Unitas. Namath. Montana. Marino.
These are men on the Mount Rushmore of NFL quarterbacks. And they are all products of the great state of Pennsylvania.
No state in the country has produced more NFL Hall of Fame quarterbacks than the Keystone State, with six in all: Johnny Unitas, Joe Namath, Joe Montana, Dan Marino, Jim Kelly and George Blanda.
Pennsylvania is the quarterback factory. At least it was. But as I was watching Sportscenter on the eve of the 2012 NFL season’s kickoff slated for tonight, I saw a clip of Dan Marino and the Miami Dolphins defeating John Elway and the defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos in 1999. The clip was shown to demonstrate the last time a Super Bowl winner lost the opener, with the defending champion Giants taking on the Cowboys tonight.
When I saw Marino slinging the pill, I realized he was really the last great quarterback from my home state, and when I really thought about it, I had a hard time coming up with many starting quarterbacks from Pennsylvania over the past 15 years. Philadelphia native Rich Gannon had a nice career and got to a Super Bowl, but besides that, no one really jumped out at me beyond the few Pennsylvania starters around today. Thus the question dawned on me: What the hell happened to all the great NFL quarterbacks from Pennsylvania?
As it stands, there are seven quarterbacks from Pennsylvania on NFL rosters. Only two of them are starters: Atlanta’s Matt Ryan and Houston’s Matt Schaub. And while both are very good quarterbacks, neither would be consider Hall of Fame caliber, at least not right now. The other five are all backups right now, several of them third-stringers, with only Pittsburgh’s Charlie Batch and Jacksonville’s Chad Henne really being starting quarterbacks for any significant time during their careers. Yes, Cincinnati’s Bruce Gradkowski has some starts under his belt, but he’s never been considered the starter really. Rounding out the list are Miami’s Pat Devlin, who hung on with the release of David Garrard, and Oakland’s Terrelle Pryor, who has not had any sort of significant playing time buried for the Raiders.
Now you look at today’s elite and you see states like Texas and California, historically NFL-fertile grounds, producing the likes of Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady, while Pennsylvania trails behind.
It’s a little bit curious, don’t you think? Granted, Hall of Fame quarterbacks don’t grow on trees. Hell, NFL quarterbacks are rare enough to come by, and having seven from one state including two current starters for playoff teams is nothing to sneeze at. But the dominance doesn’t seem to be there like it once was.
Unitas, Namath, Blanda, Montana, Marino, Kelly — those guys overlapped but spanned generations. That no longer seems to be the case. Because Johnny U, Broadway Joe and all the rest have been replaced with Henne and Pryor and Batch.
Pennsylvania used to be the quarterback state. Now it’s just another state with a few quarterbacks. What happened?