When Opportunity Knocks

When Opportunity Knocks

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In NFL news for Week 15, the Cleveland Browns have handed the starting QB spot to rookie Johnny Manziel. Browns fans can only hope and dream it is the start of something great for their first round draft choice and that he follows in the footsteps of some quarterbacks who now have Bronzed Busts in Canton.

Hall of Fame quarterbacks have started their careers in a variety of different ways. Some started on the field in their first pro game, while others had to wait for their opportunity. Here are a few stories of Hall of Fame quarterbacks who began their road to Canton after taking the reins of a team in the middle of a season.

Hall of Fame QB passing the torch

In 1973, the San Diego Chargers entered the season with optimism. The team had signed the legendary Johnny Unitas and had visions of earning a playoff spot for the first time in eight years.  The season derailed quickly however as Unitas and the Chargers started with a 1-3 record. In came rookie Dan Fouts, who made his first NFL start on Oct. 14 against the Oakland Raiders.

Fouts, a third round draft pick, played well and actually led the Chargers to a lead late in the third quarter before the team succumbed to the Raiders 27-17.  Final stats for Fouts – 12 of 30 for 183 yards and 2 TDs. What was to come? Fifteen years with Fouts standing under center for the Chargers equated to 43,040 yards passing, 254 TDs and and an election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. 

“Joe Cool” eased into the starting role

Joe Montana was a third round pick of the San Francisco 49ers in 1979. In his first NFL start in place of Steve DeBerg, Montana didn’t even finish the game, a 13-10 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in Week 14, at Busch Stadium on Dec. 2, 1979. He completed just 5-of-12 passes for 36 yards and also ran the ball three times for 22 yards.

The next season Montana started seven games down the stretch for the 49ers. He completed 176 of 273 passes for 1,795 yards, 15 touchdown passes and 9 interceptions. The 49ers placed Montana into the starting role in 1981 and their patience paid dividends. Montana started all 16 games of the ‘81 season and led San Francisco to a 13-3 record and a Super Bowl title. Montana would go on to lead the 49ers to three additional Super Bowls and the distinction as "Team of the Decade."

Marino rights the ship

Dan Marino was the Miami Dolphins first round choice in the 1983 NFL Draft. The only problem for Marino, however, was that the Dolphins already had a quarterback (David Woodley) who had just led the team to the Super Bowl. The Dolphins named Woodley the starter to begin the 1983 campaign but his play during the first five weeks of the season was underwhelming. Although the team had posted a 3-2 record, Woodley had passed for only 528 yards, three TDs and four interceptions. During that stretch however, Marino showed flashes of brilliance in two of Miami’s losses.

The ball was handed to Marino permanently on Oct. 8 against the Buffalo Bills. He immediately took charge of the Dolphins' offense and guided the team to a 12-4 record and the AFC East title. Marino went on to establish himself as one of the greatest passers of all-time.     

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