Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

SPORTS EXTRA / NFL 2000

The Replacements

Quarterbacks Will Find Tough Acts to Follow in Miami and San Francisco

August 26, 2000|GARY KLEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Now that Dan Marino and Steve Young are retired from the NFL, both record-setting passers are assured of passing directly to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Damon Huard and Jay Fielder are battling to replace Marino in Miami. Jeff Garcia inherited Young's spot in San Francisco. All are bracing for the scrutiny reserved for those who follow living legends.

Huard coolly led the Dolphins to a 5-1 record in 1999 when Marino was injured and the job was his to lose this season. But Huard did not throw a touchdown pass in the Dolphins' first three exhibitions and could be challenged by Fiedler.

At the start of training camp, Huard acknowledged the pressure of competing with Marino's legacy.

"You feel more responsibility on your shoulders," Huard told reporters. "Dan was the man around here for a long time. Now someone has to step up and take his place. It's not going to be easy, but this is what you play for and what you dream of."

Garcia faces a challenge even more daunting with the 49ers. For all his greatness, Young--in the hearts of many fans--remains the second-best quarterback in San Francisco history behind his predecessor, Hall of Famer Joe Montana.

"Steve and Joe set such a high standard for the position that there are going to be those external pressures to succeed right away," said Garcia, who passed for 2,544 yards and 11 touchdowns last season after Young suffered a concussion. "I have to be able to handle those as well as possible."

Following in a legend's footsteps is not easy, but it does not have to be a nightmare, according to three former players who replaced hall of fame quarterbacks.

Scott Hunter followed Bart Starr with the Green Bay Packers. Bert Jones was selected by the Baltimore Colts with the No. 1 pick in the 1973 NFL draft after what turned out to be John Unitas' final season with the team. And Richard Todd replaced Joe Namath with the New York Jets.

Neither Hunter, Jones nor Todd have bronzed busts on display in Canton, Ohio, but all three forged NFL careers of seven years or more with varying degrees of success.

All agree that Huard, Fiedler and Garcia must demonstrate talent and mental toughness to meet the expectations of nostalgic fans.

"They're going to have to be good--that will supersede anything," said Jones, who was the league's most valuable player in 1976. "They have to perform."

Hunter, who joined the Packers in 1971 and led them to a 10-4 record in 1972, said teammates will not be won over--or discouraged by--arm strength, mobility or statistics.

"Players on NFL teams look at the quarterback and make what is virtually a black-and-white judgment: Can this guy win for us or not?"' said Hunter, now a financial advisor for athletes in Mobile, Ala. "In their minds it boils down to 'Does this guy go after it Sunday after Sunday and give us a chance?' "

Starr epitomized that ideal. He played for the Packers from 1956-71 and led Coach Vince Lombardi's teams to five NFL championships, including three in a row in 1965, '66 and '67. Starr led the league in passing three times and was the most valuable player of the first two Super Bowls.

Hunter, who played for four teams during seven NFL seasons, said he was, "steeled," for his experience in Green Bay from having followed Namath, Steve Sloan and Ken Stabler at Alabama.

It helped that Starr was supportive in the final season of his great career, but Hunter found a secret to success on his own.

"I had looked at tapes of Namath and Stabler and tried to emulate some of the things they had done, and then I was watching tapes of Bart and trying to do some of the things he had done," Hunter said. "Finally, it dawned on me, 'I'm not Joe Namath or Bart Starr. I'm not going to either one of those guys. I have to be Scott Hunter.' "

Jones did not have the benefit of Unitas' presence when he arrived in Baltimore after a brilliant career at Louisiana State.

Unitas had been traded to the San Diego Chargers in January of 1973, but Baltimore fans still revered Mr. Quarterback, who had guided their beloved Colts in his trademark black high-top cleats.

Unitas was the league MVP three times, appeared in the Pro Bowl 10 times and led the Colts to three NFL titles, including consecutive championships in 1958 and 1959.

"I did not portray myself as taking the place of John Unitas," said Jones, who twice made All-Pro during his nine seasons with the Colts and played his final season with the Los Angeles Rams. "You can't take the place of someone like that in people's hearts. You're just occupying the position."

Jones won over fans with his performance. He amassed 18,190 passing yards and 124 touchdowns during his career.

"With fans, it's kind of like having children," said Jones, the owner of a lumber manufacturing mill in Louisiana and host of an outdoors show for ESPN. "Even though you don't think you have room in your heart for just one more, when a new baby comes along you embrace it and find room to love it."

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|