole Miss games, but Alabama has some avid fans. It was a great experience."

Croyle, entering his third year with the Kansas City Chiefs, will be under the guidance of new offensive coordinator Chan Gailey. His run-oriented system intends to shield the young quarterback with time consuming possessions to minimize the risk of turnovers and obvious third and long situations. Croyle is committed to the plan. He said, "We're going to run the football. He (Gailey) is dead set that we are going to be able to run the football. That's how you win football games. You run the ball, controlling the clock, not committing turnovers and giving your defense a chance to win the game. That's what we're going to do and we obviously have a great back (Larry Johnson) to do it with."

Kansas City's fledgling offense was on life support last season, placing second to last (31st) in total scoring (14.1) and total yardage (276.8). A healthy, bruising Larry Johnson at running back along with draft day help and improved play from Croyle is the prescription hoped to resuscitate the offensive numbers.

Croyle got a dose of support from Kansas City management in the off-season. There were rumors the Chiefs wanted a quarterback in the April draft, but that proved to be not the case. "They said, ‘You're our guy. You're who we're going with,'" Croyle said. "They told me there would be a lot of speculation, but that they were going with me and to not listen to everything that's said. That turned out to be true."

Croyle chronicled off-season concerns to correct, noting he has to be more consistent in his accuracy " and with the decision making. I had to learn a new offense, so that's been my number one goal--to know that offense backwards and forward. After we get that, then we'll start working even harder on the little things we've been trying to fix."

He has a simplified analogy for playing the complicated position with an eye towards replicating the present stars of the game. "I like to read up and figure out how the Tom Bradys and Peyton Mannings of the worlddo it. How do they watch film, what they do in the off-season. I'm still new at this, still trying to figure it out. As far as when there is a problem, everyone handles it differently. You live and learn. If you make a decision, you hope it's the right one. If it isn't, you learn from it and don't do it again."

Croyle knows the quarterback comes in for extra scrutiny and he knows execution by the quarterback can be key to victory. But the only significant statistic to Croyle, he said, is the team statistic, the number in the "W" column.

Asked what he must accomplish in the new offensive system, Croyle said, "Win football games Whether I need to throw for 300 yards a game or if I attempt five passes a game, the quarterback is all about winning. That's all that really matters. We have to find ways to win." He shrugged off any mention of personal satisfaction from last season as he emphasized, "We didn't win football games and as I said earlier, with me it's all about winning and losing. I couldn't care that I threw for over a 1,000 yards or did whatever. I really don't care any about that (statistics). It's all about winning games and we didn't do enough of that."

Even though he has yet to lead the team to a win, optimism exists in his thought process when asked about his goals for the upcoming season. "Obviously to win football games and make it to the playoffs because once you make the playoffs, anything can happen. You can get hot and make a run at the Super Bowl. That's what it's all about. Whether I throw for 4,000 yards or whether I throw for 500 yards, it doesn't really matter. As long we make the playoffs, have a good season and build and take some steps, we'll be fine."

Kansas City plays in a division frothing with opportunity as only the San Diego Chargers have claimed ownership to a playoff berth three out of the last four years. Is the surrounding cast the best and is Croyle ready? The organization's draft selection of two offensive lineman, two wide receivers, two tight ends and a speedy, change of pace running back are welcome additions. The circumstances surrounding Croyle are not perfect but usually are not for a third round drafted quarterback being handed the reins to a struggling offense. But he will be fortunate to be one of only 32 opening day starting NFL quarterbacks in September. The only way to dispel the skeptics, naysayers and non-believers is to perform when the lights come on as he will have the chance of a lifetime this fall.

Explaining the difficulties of transitioning from college to the NFL the last three years, Croyle said, "It's basically the same thing you go through from high school to college. There is the speed factor. There is the playbook which is three times thicker than it was in college. Now you have to deal with paying your own bills, having your own mortgage. It's like adding real life to it also. It's a learning experience as is anything. We are still getting our feet wet learning a little bit more and more every year."

An NFL quarterback's aura pervades locker room discussion as much as his arm strength reputation. Acting as a valuable resource throughout his college career, two intangible leadership traits remain constant with a slight modification according to Croyle. "As a person you are going to lead the same way. It doesn't matter. You can't really change your personality in how you lead. My way of leading is staying calm, everything is going to be okay and with a quiet confidence to your teammates. They either respond to it or they don't. The guys that don't, they're different personalities for me. Obviously, you have to tinker with it a little bit. There might be some guys that you can just say ‘let's go,' and there are some guys that you might need to get in their face but you have to be the same person."

Even rock star status former Alabama quarterbacks had heroes growing up and Croyle still seems in awe of his favorite. "I've always been a Brett Favre fan," Croyle said. "I just love the way he plays. He plays with passion. He plays like he's in the 10th grade in high school and he just threw his first touchdown pass every single game. Got a chance to play against him this year and felt like a little kid in a candy store just sitting there watching him."

He shied away from meeting the Green Bay Packer legend for various reasons as he explained. "No, he's like trying to get to the President. He's got like five or six body guards around him. I didn't want to be that guy that went up to him and said, ‘Hey Mr. Favre,' so I tried to lay back and play it cool. Hopefully, I'll meet him one day."

Croyle has some words of wisdom for SEC players contemplating an early entrance into the league where they pay for play. "For the young guys that want to come out early and go get all the big money from the NFL, stay in college. It's (money) always going to be there. If you're going to get drafted as a junior, you're probably going to get drafted higher as a senior. Stick around and enjoy the (college) experience. It's still football and you're going to still love it in the NFL but it's more of a business. Stay in college. Enjoy yourself and enjoy your time in college and take pride in playing for your school."

He even ventured to say how the SEC prepared him for the NFL but cautioned future draftees about the quantum leap in competition. "The speed in the SEC is so much faster than any other conference, Croyle said, noting that pro teammates from the Big Ten, Big Twelve and ACC have talked about the difficulty of the speed factor when playing SEC teams.

" As fast as the SEC is, multiply that by at least three when you get up there," he said. "Chances are the best guys you played in college are NFL back-ups. So if you look at it that way there is a lot of talent up there."

Traveling around the league each week provides Croyle a chance to renew acquaintances and form new ones with former Alabama players. He concurred with a legendary NFL Hall of Fame quarterback's view about the unique bond as he professed, "It doesn't matter if you haven't ever met them before or if you hardly even know them. When you're sitting in your locker, you kind of go through it (roster) and you pick out the numbers of where you see guys from Alabama. For the most part I know all of them. He's right. There is nothing like it. That's what makes playing at Alabama so great. There is that bond."

It was, of course, Joe Namath who had pointed out that phenomenon of former Crimson Tide players in the NFL.

The off-season finds Croyle enjoying time with his wife and family and recuperating from the six month grind. He said, "I usually take about a month and a half off. I hunt and fish a lot; just kind of relax because it's a long season. Its two college seasons jammed into one. You have to take a step back and let all your wounds heal a little bit. After that it's back to the drawing board, back to working out, back to trying to get bigger, back to trying to learn more about the NFL."

He has incorporated one his favorite leisure activities into a charitable organization, "We had our first annual Brodie Croyle Turkey Trot Charity Hunt up in Kansas City," he said. "All the benefits go Dad's Big Oak Ranch. It was a very big success this year. We had 25 hunters and we raised around $50,000."

Croyle ran into his former protégé recently and expressed his views about Alabama's senior quarterback. "I saw him a couple of weeks ago," Croyle said of Bama's John Parker Wilson. "He's very confident going in this year. John Parker has all the talent in the world. In my opinion he's played pretty good the last two years. He knew it. He signed up to do it. If you don't win at Alabama, you're the first one that's going to get blamed. All of us have gone through it but I expect him to have a great year and finish his college career the way he wants to."

Kansas City Chiefs Head Coach, Herman Edwards smoothly paved the rough road of expectation for the young quarterback last November. "I told him every game he has to improve now," he said. "That's his job. It's to improve. He doesn't have to be a leader. No one is asking him to lead. Just play quarterback. He can't lead a team until he wins."

But every leader knows that at some stage of the process, winning is imperative to sustain continued acceptance and support. Croyle has been a leader all of his football days and has waited his turn to satisfy the insatiable desires of a passionate football community. Winning on the field will be the magic key to the hearts of the Kansas City nation, which has endured the last two non-playoff seasons.

Editor's Note: A.P. Steadham covers special events, concentrating on former Alabama athletes now in professional ranks, for 'BAMA Magazine and Top Stories