Sometimes in sports, it is the backup quarterback who steps into spotlight in the playoffs
I started following professional football in 1956, at the age of seven. Growing up in Pittsburgh, I rooted for the Steelers during their years of abject failure in the 1950s and 1960s and was ultimately rewarded with their dynasty of the 1970s.
My son, Neil was born in 1980 and grew up in South Jersey as a Philadelphia Eagles fan. Watching the Eagles with him on Sunday was great fun, and like Neil, I began to root for the Eagles as well. Today, I am primarily an Eagles fan, although I still root for the Steelers out of past sentiment.
In last week’s game in Los Angeles against the Rams, the Eagles starting quarterback, Carson Wentz, on his way to an All-Pro season, suffered a torn ACL. The Eagles won the game, but their fans began to appear on social media and prematurely mourn that the then 11-2 Eagles (now 12-2 after last Sunday’s victory over the New York Giants) had lost their chance for a Super Bowl championship this season.
I expressed total optimism that under the leadership of the Eagles’ backup quarterback Nick Foles, the Eagles would still win a Super Bowl championship this season. Foles is a superb quarterback who would be a starter on at least 24 of the other 31 NFL teams.
Then, I said the words I have continuously repeated on social media since the Wentz injury: “Remember: Tobin Rote, 1957; Nick Foles, 2017!”
My problem was that today’s NFL fans have no idea who the late Tobin Rote was. Most know at most that he was a first cousin of the late New York Giants’ receiver, Kyle Rote. Today’s fans get most of their information from sports commentators who are totally ignorant of sports history. Few come close to my all-time favorite sports talk show host, the late Art Rust, Jr. of WABC radio, New York, a true walking encyclopedia of sports history.
So let me enlighten you as to who Tobin Rote was.
By far, the greatest seasonal substitute quarterback performance of all time was that of Tobin Rote on the 1957 Detroit Lions, exactly sixty years ago. He took over for Hall of Fame quarterback Bobby Layne after Layne broke his ankle in game 11 (the NFL had a 12-game season then). Rote led the Lions to a Western Conference tie with the San Francisco 49ers. In the tiebreaker playoff game, the Lions were trailing in the third quarter, 27-7, and Rote led them to a spectacular 31-27 comeback victory. In the NFL Championship game, Rote gave one of the finest championship performances in the history of pro football, leading the Lions to a 59-13 victory over the Cleveland Browns. There was no Super Bowl in the pre-AFL 1957, and the NFL Championship was then recognized as the world professional football championship. I watched on television both these historic games.
Accordingly, Tobin Rote is the ideal historical precedent for Nick Foles to follow. Some fans and media personnel have cited as such a precedent Jeff Hostetler, who substituted for the injured Phil Simms of the 1990 New York Giants and led them to a Super Bowl victory over the Buffalo Bills. This is, however, a poor precedent. The Giants would have lost that 1990 season Super Bowl to Buffalo had it not been for the Scott Norwood missed field goal at the end of the game.
The performance of Jeff Hostetler for the Giants in 1990 did not come close to that of Tobin Rote for the Lions in 1957. Tobin Rote later quarterbacked the 1963 San Diego Chargers to an AFL Championship. He definitely belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
There is a strong point of commonality between Tobin Rote and Nick Foles. It was quite fortuitous that they were on the rosters of their respective teams when the starting quarterback was injured. The Lions acquired Rote in a trade with the Green Bay Packers prior to the 1957 season, and the Eagles signed Foles, who at one time had been a Philadelphia starter, prior to the 2017 season. Both these quarterbacks had been obtained by their respective teams as backups.
So have no fear, Eagles fans! Nick Foles is Tobin Rote! Just remember this slogan: Tobin Rote, 1957; Nick Foles, 2017!
Alan Steinberg is a columnist for New Jersey’s leading political website, InsiderNJ.com and a frequent columnist for News Talk Florida. He served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush and as Executive Director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission under former New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman. After his long and successful career in politics and government, he still dreams of being a sportswriter!