In honor of the famous movie American Underdog Story, I wanted to dive more into the topic of underlooked quarterbacks.
When the average fan thinks of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time, they probably think of Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Joe Montana, Johnny Unitas, and Bart Starr.
What did all of those five signal-callers have in common? They weren’t drafted in the first round.
Even more interesting, there are 10 quarterbacks who had very successful careers….and yet the scouts on professional football teams didn’t want to draft them.
You probably know the story of Kurt Warner, and if you didn’t, the film American Underdog Story gave you a CliffNotes summary of his rags-to-riches story.
But there are many other stories that are similar to the former leader of the Greatest Show on Turf. In fact, here’s ten underdog stories of quarterbacks who went against the odds and made it count at the professional level. If only those so-called draft scout experts had taken a chance on them in Rounds 1 through 7.
Number 10: Bobby Hebert.
If you didn’t grow up in Cajun country, you probably mispronounced his last name as Hebert. That’s fine. You’re not the only one.
His last name is actually pronounced Ay-bair, and his career prior to the Drew Brees era was quite possibly the best New Orleans Saint quarterback not named Archibald Manning.
Actually, Ay-bair did something Manning never did: lead the once-called Aint’s to the playoffs.
He never won a postseason game, but he did lead the Saints to the postseason on three different occasions. And believe it or not, the Saints never made the playoffs prior to 1987. If he had played better in the postseason, more football fans of the Big Easy would remember his name. Instead, he’s the guy who threw 7 interceptions in 3 playoff games.
Still, there’s a reason why Hebert was inducted into the Saints Hall of Fame. He was on the cover of a Sports Illustrated magazine during the 1991 regular season. Not too bad for a guy who graduated from a non-football powerhouse in Northwestern State.
Number 9: Doug Flutie
If this was a video for the best Canadian Football League quarterback, you could make the case that Air Flutie was the best one CFL fans ever saw. He broke the CFL record by throwing for over 6,000 yards in a single season. He also has the CFL record with 48 single-season touchdown passes. He was a three-time Grey Cup champion, three-time Grey Cup MVP, and a six-time CFL Most Outstanding Player.
If he was only three inches taller, he might be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
As it stands in football lore, Flutie’s mere five-foot-nine stature precluded him from being drafted. Still, the Chicago Bears and New England Patriots gave him a shot at QB. The results were very mixed, so he decided to get some reps in the CFL.
The Buffalo Bills had a need at quarterback in 1998, so they asked if Flutie wanted another shot in the NFL. He of course said yes, and Flutie Mania began in Buffalo.
When Todd Collins wasn’t getting it done at QB, Flutie entered for Collins and had a shocking 8-and-3 record as the Bills starting signal-caller. The 1998 season continued in the playoffs where Air Flutie made the Miami Dolphins defense look foolish. The former Heisman Trophy winner threw for 360 yards, but the Bills lost on Wild Card Weekend.
The 1999 season was a career-best for Flutie as the Bills went 10-and-5 with him as the starting QB. Had he played in the Wild Card game against Tennessee, the Music City Miracle might not have happened…meaning, the Bills would’ve never been in that spot if Flutie was the starting QB. But Wade Phillips decided to start Rob Johnson over Flutie, tormenting Bills fans for what could’ve been that postseason.
Flutie still prevailed in his later years. He has the most rushing yards in NFL history after turning 40 years old. He even drop- kicked an extra point during his last year in the NFL.
Flutie might not have been a franchise quarterback, but he proved that he deserved to be in the NFL, much more than the quarterbacks drafted ahead of him.
8. Erik Kramer
I’ll give you $10 if you can name who was the last Detroit Lions quarterback to win a playoff game. Give up?
No, it wasn’t Matthew Stafford. It was William Erik Kramer.
Kramer’s best years were definitely in Chicago as the former NC State QB still has the most single-season passing yards in Bears history. But, before he came to Chicago, Kramer had the interesting distinction as the last Lions quarterback to give Detroit something to cheer about in the month of January.
Since Kramer left for Chicago, the Lions have never won in the playoffs. In fact, Detroit hasn’t won a division title since Kramer departed via free agency.
The former undrafted quarterback went on to record the most TD passes in Bears single-season history. His postseason numbers aren’t too shabby: 6 TD passes, 3 picks, and his completion percentage never went below 67%. Kramer took the snaps in four postseason games and had three starts.
It just shows you that while Stafford put up some great numbers in Detroit, an undrafted QB in Kramer could also get the job done.
7. Dave Kreig
Before the glory years of Russell Wilson and Matt Hasselbeck, the Seahawks were one of those close-but-no-cigar teams. Seattle just could never get over the hump and make it to Super Bowl Sunday, but they sure were fun to watch with Steve Largent at wide receiver and Dave Kreig at quarterback.
Kreig’s journey to the NFL is absolutely remarkable. He didn’t even attend a Division II school. He was a student-athlete at the now-defunct NAIA school in Mllton College. In fact, Krieg wasn’t even highly touted coming out of high school, as he originally entered Miton College as the 7th string quarterback on the depth chart.
The number 7 turned out to be important for Krieg. He led teams to the playoffs on seven different occasions, and he ended up wearing No. 17 on the Seahawks. A three-time Pro Bowler, “Mudbone” Krieg once led the Seahawks in 31 different career and single-season passing categories prior to his retirement.
Krieg led three different franchises to the postseason, had two perfect passing rating games, and is tied for 7th all-time in consecutive uninterrupted games with at least one touchdown pass. He was also extremely durable and refused to exit a game. He started all 16 games in three different instances. He’s listed on the Top 25 in seven selective passing categories.
His AFC Championship Games were performances to forget, especially the 1984 AFC Title Game where he only completed three passes and tossed three picks against the Raiders. Still, Krieg finished with more playoff TD passes than interceptions. Not too shabby for a guy who wasn’t good enough to play NCAA Division I or II football.
6. Jim Hart
The Arizona Cardinals didn’t win a playoff game from the time they were known as the Chicago Cardinals until Jake Plummer became the starting quarterback.
And while the Cards never won a playoff game during that time, it wasn’t because of Jim Hart’s play.
Hart was simply fantastic when the Arizona Cardinals played in Saint Louis. A four-time Pro Bowler, Hart won the 1974 United Press International NFC Player of the Year award. The Cardinals Ring of Honor quarterback was also a Second-Team All-Pro in 1974.
You could make the argument that Hart is the greatest QB in Cardinals history, although Kurt Warner might have something to say about that. Regardless, Hart still has the most touchdown passes, completions, yards, and wins as a Cardinals starting QB.
Like most other quarterbacks on this list, his statistics from the playoffs were mediocre at best. He finished his short playoff career with a completion percentage under 50 and 4 picks to just 2 touchdown passes.
Hart, a former Southern Illinois quarterback, is in the Cardinals Ring of Honor.
5. Jeff Garcia
Quick, who has the longest touchdown pass in Eagles postseason history. And no, it’s Donovan McNabb or Nick Foles.
He wasn’t on the Eagles for a long time, but he was successful nonetheless.
His name is Jeff Garcia, and he’s probably the best 49ers quarterback since Steve Young retired. And yes, that includes Alex Smith.
People seem to forget how Jeff Garcia was during the 2000s decade, and it’s kind of hard to understand why that’s exactly the case.
Garcia’s best years came in San Fran, where the former CFL star went to the Pro Bowl in three straight seasons. He was also a Pro Bowler when he led the offense in Tampa Bay.
In just his first season as an NFL quarterback, Garcia began the post-Young era in style by throwing 31 touchdown passes to just 10 picks. He also had a team record at the time for passing yards.
Garcia’s most famous moment is when he led the 49ers from a 38-14 playoff comeback to an unreal 39-38 win over the New York Giants. Garcia’s 331 passing yards, 60 rushing yards, and 4 total touchdowns stole the show that day at Candlestick Park.
Garcia passed for 40,000 yards if you consider his CFL and NFL passing yards as a complete stat. He famously led the Eagles to five straight wins and a postseason appearance after Philly lost McNabb to a major knee injury.
Incredibly, Garcia tied the record with a 99-yard touchdown pass during the 2004 season as the Cleveland Browns starting QB.
Garcia never had the postseason success that Colin Kaepernick and Alex Smith had in San Francisco, but he still should never be forgotten.
4. Jake Delhomme
Delhomme is higher than Garcia on this list due to his postseason success. Cam Newton was more talented than Delhomme, but Delhomme went to more NFC Championship Games. Newton’s playoff success was very limited outside of his 2015 MVP campaign.
The former NFL Europe player was actually Kurt Warner’s backup on the Amsterdam Admirals. Warner’s impressive maturity rubbed off on Delhomme, helping the former University of Louisiana at Lafayette star become a fixture in the National Football League.
After graduating from UL-Lafayette, the local New Orleans Saints decided to give him a shot. However, then Saints head coach Jim Haslett liked Aaron Brooks and Jeff Blake more than Delhomme on the depth chart. It turned out to be a huge mistake as John Fox and the Panthers snatched him up in free agency, and the rest they say is history.
Delhomme’s Panthers famously played in Super Bowl 38, where the former Ragin’ Cajun heaved an 85-yard TD pass to Muhsin Muhammed.It’s still the longest TD pass in Super Bowl history. Delhomme was excellent that day, and he probably would’ve been Super Bowl MVP had the Panthers won in regulation or overtime. Delhomme had 3 touchdown passes on the day, but his completion percentage was notably quite mediocre at 16-of-33.
Still, Delhomme led the Panthers to another NFC Championship Game in 2005 after shutting out the Giants and winning another road playoff game against the upstart Chicago Bears. But, as was the case in later years, Delhomme threw 3 picks against the Seahawks to fall one game short of a Super Bowl do-over. Delhomme’s six turnovers against the Arizona Cardinals during the 2008 Divisional Round was the final postseason nail in his coffin, with five of those turnovers being interceptions.
He fell off a cliff after the 2008 postseason debacle against Arizona. Delhomme lost his starting job following the 2009 season, but he still showed some of the old “Daylight Come and You Gotta Delhomme” magic as a backup QB with the Houston Texans. After TJ Yates bruised his right shoulder, Delhomme entered the 2011 Week 17 matchup against the Titans and threw for 211 yards on 18 completions and a touchdown pass. However, similar to his former turnover ways, Delhomme botched the snap and couldn’t convert the potential game-winning two-point conversion. It was his last game as an NFL quarterback as Delhomme decided to retire instead of ending his career as a backup signal-caller.
The turnovers were always part of Delhomme’s resume, but he still led the Panthers to two NFC Championship Games and almost won the Super Bowl. If not for John Kasey’s terrible kick with the score tied at 29 late in the ballgame, Delhomme could’ve been Super Bowl MVP. Instead, he’s most likely the best QB in Panthers franchise history. And let’s just remember this game-ending pass he threw to beat the San Diego Chargers (insert footage and sound).
3. Tony Romo
Romo would probably be higher on this list if he didn’t have to compete against Warren Moon and Kurt Warner. Still, Romo became one of the greatest quarterbacks in Cowboys history, and that’s saying a lot when you consider how many Super Bowl titles America’s team won with Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman under center.
Until Dak Prescott breaks his records, Romo has several Cowboys team records in terms of passing touchdowns, most games with at least 300 passing yards, and passing yards. He also had the highest fourth quarter passing rating out of any eligible quarterback from 2006-2013.
A four-time Pro Bowler, the former Eastern Illinois product led the league in passer rating and completion percentage during the 2014 season. However, he somehow lost the MVP trophy to Aaron Rodgers. A great humanitarian for the game, Romo won the 2002 Walter Payton award.
Romo almost played college basketball, as NCAA mid-major schools like Wisconsin-Green Bay recognized his talent on the hardcourt. He exited Burlington High School as the all-time leading scorer for boys basketball. However, he probably made the right decision to play college football as Romo was a second-team All-Pro during the 2014 season and was probably robbed of a chance to play in the Super Bowl.
During the Divisional Playoffs against Green Bay, Dez Bryant clearly caught the ball on fourth down. However, at the time, NFL officials wanted receivers to finish the catch towards the ground. It was controversial to be sure, and this was the closest Romo ever got to playing in the Super Bowl. Would the Cowboys have won on the road the next week against the Legion of Boom defense? It’s possible since Rodgers and the Packers had the Seahawks on the ropes.
The Cowboys almost cut Romo from the Cowboys roster early on in his career, but they made a spot for him after Quincy Carter was released following allegations of substance abuse. During the 2006 offseason, then Saints head coach Sean Payton wanted to trade for Romo, but Jerry Jones wanted no less than a second round pick.
Like most quarterbacks of this list, Romo never played on Super Bowl Sunday. But his playoff numbers are actually quite good: 8 touchdown passes, 2 interceptions, and he didn’t throw a single pick during the 2014 playoffs. He might’ve taken too many sacks though as he averaged over 5 sacks per game in four playoff games from 2009-2014.
Is Romo a Hall of Famer? Nah, probably not. But he still deserves respect as one of the all-time great Cowboys quarterbacks.
2. Warren Moon
If not for stupid scouting and racism, Warren Moon could’ve been the greatest NFL quarterback if he played during his early 20s.
At the time he was draft eligible, there were very dumb opinions that African-Americans couldn’t handle the playbook and couldn’t lead a locker room. Their dual threat way of playing wasn’t how real quarterbacks should play the position. QBs need to be white and stay in the pocket. Quarterbacks should be white and come from All-American families. Blah blah blah. It was the same lame crap that Doug Williams had to deal with during his career.
Moon refused to change positions, and he decided that if the NFL didn’t want them, he’d take his talents to Canada. He won the Grey Cup five times from 1978-1982 and was twice the Grey Cup MVP. Incredibly, it took the NFL six years before a team finally gave Moon a shot at QB.
After throwing for a franchise record 3,338 passing yards as a rookie, Moon eventually led the Oilers to their first winning season in seven years during the strike-marred 1987 campaign, and he won his first-ever postseason game.
You probably know of Moon’s passing accomplishments by now, so I won’t go into them too much. Moon eventually became the highest paid player in the league, and he joined Dan Fouts and Dan Marino as the only quarterbacks to throw for 40,000 yards in a season. A nine-time Pro Bowler, Moon was the 1989 NFL Man of the Year and the 1990 NFL Offensive Player of the Year. He was born in 1956, but he kept playing in the NFL until the year 2000. Simply remarkable.
If there was any dark mark on his career, his playoff numbers are very meh. He threw 17 touchdowns to 14 picks, and he never played during championship weekend. He also had the tendency to fumble the ball, as his 162 fumbles made were an NFL-worst, but Brett Favre dubiously broke that title during his playing career.
It’s still confusing why NFL teams didn’t want to draft Moon, considering that he was the Rose Bowl MVP just months before the draft. Just imagine what Moon’s numbers would be like if he played in the NFL from 1978-1983. He was never a first-team All-Pro, but he still led the league in touchdown passes in 1990.
Moon dealt with adversity all his life. He had to first attend community college due to racist tendencies at the QB position, and not a lot of colleges wanted him to transfer outside of the University of Washington. We’ve come a long way since the 1970s, but it’s still important to remember that dumb racism cost Moon six years in the National Football League.
It’s easy to understand why Warner is No. 1 on this list. However, he might not have ever gotten his shot at starting in the NFL if not for a famous preseason torn ACL on the then-starter in Trent Green.
Some NFL fans wonder why it took Warner so long to become a fixture in the league. Well, he could’ve been a Bear….if not for an infamous bug bite.
According to Warner, the future Hall of Famer was going to try out for (and most likely make the team), but he got bit on his throwing elbow by a spider during his honeymoon. The bite caused the elbow to swell to the size of a grapefruit. The Bears decided to cancel his tryout, and they never allowed him to reschedule. It’s more complicated than that since Warner kept rescheduling previous tryouts due to his upcoming wedding and honeymoon, but just imagine where the Bears would have been with Warner under center.
You probably know the story of Warner by now. The future Hall of Famer was the third string quarterback on the depth chart at the University of Northern Iowa until his senior year of college. While he won the Gateway Conference Offensive Player of the Year award, he wasn’t getting much recognition at the I-AA level. Unlike Walter Payton and Jerry Rice who played lower-level Division I football, the scouts just didn’t think Warner’s game at UNI would transition well to the next level.
Boy were they ever wrong. Warner became the first quarterback to throw three touchdown passes in his first three NFL starts, and he ended up winning two MVP trophies. He was also a Super Bowl MVP, and if Adam Vinatieri had missed that famous kick, he could’ve been in consideration for another Super Bowl MVP award, had the Rams won in overtime.
Also, Warner is the last player to win MVP and Super Bowl MVP in the same year. Warner’s Saint Louis Rams had three straight seasons of 500 or more points, and he dominated pretty much all of the league’s passing categories from 1999-2001.
As injuries and fumble problems continued to hamper Warner from 2002-2004, it seemed like his Cinderella story was over. But Arizona gave him a third chance, and he made the most of it by leading the Cardinals to their first-ever NFC Championship Game and Super Bowl appearances.
The first couple of years saw Warner mostly as a spot starter, but Warner became the Warner of old by throwing 27 TD passes during the 2007 season.
His 2008 season was one to remember as the old man still had enough in the tank to get Arizona its first home playoff win since 1947 when they were known as the Chicago Cardinals. He won two more postseason games and threw for 365 yards and had a 72.1 completion percentage in a hard-luck Super Bowl loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
His 2009 postseason run was probably even better as Warner tossed five touchdowns and only had four incompletions during a shootout overtime playoff win against the Green Bay Packers. Including his career in Saint Louis, Warner was a perfect 7-and-0 during home playoff games.
Warren Moon is a Hall of Famer, but there’s only leader of the “Greatest Show on Turf.” If Warner hadn’t broken his throwing hand in 2000, the Rams could’ve easily won the Super Bowl that season.
Warner is quite possibly the greatest quarterback in both Rams and Cardinals history, and for that, he’s Number 1 on our list.