With news out of Seattle that Russell Wilson will be starting the next preseason game for the Seahawks, I can’t help to think how much the Seahawks’ quarterback problem compares to the Bills’ quarterback situation in 1998.
The Doug Flutie and Rob Johnson battle was a quarterback controversy for the ages. They took completely different routes to get a shot at being the starting quarterback in Buffalo. The paths of Matt Flynn and Wilson are eerily similar to Johnson and Flutie.
In 1997, Johnson was a backup quarterback for the Jacksonville Jaguars, sitting behind an All-Pro, Mark Brunell. In Week 1, Johnson started for an injured Brunell and passed for 294 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for 31 yards and a score. That was the only game Johnson started in his three years in Jacksonville.
Johnson had the size, arm strength and athleticism that would make a prototypical quarterback. In 1998, the Bills gave Johnson a mind-blowing five-year, $25 million contract for his performance in one game.
Flynn is playing the Johnson part in Seattle. He does have a leg up on Johnson, starting a whopping two games in his career. In fairness, he threw for an impressive 731 yards and nine touchdowns in his two starts. Flynn also won a national championship at LSU, something Johnson didn't do.
With two NFL starts, the Seahawks saw enough from Flynn to give him $26 million over three years. The money Buffalo and Seattle gave to Johnson and Flynn should make them the automatic starter, but there’s a small thorn in each of their sides.
Johnson had a hard time fending off Flutie as the starter. Flutie came back to the NFL in 1998 after spending eight years in the CFL. Standing 5'10", Flutie was seen as too short to make it in the NFL. When compared to Johnson, Flutie’s size looked like it would hamper his chances of becoming the Bills' starter.
As big as a mismatch Flutie and Johnson were on paper, the mismatch on the field was greater. Flutie went 17-8 as the Bills starter in 1998 and 1999 and led the team to back-to-back playoff appearances. From 1998-2001, Johnson record was flipped, going 9-17 as the starter in Buffalo.
Russell Wilson is trying to replicate Flutie’s magic in Seattle. He too stands only 5'10", and has not played a down in a regular-season game yet; however, as Flutie showed, a quarterback may not look the part or put up the great stats, but he wins.
Flutie also showed that an undersized quarterback can be successful in the NFL. Wilson has an extra challenge of playing against players that are only getting taller, faster and wider every year. It may have been easier for a shorter quarterback to play 14 years ago than it is now. Michael Vick is 6'0" tall and his injuries get blamed on his size and running attempts. Wilson has those same questions in the league today.
On paper, Flynn should beat Wilson out for the starting job. He has the size, championship pedigree and “experience” that Wilson doesn’t have. But Wilson could have an unexplainable magic to his game that wins games.
Buffalo saw a quarterback controversy that had many of the same questions 14 years ago as Seattle has today. Pete Carroll and the Seahawks should look to Flutie and Johnson for answers to his controversy. The quarterback that looks the part doesn't always win games.