Everyone loves the backup quarterback.
He has all the promise of an all-pro player without ever actually having to demonstrate it on the field. It is the blessing and curse of being second string.
Even if he is thrust into a game and performs poorly, fans will simply say "he played pretty well, for a backup". When it comes to the second man under center, fans are understanding, forgiving and adoring, almost to a fault.
As soon as the starter begins to falter, legions of fans romanticize the on-field prowess of the quarterback in waiting.
The list of backups-turned-starters is endless, and includes the likes of Tom Brady and Steve Young, so the aim was to focus on those that spent the majority of their careers holding the clipboard or in backup/starter limbo.
Despite taking home the Heisman trophy his senior year at Boston College, Doug Flutie's pro prospects did not look great entering the 1985 Draft. He was ultimately selected in the 11th round, but opted to play in the USFL for the New Jersey Generals.
Following the USFL's collapse, Flutie entered the NFL as a backup, eventually being traded to the Patriots. After earning 13 starts in three seasons in New England, Flutie entered the Canadian Football League in 1990. He became one of the most decorated players in CFL history and returned to the NFL in 1998, becoming the backup to Rob Johnson in Buffalo.
After a four year stint with the Bills, Flutie became a San Diego Charger. He started for the team during the 2001 season, then later served as second-year quarterback as Drew Brees' backup in 2002.
Flutie ended his career playing for the New England Patriots behind Tom Brady in 2005.
In his 12 NFL seasons, the four-time Pro Bowler found himself sitting second string twice, once early in his career in St. Louis behind Trent Green, and then later on in Arizona with Matt Leinart.
He benefited from Green's torn ACL prior to the 1999 season, ultimately becoming the Rams starter and conductor of the "greatest show on turf". His tenure in St. Louis ended with a broken finger forcing him to give up his starting spot in 2004 to a relative unknown at the time, Marc Bulger.
After moving to the Cardinals the following season, he held the teams starting job from 2005 through most of 2006 before eventually being replaced by rookie Matt Leinart. The next season, the team had seen enough of Leinart to designate him the team's starter entering the 2007 season. After repeatedly having to relieve Leinart mid-game, the team eventually made the decision to make Warner the starter for the remainder of the season.
The on-again/off-again NFL starter retired after the 2009 season with a Super Bowl MVP (XXXIV) and the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award (2008) on his mantle.
In the beginning of his career, it appeared Jim Plunkett would not have been a likely candidate for this list.
Coming off a Heisman Trophy his senior year at Stanford and a first year in New England that saw him named UPI AFC Rookie of the Year, Plunkett's career trajectory seemed to have him Pro Bowl bound.
Some injury issues and high interception totals forced a trade to San Francisco prior to the 1976 season where he started for two years before being released.
He joined the Raiders as Dan Pastorini's backup before the 1978 season. Following Pastorini suffering a broken leg in the fifth game of the 1980 season, Plunkett stepped in to start, ultimately leading the Raiders to the playoffs and a victory in Super Bowl XV, where he was named the game's most valuable player.
Similar conditions played out the following season in 1981, when Plunkett replaced injured starter Marc Wilson midseason. With Plunkett at the helm, the black and silver returned to glory, beating the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl XVIII, and cementing Plunkett as one of the most successful NFL backups of all-time.
If you step in for a starter and win a few games, fans are going to be happy. If you bring a town a Super Bowl, you will be revered.
From 1985 to 1990, Jeff Hostetler made a total of four regular season starts for the New York Giants. Two of those came in 1990, when he went under center to replace injured star quarterback Phil Simms.
Hostetler went on to win both starts, then lead the Giants to win the franchise's second Super Bowl (XXV).
This performance, coupled with a strong minicamp showing the following season was enough to earn him the starting job over Simms the following season.
Earl Morrall, backup extraordinaire.
Few NFL quarterbacks have appeared in four Super Bowls—Earl Morrall managed to do so as a career backup.
As a member of the Baltimore Colts, Morrall replaced Johnny Unitas after he was injured early in the 1968 season, leading the team to a disappointing loss against the Jets in the first Super Bowl. Two years later, in 1970, Morrall stepped in during their Super Bowl V run, helping the Colts win a championship.
That in and of itself would be enough to certify him as a fan favorite among backups, but his story doesn't end there. Halfway through the Miami Dolphins 1972 season, Morrall replaced the injured Bob Griese, playing the rest of the regular season and most of the playoffs as the team went on to complete the only perfect season in NFL history.
Morrall ended his career as a three-time champion, two-time Pro Bowl selection, NFL MVP (1968) and NFL Comeback Player of the Year (1972). Not bad, for a backup.