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Sports Then and Now




Sorry Michael Vick, You Are Not A Pioneer

Posted on June 22, 2014 by Dean Hybl
Randall Cunningham showed that quarterbacks could be weapons both throwing and running with the football.

Randall Cunningham showed that quarterbacks could be weapons both throwing and running with the football.

It always amuses me when contemporary athletes act like there is no sports history before they bestowed their presence on their particular game.

The most recent athlete to proclaim his own place in sports history is New York Jets quarterback Michael Vick.

Even though he didn’t come into the league until 2001, the 82nd year of the NFL, Vick is certain that he “revolutionized” the game and “was the guy who started” the era of athletic, mobile quarterbacks.

Evidently Vick had never heard of Fran Tarkenton, Roger Staubach, Randall Cunningham or Steve Young, all of whom used both their legs and their arm to forge great NFL careers long before Vick ever took a professional snap.

Now, please don’t get me wrong. Vick is a gifted talent and has been a dynamic running quarterback for more than a decade, but to suggest that he started the trend of athletic quarterbacks just isn’t correct.

Whether the motive of his recent assertions stem from a true lack of historical knowledge or if they are more related to his desire to create his own legacy as his career is winding down, Vick needs to realize that that though he holds the NFL record for rushing yards in a quarterback, he is just one of many quarterbacks in NFL history to use both his arm and legs to achieve success.

Interestingly enough, while Vick has been a solid NFL quarterback, he really isn’t near the top of the list among quarterbacks who combined running and passing to create a dual threat.

First off, it must be understood that just because a quarterback racks up a lot of rushing yards doesn’t mean he is a great dual threat.

Do You Consider Michael Vick to be an NFL Pioneer?

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Michael Vick was better as a runner than a passer during his years in Atlanta.

Michael Vick was better as a runner than a passer during his years in Atlanta.

Before Vick rushed for 1,039 yards in 2006, the quarterback with the most rushing yards in a single season was Bobby Douglass of the Chicago Bears with 968 yards in 1972. However, despite starting all 14 games for the Bears that season Douglass barely eclipsed that total in passing yards. He completed 37.9 percent of his passes for 1,246 yards, nine touchdowns and 12 interceptions as the Bears went 4-9-1.

While Vick’s numbers in 2006 were a bit better, in an NFL now geared to enhance the pass, his totals weren’t particularly impressive. He completed 52.6 percent of his attempts for 2,474 yards, 20 touchdowns and 13 interceptions while the Falcons went 7-9.

For his career, Vick has completed 56.2% of his passes with 128 touchdowns, 85 interceptions and an 80.9 career passer rating.

What made Tarkenton, Staubach, Cunningham and Young special when it came to mobility was that they were able to use their legs not just to gain yards, but also to enhance their success passing the football.

There are great NFL Films that show Tarkenton scrambling for long periods of time behind the line of scrimmage before setting himself and throwing a completed pass down the field.  He did rush for 3,674 yards (5.5 ypc) during his 18 NFL seasons, but he also held NFL records at the time of his retirement with 47,003 yards passing and 342 touchdown passes while completing 57% of his career passes.

Fran Tarkenton was seen as unorthodox when he entered the NFL in 1961 as a scrambling quarterback.

Fran Tarkenton was seen as unorthodox when he entered the NFL in 1961 as a scrambling quarterback.

Like Tarkenton, Staubach also tended to use his legs more to avoid rushing passers than for planned runs. However, during the 1971 season Staubach averaged 8.4 yards per rush to help lead the Cowboys to their first Super Bowl title. He also led the NFL in passer rating four times and his 83.4 rating was the highest in NFL history at the time of his retirement.

You could likely point to Cunningham as the first quarterback who really used his legs as a consistent weapon and if you wanted to use the word “revolutionized” to describe any quarterback around mobility and athleticism, I think it could be for him.

Cunningham was dubbed the “Ultimate Weapon” by Sports Illustrated and his 942 rushing yards (8.0 ypc) in 1990 are surpassed among quarterbacks only by Vick and Douglass. However, unlike the two left-handers, the right-handed Cunningham was just as successful passing the football during his big rushing season as he was running. He completed 58.2% of his passes for 3,466 yards, 30 touchdowns and 13 interceptions as the Philadelphia Eagles went 10-6.

Unfortunately for Cunningham, he suffered a major knee injury in the opening game of the next season and while he returned to rush for 549 yards in 1992 he was never again quite the dual threat he had been during his first six seasons.

While Steve Young never compiled nearly as many rushing yards in a season as Vick or Cunningham, he was a definite threat from the quarterback position and gained at least 400 yards rushing in a season five times, including 454 yards (6.5 ypc) at age 37 in 1998. He used his threat as a runner to enhance his incredible passing totals as he completed 64.3% of his passes and exceeded a 100 passer rating six times during an eight year stretch.

There is little question that Vick has been a significantly better passing quarterback since returning to the NFL in 2009 after missing a pair of seasons due to off the field issues. He has not come close to rushing for similar yardage to what he did during his years in Atlanta, but he has averaged 6.7 yards per rush while improving his passing percentage from 53.8 percent for the Falcons to 59.8 percent over the last five seasons.

However, Vick will never be considered in the same class as a passer as Tarkenton, Staubach, Young or even Cunningham. Each of them also were consistent winners while Vick has posted only five winning seasons as a starting quarterback during 11 years in the NFL.

Vick may see current quarterbacks such as Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson, Cam Newton and Robert Griffin as his protégés, but in reality they are just the latest in a more than 50 year history of quarterbacks using both their arm and their legs to garner NFL success.


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