Fans in Pittsburgh and New Orleans may be losing faith after franchise quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger and Drew Brees suffered significant injuries in Week 2. Big Ben's elbow injury will sideline him for the season, as second year quarterback Mason Rudolph will start the Steelers' remaining 14 games. Brees, who sustained a hand injury last Sunday, is expected to be out 6-8 weeks. Teddy Bridgewater, a former first round pick, will start for New Orleans in Brees' absence.
While injuries to future Hall of Fame quarterbacks are never good, the NFL is full of stories about backup quarterbacks that came from relative obscurity to NFL fame after leading their teams on Super Bowl runs after their team's starting quarterback went down with an injury. Below is the list of notable, one-time backups that Rudolph and Bridgewater will look to emulate in the coming weeks.
Morrall took over the Colts' offense when Hall of Famer Johnny Unitas suffered an injury during Baltimore's final preseason game. Morrall, a 34-year-old journeyman heading into the 1968 season, would win league MVP honors that year while leading the Colts to an NFL best 13-1 record. Morrall's storybook season did not have a happy ending, however, as Baltimore was upset by Joe Namath and the AFL's New York Jets in Super Bowl III. In a twist of irony, Unitas relieved an ineffective Morrall near the end of New York's shocking 16-7 victory. Morrall was Unitas' backup two years later when Baltimore won its first Super Bowl, a 16-13 win over the Dallas Cowboys that saw Morrall relieve an injured Unitas in the second half.
In 1972, Morrall was again called into action after Miami Dolphins starter Bob Griese suffered an injury during the first half of the regular season. With Morrall under center, Miami won 11 straight games while carrying a 15-0 record into Pittsburgh for that year's AFC Championship Game.
OTD 1972— Kevin Gallagher (@KevG163) December 24, 2018
° 1972 AFC DIVISIONAL °
Dolphins QB Earl Morrall leads a 6-play, 80-yard drive, culminating in Jim Kiick's game-winning 8-yard TD run with 4:49 left to survive vs. the Browns, 20-14.
Miami's 15th straight win keeps their undefeated '72 intact.https://t.co/ISbwoz78d7 pic.twitter.com/tO6SFPHjUS
But after Miami's offense stalled during the first half, Dolphins Hall of Fame coach Don Shula replaced Morrall with Griese, as Miami rebounded from its slow start to defeat the Steelers en route to a victory over Washington in Super Bowl VII. Morrall would remain Griese's backup when the Dolphins repeated as world champions the following season.
"When I look back on my coaching career and all the quarterbacks that I've coached, I've got Hall of Famers in Johnny Unitas, Bob Griese and now Dan Marino," Shula told NFL Network back in 2006, "but Earl Morrall is in my personal Hall of Fame."
Staubach's Hall of Fame career began on the bench, as Staubach spent his first of five Super Bowls -- Dallas' 16-13 loss to Baltimore in Super Bowl V -- on the bench. Staubach started the following season on the bench before Cowboys coach Tom Landry -- who had rotated Staubach and Craig Morton in and out of the lineup during the early portions of the season -- finally made the 29-year-old Staubach his starting quarterback.
Staubach responded by leading the Cowboys to a 10-0 record as a starter during the '71 season, a season that ended with Staubach guiding Dallas to their first Super Bowl victory, a 24-3 win over Miami in Super Bowl VI. Ironically, Staubach and the Cowboys would defeat Morton and the Denver Broncos six years later in Super Bowl XII.
Oh yeah. Staubach is also responsible for the first Hail Mary in NFL history.
I used to skip the Super Bowl documentaries that featured the Cowboys. Then the Eagles won and I allowed myself to watch Dallas in the 70's.— Johnny $coreboards (@jscoreboards) September 3, 2019
Roger Staubach was a real one. Yet ppl still forget Tony Romo was a dumpster house in the playoffs.pic.twitter.com/9L22VPlv7M
The quarterback that nearly upset the Steelers in Super Bowl XIV, Ferregamo took over for Rams starter Pat Haden with five games remaining in the 1979 regular season. Los Angeles, just 5-6 when Haden went down, went 4-1 with Ferregamo while winning the NFC West division title.
After helping lead the Rams to a pair of upset wins over Dallas and Tampa Bay in the NFC playoffs, Ferregamo helped Los Angeles build a 19-17 lead over the defending champion Steelers heading into the final quarter of Super Bowl XIV. Ferregamo, who had outplayed Pittsburgh Hall of Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw for most of the game, wasn't able to keep pace with Bradshaw and the Steelers down the stretch, throwing a crucial interception to linebacker Jack Lambert that set up Pittsburgh's game-clinching score.
While the Steelers won their fourth Super Bowl, Ferregamo and the Rams won respect.
"Ferragamo was the better quarterback today," Pittsburgh Hall of Fame Mike Webster told Sports Illustrated's Paul Zimmerman after the game. "Overall, I'd have to say he did the better job."
A former Heisman Trophy winner and the No. 1 overall pick in the 1970 NFL Draft, Plunkett had already been labeled as a bust when he signed with the Raiders before the start of the 1979 season. But after starting quarterback Dan Pastorini suffered a season-ending injury five games into the 1980 season, Plunkett resurrected his career by helping the Raiders become the first wild card team to win the Super Bowl that season. In that year's Super Bowl, Plunkett earned MVP honors after throwing three touchdowns in Oakland's 27-10 victory over Philadelphia, a team that defeated Plunkett and the Raiders during the regular season.
#KPIX70: The past couple of days have been rough for @Raiders fans. Let’s look back on a happier time, when the silver & black beat the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl XV in 1981. 🎥: NFL #kpix #pixnow #raiders #oakland #sbxv #jimplunkett #Kpix70 #tbt #ThrowbackThursday pic.twitter.com/rL9Ewb6WYZ— KPIX 5 (@KPIXtv) December 14, 2018
Three years later, Plunkett helped the Raiders dismantle the defending champion Redskins in Super Bowl XVIII while becoming the fifth starting quarterback in history to win multiple Super Bowl rings.
Hostetler was about ready to retire when the biggest break of his career took place. Late in the Giants' 1990 season, New York starter and former Super Bowl MVP Phil Simms sustained a season-ending injury in a loss to the visiting Buffalo Bills. Hostetler, who was ready to retire after growing tired of sitting on the bench, would be the Giants' starting quarterback for the upcoming playoffs.
Hostetler, a six year veteran who had just two starts under his belt before the '90 season, made the most of his opportunity. After helping lead the Giants to a divisional round playoff win over the Bears, Hostetler helped New York defeat Joe Montana and the two-time defending champion 49ers in one of the greatest upsets in NFL championship game history.
For an encore, Hostetler and the Giants upset the favored Bills the following week in Super Bowl XXV. While defensive coordinator Bill Belichick's defensive game plan helped keep Buffalo's high octane offense in check, Hostetler mastered head coach Bill Parcells' offensive game plan, as the Giants controlled the ball for a record 40 minutes in the Giants' 20-19 victory.
While he's more remembered for his time as a starter in Pittsburgh, Brister played a key role role in Denver's successful defense of their Super Bowl title in 1998. With Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway sidelined with an injury, Brister went 4-0 as Denver's starting quarterback while helping the Broncos finish the season with a 14-2 regular season record. With Brister back on the bench, Elway turned in an MVP performance in Denver's win over Atlanta in Super Bowl XXXIII before riding off into the sunset.
Warner, a grocery store clerk just several years before breaking into the NFL in 1998, is arguably the NFL's greatest Cinderella story. After playing in just one game as a rookie, Warner became the Rams' starting quarterback when Trent Green, acquired from the Redskins during the offseason, sustained a season-ending injury during the preseason. Green's injury was so traumatic to St. Louis that Rams head coach Dick Vermeil failed to keep his composure during a press conference announcing that Green's season was over.
"We will rally around Kurt Warner," Vermeil said through tears, "and we'll play good football."
The Rams didn't play good football. They played great football while changing the way the game is played today. With Warner under center, the Rams, a four-win outfit the previous season, won 13 regular season game while clinching the No. 1 seed heading into the postseason. Warner won league MVP honors while leading an offense that earned the distinction as the "Greatest Show on Turf".
Warner and the Rams would go onto capture the franchise's first Super Bowl title by season's end, with Warner throwing for a then-record 414 yards in St. Louis' thrilling victory over the Titans.
Warner and the Rams would reach another Super Bowl two years later, while Warner would lead the Arizona Cardinals to another Super Bowl in 2008. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2017.
The Patriots went 5-11 in 2000, Belichick and Brady's first seasons in New England. They were off to an 0-2 start in 2001 when Brady, who threw just three passes as a rookie, replaced franchise quarterback Drew Bledsoe after Bledsoe sustained a serious injury near the end of the Patriots' Week 2 loss to the New York Jets.
The rest, as they say, is history. Eighteen years, 269 regular season starts, 40 regular season starts, three league MVPs, four Super Bowl MVPs and six Super Bowl rings later, Brady is the most accomplished quarterback in NFL history. His improbable run began during that '01 season, a season that saw Brady guide the Patriots to 14 wins that included New England's shocking victory over the "Greatest Show on Turf" in Super Bowl XXXVI. Brady, who at the time was the youngest starting quarterback to win a Super Bowl, engineered a game-winning drive in the final minutes of that Super Bowl, with Adam Vinatieri kicking the game-winning field goal as time expired.
After spending his first two NFL seasons on the bench, Romo took over the reins for Bledsoe during the first half of the 2006 season. Romo was an instant hit, earning Pro Bowl honors that season while helping lead the Cowboys to the playoffs.
In 2007, his first full season as a starter, Romo produced the most prolific passing season in Cowboys history, throwing 36 touchdown passes while leading Dallas to a 13-3 record. He led the Cowboys to playoff victories in 2009 and in 2014.
Romo would spend a decade as the Cowboys' starting quarterback, earning four Pro Bowl selections while breaking numerous franchise passing records.
Eagles fans will always remember Foles as the quarterback who came off the bench to lead Philadelphia to their first Super Bowl title. Foles, who took over for an injured Carson Wentz 13 games into the 2017 season, led the Eagles to playoff wins over Atlanta and Minnesota before earning MVP honors in Philadelphia's win over New England in Super Bowl LII. Foles, who threw for 373 yards and three scores in the Eagles' 41-33 victory, was also part of one of the most memorable plays in Super Bowl history: The Philly Special.
While Rudolph and Bridgewater join this list? Only time will tell.