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Like Patrick Mahomes and most top QBs past and present, played ‘short’ growing up
MIAMI — You may have read a piece I wrote last August that revealed the vast majority of superstar NFL quarterbacks over the last half-century, including most of the top active passers, played shortstop in baseball as youths . Especially in high school.
Well, the list just got bigger. Add Jimmy Garoppolo, starting quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday in Super Bowl LIV (6:30 p.m. EST, CTV/TSN via FOX).
He joins his Super Bowl counterpart, Kansas City Chiefs starter Patrick Mahomes, with a shortstop-playing past.
Other active ‘shortstop-QBs’ in the NFL include Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, New Orleans’ Drew Brees, Seattle’s Russell Wilson, Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger, Atlanta’s Matt Ryan, Detroit’s Matthew Stafford, Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton, Los Angeles Rams’ Jared Goff and 2019’s No. 1 overall draft pick, Arizona’s Kyler Murray.
What’s more, every Pro Football Hall of Fame QB since the ’70s – other than Terry Bradshaw and Jim Kelly – played a lot of shortstop growing up, including Joe Montana, Brett Favre, Dan Marino, Fran Tarkenton, Dan Fouts, Warren Moon, Troy Aikman and Kurt Warner. Plus Peyton Manning, who will be a shoo-in Hall of Famer next year in his first year of eligibility.
Put another way, every passer to hold the NFL career records for yards, touchdowns or completions since Johnny Unitas — Tarkenton, Marino, Favre, Manning and Brees — was a QB/SS.
Back in the summer, everything I had read about Garoppolo’s baseball past seemed to start and stop with the fact he pitched as a kid while growing up in the greater Chicago area. On Tuesday I asked him during the 49ers media session how much baseball he played, and if at shortstop. He seemed surprised by the question.
“Yeah, that’s a pretty good guess,” he said. “I did play shortstop. I played up until high school. I played shortstop, pitcher and centre field. Those were the three main ones. Yeah, I loved baseball. Growing up it was my favourite thing. Kind of outgrew it, and got into football a little bit more once high school came.”
As so many of the above past and present passers told me for my feature, did playing shortstop help Garoppolo as a football thrower?
“Oh yeah,” he said. “Just the arm angles. Throwing side arm is one of my advantages – getting it around guys, being able to throw over the top. Whatever it takes. When you can do that it makes it hard on defenders, and makes it easier to make different kinds of throws.”
On Tuesday I was able to speak to a couple of the above Hall of Fame ‘shortstop-QBs’ I couldn’t reach in the summer. As well as Michael Vick.
I interviewed Marino by phone and told him about the overwhelming correlation.
“I didn’t know that was the case. That’s really interesting,” said Marino, echoing what Fouts and Moon had told me in the summer. “I was a pitcher too. So I pitched and played shortstop. The mechanics of throwing – they’re different, but at the same time very similar as far as how you’re stepping and throwing, and your core, and your arm strength and all that. That’s what it is. You’re just throwing a ball. You’re throwing a baseball, you’re throwing a football.”
Even before I’d mentioned the SS/QB link, Marino on his own brought up the fact it’s obvious from watching Mahomes throw that he played baseball – and shortstop – specifically because of the zip he still gets from all the creative arm angles the 24-year-old employs.
“Some of that stuff comes from his baseball background. I think he played a little shortstop, and I played shortstop too in high school, and that’s where you get some of those arm angles. But that’s just being creative, and understanding that sometimes you have to throw it different ways to get a completion.
“That’s something that’s instinctive too, more or less. Sometimes you just can’t teach that stuff. Guys just either have it or they don’t.”
Of all the QB/SS Hall of Famers I’ve now spoken to about this – including Marino, Montana, Tarkenton, Fouts and Moon – Aikman is the only one who downplayed the association, on Tuesday during FOX Sports media availability.
“I don’t know that baseball helped me all that much in football,” Aikman said. “But what it did, and I talk about it a lot – we’ve gotten to the point where our kids they’ve been asked to play one sport at a very young age … Had I have done that, I would not have played in the NFL.
“But I do believe when you watch Pat Mahomes you definitely see the influence. He almost wants you to see the influence. Some of the no-look stuff and the sidearm … maybe some of that comes from baseball. Maybe some of the confidence that he has in his arm developed in baseball.” Not every star NFL QB got the chance to play shortstop in baseball. For instance, lefties never get to play shortstop because nearly every baseball coach who has ever lived believes the throws are too hard for any southpaw. Hall of Famer Steve Young wanted desperately to play short but couldn’t.
Same with Michael Vick, he told me at the FOX publicity event.
“Both played shortstop?” Vick said of Garoppolo and Mahomes. “Yeah, y’see they’re all righties too. And they could throw it. A guy like me’s a lefty and they put me in the centre of the field – and it was just like, ‘Yo, catch it and chuck it back to the infield.’ I didn’t like that, man. I was mad I couldn’t play in the infield.”
Terry Bradshaw, Olympic javelin competitor?
MIAMI — Terry Bradshaw is one of only two Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterbacks since the ’70s who didn’t play shortstop growing up.
“No! I didn’t like baseball. Didn’t like baseball,” Bradshaw said Tuesday at FOX Sports media availability.
Jim Kelly is the other Hall of Fame QB who didn’t play much baseball as a kid; basketball was his other dual sport.
Bradshaw – like all these other modern-era Hall of Fame QBs – also was a multi-sport star growing up. His other sport?
In Shreveport, La., Bradshaw set a national high school record in javelin as a senior, with a heave of 244 feet, 11¾ inches. Sports Illustrated even had an item on it.
Why didn’t he ever go to the Summer Olympics?
“I didn’t want to go to the Olympic trials. I was invited. But I didn’t want to go,” Bradshaw said.
Does he regret that now?
“No, no, no! As a matter of fact, when we built our house I came across my javelin. And to throw this javelin in high school they had to go to the high school athletic association to get permission for me to throw it, because it wasn’t a high school javelin – a fiberglass whippy one. It was a college, aluminum javelin and they had to get permission. And I’m sure they thought that that was a lot harder to throw than that whippy thing.
“But, man, you get this thing up in the jet stream and this thing would glide, brother!”
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