Top 5 backup QBs in NFL history

A now retired Kurt Warner still ranks as one of the greatest backup NFL quarterbacks of all-time....

A now retired Kurt Warner still ranks as one of the greatest backup NFL quarterbacks of all-time. He was a pretty good starter, too. (GETTY IMAGES)

Mike Rutsey, QMI Agencty

, Last Updated: 6:43 PM ET

Right now the depth at the quarterback position seems to be at an all-time low and the backup candidates look to be no better than fans plucked from their seats. Given that scenario, here’s one humble list of the top five backup quarterbacks in NFL history:

1. Earl Morrall, Baltimore Colts

What do you think Colts’ fans would give for a QB of Morrall’s ability compared to the likes of Kerry Collins and Curtis Painter? Morrall had a lengthy career in the NFL and in 1968 served as a backup to the legendary Johnny Unitas. When Unitas was injured in the Colts’ final pre-season game, Morrall went on to lead the team to a 13-1 record and Super Bowl III game against Joe Namath and the Jets. He lost that one but repeated his success as a backup in 1972 with the Miami Dolphins. In their fifth game he took over for the injured Bob Griese and led the Dolphins to the first, and only, undefeated NFL season in history.

2. George Blanda, Oakland Raiders

Here’s a guy that played — wait for it — 26 years in the pro ranks. In the twilight of his career he served as a backup for the Raiders but in 1970, at the ripe old age of 43, he again came off the bench in five games down the stretch in relief of Daryle Lamonica and won them all to lead the Raiders into the playoffs. In the AFC title game against the Baltimore Colts, Blanda again relieved an injured Lamonica, completing 17 of 32 passes for 217 yards and two touchdowns while also kicking a 48-yard field goal and two extra points. But despite his gritty performance the Raiders lost. Blanda’s performance that season, though, was simply heroic.

3. Frank Reich, Buffalo Bills

Speaking of heroic, how about Reich’s performance filling in for the injured Jim Kelly in the Bills’ playoff game on Jan. 3, 1993, against the Houston Oilers. It is simply the greatest game and victory engineered by a backup quarterback in history as Reich led the Bills to triumph after trailing 28-3 at the half and 35-3 early in the third quarter. Reich finished the game completing 21 of 34 passes for 289 yards and four touchdowns. The game went into overtime tied 38-38 and the Bills won it on a Steve Christie field goal. It is the greatest game in Bills’ history and is simply known as The Comeback.

4. Tom Brady, New England Patriots

It’s hard to remember that Brady was once the backup to Drew Bledsoe. The thing about Brady, though, is that he had to buck the odds beginning with his college career with Michigan. He wasn’t always the glamour boy QB with the fashion model wife. He worked for it and earned it. At Michigan he was a backup for his first two years and was once ranked seventh on their QB depth chart. He finally won the Wolverines starting job in 1998 but at the end of his career he received anything but the Andrew Luck treatment. Instead, Brady was the 199th pick in the 2000 draft, a sixth-round selection of the Patriots and started the season fourth on their depth charts. By the end of the year he had worked up to No. 2. The next season Brady took over after Bledsoe was injured in their second game and the rest is history as he led the Pats to a Super Bowl victory. He’s never looked back.

5. Kurt Warner, St. Louis Rams

Any player that can go from stacking cans in a grocery store to Super Bowl hero makes my list and that is the saga of Warner, the Rams gunslinger in the Greatest Show on Turf. Warner went undrafted in 1994, didn’t make the cut as a walk-on with the Packers, and started packing groceries. In 1995 he played for the Iowa Barnstormers of the Arena Football League. Warner finally signed with the Rams in 1998, but was forced to play for its NFL Europe team, the Amsterdam Admirals. He spent the 1998 season as the Rams’ third-string QB and threw four passes all season. In 1999, the Rams’ starter, Trent Green, blew out his knee which gave Warner his chance. He responded by putting up one of the best seasons for a quarterback in NFL history and went on to win the Super Bowl over Tennessee, the start of a brilliant career.

 


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