Many gifted college athletes have failed to make any impact on the professional level. Inevitably, fans, scribes and insiders classify such sportspeople as “busts.” In actuality, simply becoming a professional athlete is an astounding feat in itself. For instance, according to data provided by the Canadian Casino company, the odds of a high school football player advancing to the NFL are 0.02 percent. Football is the ultimate team game. Still, while all positions are key to success, a quarterback’s performance is beyond vital on the gridiron. With responsibility comes scrutiny and, therefore, a quarterback is consistently the most beloved or reviled person on any 53-man roster. While many distinguished collegiate signal-callers thrived in the NFL, an equal number of passers flopped under center. These busts are unceremoniously ousted, essentially forced into retirement and left pondering how to proceed with their lives.
Deion Sanders was a professional football and baseball player. The 6-foot-1, 200-pound Sanders, the only man to have appeared in a Super Bowl and World Series, was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in August 2011. Sanders retired from football after the 2005 season and quit competing on the diamond in 2001.
“It’s important to walk away from the game and not have the game walk away from you because when the game walks away from you it can damage you mentally,” said Sanders, 50, a member of the NFL 1990s All-Decade Team.
For better or worse, “the game walked away from” the 15 passers listed below. Thus, let’s review eight NFL quarterback busts who are doing well for themselves and seven who are struggling without a pigskin.
15. DOING WELL: BRADY QUINN
Brady Quinn would have been a better professional bodybuilder than NFL player. Regardless, as a collegian, the 6-foot-3, 235-pound Brady was a dynamic signal-caller. Quinn, a resident of Dublin, Ohio, who benched 225 pounds an eye-popping 24 times at the 2007 NFL Scouting Combine, won the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award and Maxwell Award as an Irishman in 2006. The Lou Ferrigno wannabe set an array of Irish passing marks and completed his four-year career in South Bend as the school’s most celebrated quarterback. The Cleveland Browns picked Quinn 22nd overall in 2007.
Regrettably for the muscleman, Quinn floundered as a member of seven different franchises before agreeing to become a Fox Sports college and NFL analyst at the age of 29 in July 2014. Quinn, who has a daughter with his wife, USA Olympic gymnast Alicia Sacramone, founded a charity for wounded veterans called 3rd & Goal in 2011.
“(My Dad and I) put our heads together and decided we’d make homes accessible for (disabled veterans),” said Quinn, 33. “I have this platform and we have the ability to do something.”
14. DOING TERRIBLY: JAMARCUS RUSSELL
The Oakland Raiders drafted JaMarcus Russell out of LSU first overall in 2007. In 31 games as a Raider, Russell completed a hideous 52.1 percent of his passes for 18 touchdowns, against 23 interceptions, and 4,083 yards. Russell lasted three seasons in The Town before he was terminated in March 2010. An obese mess of a human being, the flabby Tiger developed a full-fledged codeine addiction and was arrested for possessing the illicit syrup without a prescription in July 2010. Somewhat sadly, Russell offered to play football for free in April 2016.
“I’ve been labeled as a bust, I have been labeled as lazy and I have been the targets of many insults by the media,” Russell wrote to the Dallas Cowboys.
“I can be a water boy and work my way into a scout team. It doesn’t matter. I am willing to lead the scout team for free for one year just to get experience in your system.”
13. DOING WELL: TIM TEBOW
Tim Tebow is arguably the most accomplished quarterback in the annals of college football. Unfortunately for the erratic 2007 Heisman Trophy winner, Tebow’s skills didn’t translate to the NFL. The Denver Broncos selected the 6-foot-3, 235-pound Tebow with the 25th pick in the 2010 draft. After becoming Denver’s starting signal-caller in Week 6 of the 2011 campaign, Tebow was an inaccurate passer who constantly fumbled the pigskin. In spite of his woes under center, Tebow made crucial plays and he lifted Denver to the AFC West crown in 2011 and a 29-23 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in that season’s AFC Wild Card game. Shortly after his playoff heroics, Tebow was sent to the swamps of Jersey to become a Jet. Former Jets head coach Rex Ryan indefinitely grounded Tebow and declined to utilize him in any capacity.
Although not retired, Tebow hasn’t competed in a regular season contest since December 2012. Undeterred, the iconic Gator showed glimpses of promise on the diamond as an outfielder for the New York Mets’ Class A affiliate, the Columbia Fireflies. The 30-year-old Tebow recorded three home runs, 23 RBI and 47 hits in 64 games with Columbus in 2017.
12. DOING TERRIBLY: VINCE YOUNG
The Tennessee Titans drafted Vince Young with the third overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft. After initially thriving as a Titan and securing NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors in 2006, the 6-foot-5, 230-pound Young badly regressed and became a journeyman in the NFL. Young, who signed a five-year contract worth $58 million as a rookie in July 2006, filed for bankruptcy in January 2014 and was sentenced to 18 months of probation for a drunken-driving arrest in January 2016. Young, who was cut by the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Canadian Football League in February, remains baffled that he’s not on an NFL roster.
“Me and my wife and all my peers and fans, we’re all trying to figure this stuff out,” said Young, 34.
“I don’t have the slightest idea. It’s like a huge question mark over my head every day I wake up in the morning to take care of my responsibilities and know I should be playing. To not have one of those calls, it’s tough.”
11. DOING WELL: JOEY HARRINGTON
The Lions’ ineptitude triggered Joey Harrington’s disappointing NFL career. Detroit took the 6-foot-4, 210-pound Harrington out of Oregon with the third pick in 2002. Surrounded by clueless executives and a primarily unskilled supporting cast, the 2001 Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year was battered by opposing defenders for four painful seasons in Motown. The Lions traded Harrington to the Miami Dolphins in exchange for a fifth-round draft pick in May 2006. Unfortunately, Harrington’s stint as a Lion permanently sabotaged his confidence in the pocket. The distinguished Duck was shot and he forever shelved his cleats in September 2009 at the age of 31.
“I went out on my terms, when I was ready. I fulfilled all I set out to do,” said Harrington.
The 39-year-old Harrington, with experience as a sports broadcaster for Fox Sports Radio, Fox, and Fox Sports, was hired in March 2016 as a part-time reporter for KGW-TV, Portland’s NBC affiliate.
“I had my eye on him for a while,” said Rick Jacobs, KGW executive news director. “He’s a local guy, he knows the community so well, he’s really plugged in.”
10. DOING TERRIBLY: KEVIN KOLB
Kevin Kolb was another Cougar who lacked bite in the NFL. The Philadelphia Eagles drafted the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Kolb out of Houston with the 36th pick in 2007. Shortly after losing his job to Michael Vick, Kolb was traded to the Arizona Cardinals in July 2011. The Cardinals released Kolb in March 2013 and, two weeks later, he signed a two-year contract worth $13 million to become a Buffalo Bill. Frighteningly, due to sustaining three severe concussions, Kolb retired in March 2014 at the age of 29. Less than three months later, Kolb was arrested and charged with boating while intoxicated. Nowadays, Kolb is dealing with the effects of suffering repeated traumatic brain injuries.
“(My concussion) symptoms are impossible to ignore,” wrote Kolb, 33.
9. DOING WELL: RICK MIRER
Rick Mirer, a native of Goshen, Indiana, was an Notre Dame Irishman from 1989 to 1992. Billed as “The Next Joe Montana,” Mirer was taken by the Seattle Seahawks with that year’s second choice. While initially soaring as a Seahawk and claiming 1993 AFC Rookie of the Year honors, Mirer descended into an unproductive journeyman and was out of the league by the age of 33 in 2004. Approximately four years later in December 2008, Mirer launched a popular winery called Mirror Napa Valley in St. Helena, California.
“Because my last name shares the same spelling as the phonetic spelling for mirror (Mirer), I have often been referred to as Rick ‘Mirror,’” said Mirer, 47. “The parallel was too good to pass up and the name stuck. The Mirror Wine Company was born.”
8. DOING TERRIBLY: CHARLIE BATCH
Although not a blue-chip prospect coming out of Eastern Michigan, Charlie Batch was a premium draft pick. The Detroit Lions selected the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Batch 60th overall in 1998. Batch never roared as a Lion or became anything more than a middling professional quarterback. Batch, a two-time Super Bowl champion who won the 2006 Jerome Bettis Award for Humanity and Community Service, retired as a Pittsburgh Steeler in February 2013 following 15 seasons in the league.
Over a decade and a half as a Detroit Lion and Steeler, Batch banked $9 million in paychecks. Apparently using the money he earned on the field, Batch established a real estate development company. Batch ultimately defaulted on nearly 25 properties and, with $8 million in debt and only $2.3 million in assets, he filed for bankruptcy in December 2011. Fortunately for the longtime backup, many of Batch’s debts were discharged later that year in bankruptcy court. Still, filing for Chapter 11 is a serious decision with long-term ramifications.
7. DOING WELL: DAVID KLINGLER
Quarterback David Klingler was beyond prolific under center for the Houston Cougars’ football program. After rewriting Houston’s passing records, the Cincinnati Bengals chose the 6-foot-3, 215-pound Klingler with the sixth pick in 1992.
“(Former Bengals coach Dave Shula) was the one that wanted Klingler,” Bengals owner and president Mike Brown said.
“We weren’t going to draft Klingler. We had no plans to draft Klingler until literally the day before the draft or the day of the draft even, I’ve forgotten which. Dave was very excited. He had gone to work him out. Oh, he’s not Marino but he’s the very next level. He’s really good.”
Klinger was a toothless Bengal with an irreparably-damaged shoulder and he was out of the league altogether by the age of 28. Encouragingly, Klinger’s life after football has been one of fulfillment and personal satisfaction. Klinger, an analyst for the Cougars’ radio network from 2006 to 2008, is now an Associate Professor of Bible Exposition at Dallas Theological Seminary.
6. DOING TERRIBLY: QUINCY CARTER
To replace Hall of Famer Troy Aikman, the Dallas Cowboys took quarterback Quincy Carter out of Georgia with the 53rd pick in 2001. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Carter outplayed Tony Banks in the preseason and started for the Cowboys as a rookie. Carter performed decently for a few years before Bill Parcells surprisingly cut him in August 2004. Carter proceeded to collect paychecks as a player for second-tier leagues across the U.S. Carter was essentially forced off the gridiron by the Corpus Christi Fury of the American Indoor Football league following the 2016 campaign. Later that year, on August 26, Carter was arrested in Texas for outstanding warrants that he had from his 2009 DWI and marijuana possession charges. According to multiple reports, Carter continues to battle substance abuse issues.
5. DOING WELL: ANDRE WARE
Quarterback Andre Ware overwhelmed defenders at the University of Houston and collected the Heisman Trophy in 1989. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound Ware declared for the draft following his junior season as a Cougar. Approximately four months later, the Detroit Lions chose Ware seventh overall. The native Texan was scarcely unleashed as a Lion and he mainly served as a backup to Rodney Peete and Erik Kramer. The Lions and Ware severed ties and the record-breaking Cougar eventually relocated north of the border to secure work with the Ottawa Rough Riders of the Canadian Football League. Ware’s time in Canada was forgettable and he shelved his cleats after one season as a member of the Berlin Thunder of NFL Europe. Rather than being bitter, Ware used his experiences on the gridiron to land employment as an analyst for ESPN and the Houston Texans Radio Network.
“I think it opened a lot of doors in terms of what you wanted to do career-wise after football,” Ware said. “It certainly did with what I’m doing now. I would be kidding myself to think otherwise.
4. DOING TERRIBLY: JOHNNY MANZIEL
The Cleveland Browns selected Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel with the 22nd choice in the 2014 draft. The 5-foot-11, 210-pound Manziel was an absolute disaster in Cleveland and the heinous franchise released him in March 2016. Approximately three months later, Manziel’s father, Paul Manziel, publicly expressed concern for his son’s welfare.
“(Johnny is) a druggie. It’s not a secret that he’s a druggie,” Paul Manziel said.
“I don’t know what to say other than my son is a druggie and he needs help. He just hasn’t [sought] it yet. Hopefully he doesn’t die before he comes to his senses. He’s either going to die, or he’s going to figure out that he needs help. It’s one of the two. I hate to say it, but I hope he goes to jail. I mean, that would be the best place for him.”
The 25-year-old Manziel, who the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League have mulled signing, reached a conditional deal with prosecutors to drop his domestic assault case on December 2. He has also reportedly expressed an interest in joining rapper P-Diddy’s quest to buy the Carolina Panthers.
3. DOING WELL: HEATH SHULER
Heath Shuler is a better politician than he was a professional quarterback. The Washington Redskins chose the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Shuler out of Tennessee with the third selection in 1994. Shuler, a standout Volunteer who was named the 1993 SEC Offensive Player of the Year, stumbled in the nation’s capital. In fact, Shuler’s play was so substandard that he was supplanted by a seventh-round draft pick in 1994 named Gus Frerotte. Following three uninspiring seasons as a Redskin, Shuler was sent to the New Orleans Saints for a fifth-round pick in the 1997 draft and a third-round pick in 1998. Regrettably for the Saints, Shuler also found it difficult to perform effectively in the Big Easy. Shuler retired in May 1998 and, roughly eight years later, won the 11th Congressional District seat in North Carolina as a Democrat in 2006.
“Football was a challenge, but it prepared for me for politics,” said Shuler, 45.
“It also gave me the work ethic to be successful in a lot of other things in life, not just in politics, but in the business world. Every aspect of what I’ve done has been important to the next chapter.”
2. DOING TERRIBLY: TODD MARINOVICH
Todd Marinovich is one of sports’ saddest stories. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Marinovich was a superior passer who was sacked by the overbearing, and borderline abusive, tactics used by his father, Marv Marinovich. Despite countless warning signs, the Los Angeles Raiders drafted Marinovich with the 24th pick in 1991. Marinovich couldn’t defeat his drug problem and the Raiders released him in May 1993. The former USC star was periodically arrested for narcotic-related offenses over the next two decades. In 2011, Marinovich was clean and a happily married father of two children. Upsettingly, in August 2016, a naked Marinovich was arrested after he was found with methamphetamine in a stranger’s backyard in Irvine, California.
“It is a tragic story. We found him hiding in a backyard. Someone else’s backyard. We responded to a caller stating there was a naked person on Venta Spur Trail,” Irvine police Commander Mike Hallinan said. “He was carrying the items in a brown bag.”
The “Robo quarterback” signed a contract to compete for the SoCal Coyotes of the World Developmental League in July. Sadly, if history is any indication, the 48-year-old Marinovich won’t remain sober.
1. DOING WELL: RYAN LEAF
Former Washington State quarterback Ryan Leaf excelled as a Cougar and earned first-team All-American honors as a junior in 1997. The San Diego Chargers decided to draft the 6-foot-5, 235-pound Leaf with the second overall pick in April 1998. Leaf was a gloomy presence in America’s Finest City and he was cut by the Chargers following three tumultuous seasons. The moody gunslinger, who also played with the Tampa Bay Bucs, Dallas Cowboys and Seattle Seahawks, retired in July 2002 at the age of 26. Removed from the gridiron, Leaf’s substance abuse issues worsened and he served two years in prison in December 2012 for a string of drug-related burglaries. Somewhat miraculously, although narcotics were readily available on the inside, Leaf avoided trouble and he has been sober for four years. Leaf is finally content and working as a program ambassador for a recovery community center.
“Thursdays are my favorite days,” said Leaf, 41, who once slit open a vein in his left wrist in an unsuccessful suicide attempt.
“I get up at 6, I’m in the gym at 7, and I’m in the office from about 9 until 1 p.m. Then, I’m back to the gym for a program that works with former combat vets. I’m home around 5 p.m. with my fiancé and our little dog. You know, that’s a boring life. And boring is not a bad word anymore.”
Considering Leaf’s dramatic turnaround, the man often deemed the league’s biggest bust is now an inspiration with a genuine purpose in life.
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