The streets of San Francisco's trendy SoMa district were alive
with revelers, and one of them, a 22-year-old rowdy named Pat
Barnes, was putting up his dukes in the middle of Folsom Street.
This was no place for a street fight, nor was it an opportune
time: The NFL draft was 12 days away, and Barnes, a standout
quarterback for Cal last season, was recovering from a broken
right wrist. Yet when older brother John initiated a round of
playful boxing, Pat couldn't resist.
A few hours and several beers later, at the nearby Up & down
Club, the Barnes brothers were contemplating fisticuffs
again--only this time it appeared serious. They were arguing
with two other patrons, one of whom sidled up to Pat and
explained why everyone present should "just chill." The younger
and soon-to-be-richer Barnes stared back blankly. "Dude," he
finally said, "you've got the worst breath I've ever smelled."
Some fast talking by John helped avert a brawl, after which Pat
offered an explanation: "I was just going to pop him with my
It is this sort of reckless behavior that has caused some
people--including his mother--to wonder whether Barnes is ready
for the NFL. Even Pat would have preferred to spend another year
on campus. In an era when so many players are leaving school
early (34 underclassmen have declared for this weekend's draft),
Barnes, twice robbed of a redshirt season by coaching decisions,
petitioned the NCAA to grant him an extra year of eligibility.
The NCAA denied the request, meaning Barnes will take his large
personality to a league that this season will penalize players
for removing their helmets in celebration.
Is the No Fun League ready for Pat Barnes? This is an oversized
kid who wrote several college papers his freshman year with
12-packs of beer beside his computer; who showed up tired for
some games after late-night arguments with his girlfriend; who
once took in a homeless man as a temporary roommate; and who
tormented his parents, Colleen and John, with phone pranks in
which he claimed to have crashed his car or landed in jail. "Pat
has always been a little kid in a big body," Colleen says of her
6'4", 215-pound son. "An extra year of college would really
benefit him because he's basically somewhat immature. He has
grown up a lot the past two years, but maturation takes time."
April 20, 1997
A fifth year at Cal would also have allowed Barnes to earn his
degree in American studies--he plans to finish up in the spring
of '98--and probably would have made him a mid- to high
first-round pick in next year's draft. Now, after a senior year
in which he threw for a Pac-10-record 31 touchdowns against
eight interceptions while leading Cal to a 6-5 record and an
Aloha Bowl appearance, he has joined Virginia Tech's Jim
Druckenmiller and Arizona State's Jake Plummer as the most
highly regarded quarterbacks in the draft (chart, next page).
"He got to this point because he worked harder than anybody
else," says new San Francisco 49ers coach Steve Mariucci, who
was Barnes's coach at Cal last season.
One reason Barnes is an attractive prospect is that the
qualities that sometimes make his mother cringe often translate
well in the huddle and in the locker room. The lineage of
fun-loving quarterbacks stretches from Bobby Layne to Joe Namath
to Jim Kelly to the current king of merry pranksters, the Green
Bay Packers' Brett Favre, a two-time league MVP. "Pat's
personality is similar to Brett's," says Mariucci, Favre's
mentor during his stint as the Packers' quarterbacks coach from
1992 to '95. Both players exude an aura of supreme confidence
without a trace of vanity. "I would love to party with Brett
Favre just one time," says Barnes, who plans to spend draft day
on the golf course.
Barnes is high on the draft list of at least four teams: the
49ers, the Arizona Cardinals, the Kansas City Chiefs and the San
Diego Chargers. While Druckenmiller has the best arm of the
three top-echelon quarterbacks and Plummer is the most mobile,
Barnes is gifted in both areas. "He's a winner," says St. Louis
Rams scout Dave Razzano, "and you can tell by the way he gets
the ball in the end zone when his team is inside the 20. He
makes quick decisions, has pinpoint accuracy, moves well and has
a strong arm with a quick delivery." Former San Francisco coach
Bill Walsh, now a personnel consultant for the team, says Barnes
is "the prototype of the NFL quarterback."
One question mark is the broken scaphoid (a bone at the top of
his throwing wrist) Barnes sustained in the Senior Bowl on Jan.
18. Although he played in only the second quarter, Barnes was
named the game's MVP for throwing three touchdown passes, the
last of which came after he broke the bone. The fracture was not
detected until more than a week after the game, and Barnes, who
underwent surgery on Feb. 4, is not expected to be 100% until
June. Nevertheless, the injury hasn't kept him from doing
passing drills for NFL teams. "I don't think the wrist will
matter," says Chargers general manager Bobby Beathard. "The
issue for me is his maturity. He has to improve his consistency
and decision-making, but he's moving in that direction."
Barnes's first two years at Cal, under coach Keith Gilbertson,
were essentially wasted. Gilbertson intended to redshirt Barnes,
one of the nation's top quarterback prospects at Trabuco Hills
High in Mission Viejo, Calif., but the plan was aborted in his
freshman and sophomore seasons because of injuries to starter
Dave Barr and backup Kerry McGonigal, and because of McGonigal's
ineffective play when he was healthy. Barnes started four games
and threw 130 passes in those two years combined. One Cal source
says Gilbertson told his assistants during Barnes's freshman
season, "I'm not saving Pat Barnes for the next coach."
Gilbertson, now a Seattle Seahawks' defensive assistant, says he
made the comment in jest and often made similar jokes about
In fairness, it should be said that Barnes never questioned
Gilbertson's moves, nor did he help matters as a freshman when
his debut was delayed for one game because of a late-night
incident in the gift shop of a Berkeley hotel. Two nights before
he was scheduled to start against Washington State, an
admittedly drunken Barnes stuffed a pack of bubble gum into his
pocket--jokingly, he says--and when police officers entered the
hotel to investigate another incident, he and some friends
panicked and opened a locked door that led outside and fled.
Barnes was stopped at gunpoint by an officer and arrested. After
being taken to the Berkeley jail, he called his mother, who
immediately realized this wasn't one of her son's pranks. "It
was the middle of the night, and I could hear in his voice that
he was serious," Colleen says. "So I started yelling at him."
Barnes eventually pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge.
As a high school senior in 1992, Pat had watched John, also a
quarterback, become an unlikely hero at UCLA, where he had
transferred from UC Santa Barbara before his senior year. John
rallied the Bruins to three late-season victories, the last
after trailing rival Southern Cal by 14 points in the fourth
quarter. Coming off a mediocre junior year at Cal, in which he
threw 17 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, Pat did not appear
destined for similar heroics. But Gilbertson was fired after
that 3-8 season and replaced by Mariucci, a move that Walsh says
"saved Pat's career."
Shortly after Mariucci was hired, Barnes and two other Cal
quarterbacks walked to Memorial Stadium to introduce themselves
to the coaching staff. It was 10 p.m., and when Mariucci and
some assistants, who were planning to install the West Coast
offense, started discussing theory, Barnes felt as if they were
talking in a foreign language. "I learned more over the next
four hours than I learned in the previous three years about my
job as quarterback," he says. "In my junior year coaches would
tell me, 'Throw it to this guy; don't worry, he'll be open.' If
the play broke down, it was like street ball. But last year it
became like a chess match."
Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, who is now in the same
position at Southern Cal, demanded that Barnes dedicate himself
to football and insisted that he put a stop to the late-night
fights with his girlfriend and the carousing. "The first thing I
heard when I walked onto campus was, 'Hey, you've got a
quarterback who parties pretty hard,'" Jackson recalls.
Barnes got himself in line, though he admits it wasn't easy to
curtail the partying. "There were nights when I felt like I
needed to chain myself to the chair in my living room while my
friends went out," he says. But Barnes retained his funky side,
which surfaced again last summer when a homeless man showed up
at his apartment complex. "He said he was looking for a job and
offered to clean up the place," Barnes recalls. "I said, 'Don't
worry about cleaning up. You can crash here.' He told me how he
grew up in Texas, got drafted for Vietnam when he was 18 and has
been messed up ever since. He showed me his four bullet wounds.
He used to work in a health club, so he offered to help me with
my workout program. After about a week one of my roommates came
back for summer school and told him he had to leave."
The man found another place to live, and now Barnes is moving on
as well, maturity be damned. Recently he called his agent, Mike
Sullivan, and told him, "I was in a car accident. The other
driver wants $100,000. What should I do?" Sullivan questioned
his client for 10 minutes before Barnes reminded him, "By the
way, it's April Fools' Day."
For Barnes, what day isn't?