Two Cents: The ‘Unknown NFL Quarterback’ Wins Again (9/21/2005)

(I worked as a Sports Editor from late 2004 until the summer of 2006. This is one of the many columns I was able to save that were originally published in The Sun-Times of Heber Springs, Arkansas.)

There were tons of standout performances in week two of the NFL season. From rookies to veterans to superstars to scrubs, there were big plays and big hits in all the games played Sunday and Monday.

Donovan McNabb threw 23-of-29 for 342 yards and 5 TDs, Carnell ‘Cadillac’ Williams ran 24 times for 128 yards and a score, Chad Johnson caught 7 passes for 139 yards and a TD, Thomas Jones of the Bears carried 20 times for 139 yards and two TDs, and my main man Huggy Bear, I mean Randy Moss, caught 5 passes for 127 yards and a score; all of these names and others were mentioned in “Today’s Heroes”, or “Sunday Superstars” or whatever other catchy names the pre, post and post-post shows choose to call them.

But there was one name that was noticeably absent on most all of the ‘He’s a Superstar and We Love Him’ lists.

Trent Dilfer.

Trent who, you say? Trent Dilfer, I say. The current Cleveland Browns quarterback who led Baltimore to their first (and hopefully last) Super Bowl in 2000.

All Dilfer did Sunday was go to Lambeau Field – where bigger, stronger men have been reduced to blabbering crybabies – and lead his team to an improbable victory over the steel-jawed, iron man QB, Brett Favre.

Dilfer completed 21-of-32 passes for 336 yards and 3 TDs in arguably the toughest place to play in the NFL. And he wasn’t mentioned in any of the post-game wrap-up shows that I watched. If he was, it was a brief sentence in passing.

The player-hating on Dilfer started when Super Bowl XXXV ended. Dilfer completed 12-of-25 passes for 153 yards and a TD in the Super Bowl and was promptly released just months after claiming he was going to Disneyland.

Why, you ask? I don’t know. I’ve been trying to figure that one out for five years now.

I guess Brian Billick is smarter than me. He likes to espouse dime-store philosophy and obscure literary references, so I guess he is brighter than all of us armchair coaches.

But I don’t think it’s any coincidence that Professor Billick and his Ravens have been searching for a replacement QB since that Super Bowl win. Kyle Boller’s not the answer. They just signed Kordell Stewart for Rozelle’s sake!

Dilfer started out his career in Tampa Bay before they were the cool Buccaneers led by Chucky Gruden that they are now. While he got a rep for being interception prone, he did set the Tampa Bay team record for most consecutive passes without a pick and threw for 2,859 yards in 1996. In ‘97 he became the first ever Buc QB named to the Pro Bowl and led the NFL in third down passing with 11 touchdowns.

In ‘99 he led Tampa to their first undefeated November and guided them to the NFL Central crown before an injury forced him to miss the playoffs. Apparently, all of this led Prof. Billick to sign Dilfer away from Tampa, but it wasn’t enough to earn him the starting position.

Dilfer took over for Tony Banks mid-season and only lost one game the rest of the way.

After Billick dumped him, he signed with Seattle and started four games in 2001. He set a Seattle record for completion percentage before another injury cut his season short.

He battled injuries and personal tragedy while in Seattle (his 5-year-old son died of a heart infection), but he still won the majority of the games he started.

And they cut him loose.

Patriots’ defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel was hired as the Cleveland Browns coach last spring and named Dilfer as his starter. After a week one loss (in which Dilfer played well), the Browns bounced back with Sunday’s win.

I guess the point to all this is, why isn’t there a place in the NFL for a quarterback who is efficient and wins games?  At least half of the teams in the league have QB issues – Detroit, Chicago, Washington, Miami, and Baltimore come to mind – but none of them wanted a Super Bowl winner on their roster.

I would definitely love to have him in Oakland. He would probably be a better option than fumble fingered Kerry Collins – who Dilfer beat in that Super Bowl. I could picture him throwing bombs to Moss and Porter; after all he did throw a 96-yard touchdown to Shannon Sharpe in the AFC Championship game. Against Oakland, I might add.

Not everyone can have a Peyton Manning, Donovan McNabb or Michael Vick running their teams and hawking Gatorade or Campbell’s Soup. Sometimes you just have to go with the guy that does the job. He might not throw the prettiest passes or have People magazine calling him one of the most beautiful people on the planet.

Dilfer puts W’s in the win column. Isn’t that enough?

Here’s hoping Dilfer and the Browns can make some waves this season. I would love to see them hand it to the Ravens and Billick. Who knows, maybe he can hoist the Lombardi Trophy one more time before he’s done.

He’s already got one more than Manning, McNabb, and Vick, but does anyone even remember?

Categories: Football, sports

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