Let's dispense quickly with the quaint charms of the new Quarterback U.
The football alumni at the University of Delaware include the original Phillie Phanatic, who punted for the varsity, and the current vice president of the United States, who did not make it past the freshman team.
The longtime head coach at Delaware, the not-so-aptly named Tubby Raymond, doubled as a portrait artist, painting senior players on a canvas with an accompanying Blue Hen named Dick offering up rallying cries. Raymond still does the portraits now, a decade into retirement from coaching.
As recently as the 1980s, a future NFL MVP accepted the fact that, like Ivy Leaguers of that day, he would be ineligible as a freshman. That meant playing just five games and facing the likes of Milford Academy, a Connecticut prep school that fielded a team of high school grads taking an extra year to flesh out their bodies and their grades.
"I didn't bother me because I didn't expect to start anywhere as a freshman,'' Rich Gannon said. "We didn't even go to camp. We just showed up when all the other students did.''
Yes, Gannon confirmed, the Delaware coach painted his portrait, and Gannon still has it. He just doesn't display it. The reason says a lot about how a Blue Hen might become an MVP and the quarterback of a Super Bowl team.
We'll get to that reason later. It falls somewhere between a quirk and a relevant fact, because these days advancing from behind center for Delaware to the Super Bowl requires less explanation than ever.
When the Ravens reached the Super Bowl, Joe Flacco made Delaware the only college over the last 20 years to send more than one quarterback to the big game. Gannon went with the 2002 Raiders. Nine other schools have produced multiple Super Bowl quarterbacks, but all of them played at the FBS, or Division I-A, level. Delaware is an FCS (formerly I-AA) school.
Timeout here for a measurement. The nine others are: California, Alabama, Notre Dame, BYU, Stanford, Purdue, Washington State, Maryland and UCLA.
From the starting quarterback's position, this year's Super Bowl mocks the leviathans of college football. Opposite Flacco, Colin Kaepernick represents the University of Nevada, which entered the top division in 1992 yet too often becomes confused with UNLV despite being located in Reno.
"Smaller schools have been historically the kind that have been able to get a guy who might not be completely mature and kind of nurture him throughout his college career,'' said Scott Brunner, one of six Delaware quarterbacks who has reached the NFL. "So when he comes out the other side, he's a little bit better prepared to play the pro game than his bigger-school brethren might be.''
In 1980, Brunner entered the pros and joined Morehead State's best-known football product, Phil Simms, on the New York Giants' roster. At the time, Brunner said, small-school QBs seemed to have a larger advantage than they do today, because so many of the elite teams ran a wishbone or triple-option offense, rarely allowing their quarterbacks to throw.
But outsider-school quarterbacks of recent vintage have done rather well, too, especially when measured by the yardstick of the Super Bowl. They have either carried their teams (see: Kurt Warner) or been chosen to do the job by coaches and executives wise enough to build a team that reached the Super Bowl (see: Trent Dilfer, Brad Johnson).
Using teams currently in the six power FBS conferences and Notre Dame as the definition of big schools, 18 out of 56 Super Bowl starting quarterbacks have come from the lower-profile colleges. Eight of those 18 have played in the last 14 Super Bowls since the turn of the century -- starting with the only one ever to match two Division I-AA QBs, Warner and Steve McNair.
In the first 33 years of Super Bowl history, 10 small-school quarterbacks got to the big game, making 17 starts. Three of those first 10 quarterbacks came from schools that strain our definition of outsiders. Steve Young and Jim McMahon were drafted out of BYU in the 1980s, when it won a national title under LaVell Edwards, college football's passing-game revolutionary. Roger Staubach played for Navy at a time when it still ranked as sufficiently powerful enough to help him win the Heisman.
The most recent eight all meet the definition of outsiders head-on: Delaware's pair, Nevada, Northern Iowa, Miami of Ohio, Louisiana-Lafayette, Fresno State and Alcorn State.
This group benefited from the safety net of outside leagues. Warner and Jake Delhomme went undrafted and spent a season as teammates on the Amsterdam Admirals, the Arena League vet Warner starting, the rookie Delhomme backing him up.
Another timeout for a measurement: Number of outsider-school QBs who went to Super Bowl with a different team from the one that drafted them: 7 (Favre, Gannon, Dilfer, Young, Humphries, Williams, Jaworski). Number of those seven who were first-round picks: 3. Number of those first-rounders drafted by Tampa Bay: 3 (Williams, Young, Dilfer).
Gannon went through 11 years and three teams in the NFL before he found his match in Raiders coach Jon Gruden, less than two years his senior. The Patriots, who drafted him in the fourth round in 1987, had seen Gannon in Delaware's Wing-T offense, far more sophisticated than a wishbone but still not a pro-style offense, and been impressed with his athleticism. The drafted him on the assumption they could convert him to another skill position. Gannon balked and won a trade to Minnesota.
"I learned a lot from playing for Tubby,'' he said. "But in terms of the pure drop-back game, I had a lot to learn when I got to the NFL.''
Delaware, recently elevated to Division I-AA, offered several advantages over bigger schools that recruited Gannon. His older brother, John, played linebacker at the school, and Newark (pronounced New-Ark, never New-irk, like the city in Jersey) felt like a comfort zone. Temple and its new, young head coach wanted him, but the campus within walking distance of his high school, St. Joe's Prep. He wanted a change of scenery.
Delaware also had a stable, winning history. From 1940 through this year, the school had only four head coaches. The 1979 team, with Brunner at quarterback, had won the Division II national title, the fifth out of the six small-college titles the Blue Hens have claimed.
Temple was forever fiddling with plans to become a presence in Division I-A football. Had Gannon gone there, he could have played with Paul Palmer, the running back who finished second to Vinny Testaverde in the 1986 Heisman Trophy voting. Instead, he went to Delaware and did what Blue Hens in that era enjoyed most: adjusting Temple's ambitions.
"My sophomore year, we went up [to Veterans Stadium] and put a thumping on them,'' Gannon said. "The next year, they came down and we put another thumping on them, and then they dropped us. It didn't make a lot of sense for them to keep scheduling a small school and then lose to them.''
To this day, he said, he likes to give the former Temple coach who recruited him just a little bit of a hard time about those defeats. It was Bruce Arians, now the head coach of the Cardinals.
Final timeout: According to Pro Football Reference, Delaware has sent a total of 23 players to the NFL. Six of them have been quarterbacks: Flacco, Gannon, Brunner, Jeff Komlo (drafted by the Lions, 1979), Andy Hall (Eagles, 2004) and Pat Devlin, who joined the Miami Dolphins in 2011 as an undrafted free agent.
Flacco started off in the big-time and then made a big sacrifice to attend Delaware instead. Stuck on the bench in Pittsburgh, he transferred out but couldn't get Pitt to approve an NCAA waiver that would have allowed him to move on without consequence. He and his family had to pay his way for the first year in Newark, and he couldn't play.
At this point, K.C. Keeler had replaced Raymond as the head coach, and a pro-style offense had supplanted the Wing-T. Flacco thrived and went to the Ravens as a first-round pick, at No. 18.
As he prepped for the draft and his transition to the pros, Flacco received tutoring from Brunner, a part-time quarterback instructor at New Jersey's TEST Academy and a full-time executive in the financial-services industry. As Flacco and Kaepernick head into the Super Bowl, he said, no one should be surprised by their backgrounds. The big schools generate fame for their quarterbacks, but not necessarily great professional careers. USC routinely produces glamorous college quarterbacks, and disproportionately fewer great pros.
"As a quarterback there, you're playing with teammates who are better athletically than any of the guys you're playing against week in and week out, and you can build up a lot of stats playing in a program like that,'' he said. "But as a USC quarterback, you're throwing to guys who are five yards open. In the NFL you have to throw to guys who are a half-yard to a yard open.''
Brunner, for the record, said he has his Tubby Raymond portrait hanging in his basement office at home. Gannon, on the other hand, said he might dig his out of storage soon, but for years, he couldn't bear to look at it regularly. Losses haunt him, even a 1986 one against the University of New Hampshire.
"It was a major upset, and that was the game my portrait got done,'' he said, half laughing at his own intensity, "and every time I look at it, I think of that, so I don't have it hanging anywhere.''
Dave Raymond -- son of the longtime coach, ex-Blue Hens punter and Phillie Phanatic emeritus -- heard that story and said: "That sounds just like him.''
They didn't play together, but Gannon's passion is very well known. Despite his playful nature, Raymond can relate.
The gig as the Phanatic, he said, took him to stadiums all over the country, placed him in two World Series parades and sat him down on a dugout bench during the 1980 National League Championship Series.
"That was the greatest LCS ever, and I'm sitting next to Pete Rose. They gave me this batboy's uniform so I could be in there,'' he said. "And none of these experiences, not one of them, can come close to being at Delaware and beating Temple.''
Raymond worries that Delaware's special traits may be lost in the coming years. Despite an 86-52 record, the 2003 national title and two more appearances in the championship game, Keeler was fired and replaced by Rutgers offensive coordinator Dave Brock this month. This was never Delaware's way. It did not fire its football coaches.
This week's Super Bowl allows for a happier break in tradition. There will be two Blue Hens in this Super Bowl, Flacco and rookie offensive lineman Gino Gradkowski, bringing the total throughout history to five. None of the three others – Gannon, Ivory Sully of the 1979 Rams or Ben Patrick of 2008 Cardinals -- has won the ring.
It could be quite a moment for the school for the 96-mile long state that was first to ratify the Constitution, ranks second only to Rhode Island in tininess and stands alone in issuing un-embossed license plates.
The thought of what Sunday might mean for Blue Hens prompted a follow-up email with a question for Gannon. In the NFL, where players identify strongly with their schools, did he take grief for his roots? His reply was quick and pithy.
"Yes initially but not such a big deal anymore!"
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A disclaimer: The author was born in Delaware. Her parents became engaged at UD homecoming game. The first live sports event she remembers seeing was a Delaware game in which Dave Raymond was roughed by a rogue West Chester State player. As she recalls, Raymond milked the moment for all it was worth.