I'll never forget Cris Collinsworth walking up to me before my first start at quarterback for Florida. It was in September 1980, and we were playing California. He said. "If we beat Cal, We'll own this state." He was right. The Gator alumni were in a collective fury over the winless 1979 season. If we could show them significant improvement from 0-10-1, we would be treated like kings.
Well, we did. We smashed California 41-10. Nobody in the state could believe it. I went from being an unknown, left-handed sophomore to the No. 3 quarterback in the weekly NCAA rankings.
After two more big victories, we cracked the Top 20. We were on a roll that I honestly believed couldn't be stopped until....
October 26, 1987
The next Sunday I was in a hospital bed as Brent Musberger on NFL Today discussed the injury to my right knee that was to put an end to my season.
Flowers and cards poured in from everywhere. Bear Bryant called and said to hang in there. President Carter sent a note. Mel Tillis sent a mailgram. This would be the second time I would undergo surgery—the first was on my left knee—but I realized that God must be doing this to see if I could come back.
I did, and I had some very good outings in 1981. But for most of that season and the next, coach Charley Pell was content to start Wayne Peace and make me the 1-A quarterback.
After pulling out a few late-season games my senior year , I won the starting job in the Bluebonnet Bowl against Arkansas. I knew I had to play one of my best games to get recognition from the pro scouts.
Against the NCAA's No. 6 defense, I had one of my finest games:-19 completions. 234 yards and three touchdown passes. It had not been enough to pull out a win—we lost 24-28—but my play had caught the attention of the pros. Dallas's Gil Brandt, Cincinnati's Lindy Infante, the L.A. Raiders' Ron Wolf and Steve Spurrier of the USFL's Tampa Bay Bandits all got in touch and said they were interested in me.
I was told I could be drafted anywhere from Round 6 on down. As it turned out, nobody drafted me, which was disappointing but not really unexpected, considering that mostly I had been a backup and was probably considered slightly damaged goods because of my knee. I wasn't completely overlooked, though. At 3 a.m. the morning after the draft, a scout from Dallas was banging on my apartment door, waking me up. He wanted to sign me right then, as a free agent. I told him it wouldn't be in my best interests to sign a contract in the middle of the night. I wanted to check out the situation with the other teams first.
HELLO, TAMPA BAY
The Buccaneers called the next morning and asked me to throw for John McKay and assistants Boyd Dowler and Chip Meyers. I forgot to bring a workout shirt with me when I drove to Tampa, so I wore a pink Lacoste shirt. McKay must have thought. "This kid has to be good if he has the guts to wear that shirt." I threw well, and they told me if I signed. I would be the only new quarterback they would bring in. They had Doug Williams, Jerry Golsteyn and Jeff Quinn returning from 1982. I would be competing for a backup spot. I couldn't resist. I became a Buccaneer.
During the summer, the Bucs picked up Jack Thompson in anticipation of Williams's bolting to Oklahoma of the USFL, which he did. I had a solid training camp and then a good preseason game against Atlanta. The Bucs cut Quinn. I had made the active roster. I was the third quarterback and also was the holder on kicks, and I would make $45,000, plus about $14,000 in bonuses.
The most disappointing day in my career came the third week of the season. During a midweek noncontact drill, my cleats caught in the grass while I was rolling out. My left knee twisted. I knew I was hurt. The next day they drained out 100cc of fluid. Blood was mixed in. a sign that there might be a cartilage tear.
On Saturday it didn't look as if I would be able to play the next day against Minnesota, so I got a pass for the press box in Tampa Stadium. The trainers told me to report to the locker room sometime on Sunday so I could make arrangements for an arthroscopic examination of my knee on Monday. It was up to me whether I saw the doctor before or after the game to set up the time for the operation. Because a locker room gets pretty crowded after a game, I decided to see the doctor before the game.
I arrived at Tampa Stadium at about 12:15, 45 minutes before kickoff. The special teams had already gone on the field for pregame warmups. While I was talking to the doctors, I was asked if I would hold for kicks. I couldn't believe it. They were playing me one day, and the next I was scheduled for an operation. Still, holding is about the least physically demanding job on the field and I didn't want to do anything that would make the Bucs start to wonder about their backup quarterback's dedication. I said I would try. It was then about 12:25, so I put on a knee brace and tried to loosen up my knee by jogging, even though it had swollen up again and I could barely walk. I realized that if I had gone straight to the press box, I would never have been put in this awkward situation.
I went onto the field to practice some holds with kicker Bill Capece. My knee hurt badly, but I was holding O.K. Right before the start of the game, I told Capece that if there was a bad snap, I wouldn't be able to go after the ball.
We scored with five minutes left in the first half. I walked, jogged, skipped and limped onto the field with the extra-point team, saying to myself, "Forget the knee, just get the ball down." The pain was almost unbearable now. The knee had stiffened. I kept improvising to get comfortable. Steve Wilson snapped the ball. It was a little high and went through my hands. Why now? I had been holding kicks since high school and had never dropped one.
The ball skipped behind us. I could barely get up. Capece picked up the ball and got drilled by the Vikings. The crowd booed.
I prayed that the missed extra point wouldn't have any effect on the game's outcome, but regulation time ended with the score 16-16. The extra point would have given us a 17-16 victory.
In overtime Capece missed a chip-shot field goal that would have won the game and gotten me off the hook. Minnesota didn't flub its chance and won 19-16. I was swamped by reporters asking questions about the botched extra point. I didn't mention my knee once. I figured that if I was on the field, it was to do a job, hurt or not.
That night was one of the lowest points of my athletic career. The fact that I had played at all puzzled my family and friends. My parents, who watched the game on TV, didn't think I was even going to dress for the game. As for myself, I was not only disgusted at what had happened, I was worried about what they might discover in the operating room the next day.
The surgeon found strained ligaments in my knee, but no major damage. I was excited and encouraged, and anxious to get on with rehabilitation so that I could save as much of the season as possible. It hurt whenever I put pressure on the knee, but I kept doing my exercises, hoping the knee would come around and knowing that if it didn't, I would be placed on the injured reserve list.
Three weeks later the Bucs did put me on injured reserve. Financially, the injured reserve isn't bad because you receive your full salary, but otherwise it's boring.
At least the off-season turned out to be fun, and doing promotions for the Bucs kept extra cash coming in. Talk about easy money: I got paid for judging bikini contests, riding in parades, picking dates for a dating game and greeting every girl who came into a Tampa nightclub with a Hawaiian lei.
My buddy Collinsworth was also back in town for the off-season. One night during Super Bowl week—the Redskins were playing the Raiders in Tampa—Cris and I ran into Joe Theismann in a club called Confetti's. A lot of girls were crowded around Joe's table getting autographs. Cris, being modest, threw his hand out to show them his AFC championship ring. Lots of ohhs. Joe raised the ante by slapping his hand on the table and saying "Check out this Super Bowl ring." Ooooooohh. What was I to do? I threw my hand on the table and proudly said, "Check out this Blue-bonnet Bowl ring!" Tee-hee.
The Bucs signed Steve DeBerg in April. During minicamp, I didn't see much action at quarterback. I could sense something was happening. A week before training camp opened in July. Dowler called me at my condominium and said Coach McKay wanted to see me. I knew that this wasn't a call to go to lunch.
McKay told me he thought I had a future in the NFL, but there wasn't going to be any room with DeBerg there. They put me on waivers. I knew that they had lost confidence in my knee, which in fact wasn't yet 100%.
The following months were hectic as I tried to catch on with another team.
GOODBYE, BUCS; HELLO, PHILADELPHIA
In August 1984 the Eagles asked me to throw for them because they wanted to develop a third-string quarterback. They had an eye on Bob Holly, but he was with the Redskins. I threw well for head coach Marion Campbell and player personnel director Lynn Stiles. Stiles told me I could definitely be their third-stringer right then, but they wanted to wait and see what happened with Holly.
During this time, Kenny Herock, player personnel director for the Washington Federals in the USFL, had been keeping in contact with me.
GOODBYE, EAGLES; HELLO, MIAMI
Howard Schnellenberger was going to be the coach when the Federals shifted to Miami. This intrigued me because I liked Coach Schnellenberger and wanted to play for him. In October I flew to Miami to meet with him.
The Federals offered me almost double what I had made with the Bucs. The only thing that kept me from signing was that the Federals' move to Miami wasn't a sure thing.
The USFL had already announced it was going to move to a fall schedule for 1986. Because the Federals' potential buyer in Miami didn't want to compete with the Dolphins, he backed out of the deal. Herock called and said to hold on because there was a good chance the franchise might be moved to Orlando.
Nothing really definite happened until Coach Schnellenberger announced he was tired of the delays and uncertainty, and he wasn't going to take the team. Herock said he was leaving also. If they were leaving, so was I.
GOODBYE, MIAMI (OR ORLANDO); HELLO, LOS ANGELES
Now it was back to looking hard in the NFL. Administrator of football operations Jack Faulkner of the Rams called when Vince Ferragamo got hurt in September. They flew me out and put me up in a luxury hotel equipped with a sauna, steam room and whirlpool. They said it might be a few days before they looked me over and asked if I would mind staying. I told Faulkner they could keep me there as long as they wanted. I loved L.A. I was praying things would work out. But...Ferragamo wasn't hurt as badly as they had thought, and Jeff Kemp was playing well. I stayed in town for a week but still without a team.
GOODBYE, RAMS; HELLO, BUFFALO
In November Buffalo offered me a three-year deal beginning the next season. The Bills were actually offering me a three-year deal, but I wanted to put them off until the 1984 regular season was over, just in case somebody lost two quarterbacks in one game. I told Buffalo I would get back to them.
GOODBYE, BILLS; HELLO, JACKSONVILLE
My next stop was the USFL Jacksonville Bulls. In early December head coach Lindy Infante wanted to look at me. He told me they might be making a big deal with someone else, but he wanted to check me out in case it didn't go through. Infante videotaped every move I made for about an hour and a half. But as it turned out, they got Brian Sipe from the New Jersey Generals.
GOODBYE, BULLS; HELLO, INDIANAPOLIS
Colts assistant general manager Bob Terpening called to say they wanted me for 1985 because there was a good chance one of their quarterbacks would be traded. He said Mark Herrmann wasn't happy. I was very interested but didn't want to commit until someone was actually traded. I didn't want to get locked in.
HELLO, NEW YORK JETS
Jim Royer of the Jets called in mid-December and also wanted to sign me for 1985. Royer said I was on the top of their list of potential signees. I was also very interested because, being a quarterback, you always dream of playing in the Big Apple. The pressure of playing in New York is incredible, but I'd love to have felt it.
GOODBYE, COLTS; GOODBYE, JETS; HELLO, DALLAS
Just before the Christmas holidays, Brandt called to say the Cowboys wanted me for the next year. He told me something could be happening with Danny White during the off-season and there was a good possibility of an opening. He said they would top any other team's offer I might get by adding a signing bonus.
I liked what Brandt said. I was going to sign with them. I knew it was a gamble, but I said to myself, No guts, no glory. He said they were glad to have me, and they would bring me down to their minicamp in April.
When I arrived at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport on April 1, I was met by a tall blonde who looked like a model. Deana was a secretary in the executive offices. I liked Dallas already. Awaiting me was a car and a furnished apartment right next to the Cowboys practice facility.
Even during off-season workouts the Cowboys would try to improve the team with innovative methods. They went so far as to have someone teach us to juggle to improve our hand-eye coordination. They also hired a karate teacher to drop by occasionally. Some of the players were really into it. Randy White seemed to have a handle on the martial arts. One day I walked in to find him throwing knives into a wooden target. I went the other way.
The Dallas quarterbacks were all good players and fine people. Danny White impressed me with his knowledge of the game. Gary Hogeboom (now with the Colts) impressed me with his talent. The two got along better than I thought would be the case. If there was any bitterness between them, I couldn't see it. With all the articles I had read (about White's being traded), I expected to find them at each other's throat.
Dallas was everything I expected: money, beautiful girls and cars. Lots of each. The mood was, if you didn't own a Mercedes, don't bother driving. We got priority treatment every place we went. When we had last-row tickets to see Madonna in concert, someone let it be known we were Cowboys and, bingo, front row. It got to the point that receiver Crawford Ker and I would say we were a couple of pool cleaners so we could talk to some girls who wouldn't be impressed with us just because we were Cowboys.
The preseason magazines had me making the team only if Danny White was traded. White hadn't been traded yet, and we were a week away from camp. I was going to play consistently and hope for the best.
Thousand Oaks, Calif., was a beautiful place for a training camp. It had perfect weather and was set in the hills. As always, funny things happened in camp. One day, one of the players complained about how hard the beds were. Ken Locker, a trainer, noticed imprints on his back. He had been sleeping on a box spring for two weeks.
I was doing fine the first two weeks, receiving compliments from both players and coaches. I thought things were looking up, especially after having a good scrimmage against the Rams. But unexpectedly, one day a trainer said coach Tom Landry wanted to see me. I wondered if I had done something wrong. I definitely didn't think this was a final meeting.
Landry sat me down in his room. He told me they were only thinking of my best interests. Uh-oh. Landry said the reason they signed me was that there was a strong possibility they were going to trade White. They couldn't work out the right deal. He said I could definitely fill the needs of some other club, and they were releasing me in time to learn another team's system while it was still early in camp. I had gambled and lost.
If I had been doing poorly, I wouldn't have minded. I went to clean out my locker and found that my name had already been taken off my place between White and Hogeboom. Gary came and talked to me and wished me good luck. I appreciated that. Danny saw me talking to Gary, but didn't say anything.
GOODBYE, DALLAS; HELLO, CINCINNATI
In December 1985 I threw for Bengal head coach Sam Wyche. Wyche said he was impressed with my arm and quick feet. He said they couldn't sign me now, but they would keep in touch because there was a possibility that Ken Anderson would retire. If he did, they would be looking for a cheap backup behind Boomer Esiason and Turk Schonert. I said, "That's me!" However, there was also the possibility of Schonert's wanting to be traded. If this occurred, Anderson wouldn't retire and the Bengals would probably draft a QB. That's what happened; Schonert went to the Falcons.
GOODBYE, BENGALS; HELLO, CLEVELAND
The Browns' personnel director, Chip Falivene, phoned in February. He said he had been told to bring in two big, strong quarterbacks for a look-see. Big? Strong? Why was he calling me? Anyway, they flew in ex-Eagle Dean May and myself. The Browns were interested in signing a backup for two reasons: Gary Danielson was recovering from rotator-cuff surgery, and they didn't know if they would keep Paul McDonald, who had a hefty salary, to play behind Bernie Kosar. One irony was that Cleveland's new offensive coordinator was Lindy Infante. The day we worked out was also Lindy's first day on the field for the Browns. He laughed when he saw me because this was to be the third time I had thrown for him. He said, "Every time I see you, we're both in different colors."
Head coach Marty Schottenheimer met separately with May and me. We talked with one another later, and he had told us both the same thing. He liked the way we threw and also that we had some professional experience. The key was Danielson's recovery. As it turned out, it was rapid.
GOODBYE, BROWNS; HELLO, HOUSTON
Mike Holovak of the Oilers called in March and said they were going to bring in two quarterbacks to compete for the third spot behind Warren Moon and Oliver Luck. One of them would be ex-Falcon Ben Bennett. He said I was high on their list to be the other. He wanted to see me throw in Gainesville, where he was looking at Florida running back John L. Williams. I drove to Gainesville from my home in Tampa and threw probably as well as I ever had. Holovak said he definitely liked my arm and that he had seen me in the Bluebonnet Bowl in college. I really believed I was going to be in Houston. Holovak told me they wouldn't draft a QB because they were set with Moon and his million-dollar contract. The next week, Houston drafted quarterback Jim Everett of Purdue on the first round.
GOODBYE, OILERS; HELLO, NEW YORK II
At the end of April, Jets pro personnel director Jim Royer called and said they wanted to sign me. He said they would also give me a bonus because I had pro experience. I gave it about 10 seconds thought and accepted. During minicamp I worked second behind Ken O'Brien because Pat Ryan was unable to attend.
I liked the Jets' attitude. It was a "Do whatever you want, but make sure you win" setup. Items like hair length just didn't matter. Everyone was his own person off the field. Mark Gastineau was a prime example. He set up his own personal gym in a lounge at Hofstra University, where the Jets train. One night he just hopped on a jet to California to take care of some business.
O'Brien and Ryan were also good guys. I knew I would like O'Brien when I saw him drive up in a VW convertible with California plates.
During the second week of camp the USFL folded. I thought for sure the owners would expand their rosters to 49 to accommodate some of those out-of-work players. The Jets and other teams could then carry three quarterbacks. But the owners decided to stay at 45. Barring injuries, it would be O'Brien and Ryan. In a scrimmage against Washington, I got in for only six plays, completing two of four passes. At 6:40 a.m. the following Friday, the day we were traveling to play Green Bay, I heard a knock on the door.
It was Mike Kensil, the "Turk" for the Jets. Because of the roster limit, I had found myself in the wrong place again.
Now there was no USFL to go to, either. In fact, I had been enough places, period.
GOODBYE, JETS; GOODBYE, NFL; HELLO, REAL WORLD
Bob Hewko is currently a marketing representative for Caesars World Resorts.