The Rock was no match for Charlie Ward.
It’s true. When he played defensive end at the University of Miami, not even Dwayne Johnson could stop him, the high-flying #17 was that good.
Charlie Ward won the 1993 Heisman trophy behind a spectacular season in which he threw for over 3000 yards with a near 70% completion percentage. He led Florida State to their first ever National Championship as well. Ward, who many believe to be a running QB, had only 339 yards rushing in his Heisman season.
With the emergence of mobile NFL QB’s like Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, Robert Griffin III, and Cam Newton it really makes you wonder why Ward was never given an opportunity to play at the highest level. Okay, he did play in the NBA for 12 years, but could he have changed the NFL the way the young mobile QB’s today have 20 years ago?
Charlie Ward = Russell Wilson
Take a look at this video.
Remind you of anyone…a young Michael Vick, RG3, or Russell Wilson perhaps? Ward was a brilliant match of speed and agility, and yet he maintained deadly accuracy with the football. Ward’s playing style was eerily similar to rookie sensation Russell Wilson, as were his stats:
Russell Wilson (Wisc 2011) – 3175 pass, 33 TD, 4 INT, 72.8% comp, 338 rush, 6 TD
Charlie Ward (FSU 1993) – 3032 pass, 27 TD, 4 INT, 69,5% comp, 339 rush, 4 TD
The “Running QB” Stigma
Charlie Ward ran the football, but did so to pick up first downs and create throwing opportunities down the field. His style was reminiscent of today’s new wave of NFL QB.
However, 20 years ago NFL owners and experts lumped any speedy QB (especially if they were black) into a “running QB” category. Once placed in the “running QB” category by NFL executives it was virtually impossible to break in and start, even if you were the Heisman Trophy winner and National Champ.
There were similar feelings about Cam Newton coming out of Auburn University, many believed he would be a NFL bust as he was primarily a runner and could not be an effective passer.
Although Newton, like Ward, won both a National Championship and the Heisman, there were still powerful naysayers. So much so in fact it inspired me to write an article last year discussing this idea’s lack of merit. I had no idea why he was considered a running QB when he passed for 2800+ yards and 30 TD’s in his senior season at Auburn.
I guess it makes more sense that the general public felt this way about Newton since he did have 1473 yards rushing, but his passing stats were undeniable. Ward in comparison ran for only 339 yards in his senior season, yet the “running QB” stigma still applied.
The experts and executives came around on Newton as he was ultimately the #1 pick overall, but his measurables may have played a big role in the decision. The 6’5” 245lbs Newton coming out of college was a far cry from the 6’1” 190lb Charlie Ward, or the 5’11” 200lbs Russell Wilson for that matter.
A Career Lost
So was Charlie Ward’s NFL snubbing all about size? Russell Wilson was drafted in the 3rd round after putting up better numbers then the 1993 Heisman winner.
In hindsight, this was probably a gross underestimation of his skill and ability to play at the NFL level. Ward felt the same slight at the NFL’s hands when he was told he’d be a 3rd-5th round selection in the 1993 NFL draft. The 70% passer with 4.4 speed believed he was a first round pick and declined to play in the NFL.
At one point he was even asked to be the backup to Joe Montana in Kansas City. With the attitude in the league about “running QB’s” at the time, it’s hard to blame him for turning down the offer.
The Contemporary Mobile QB
Ward was selected in the 1st round of the NBA draft and played 12 years in the league before injuries ended his career. The pure athleticism required to run the point in the NBA shows just how talented Ward was.
Had Charlie Ward come along today we’d likely be talking about him changing the QB position. Had the NFL been ready and willing to adjust or accept something new, the mobile QB phenomenon may have begun 20 years ago with Charlie Ward. As fun as is it to imagine, we will truly never know just how good Ward would have been in the NFL. Would he have been the first coming of Russell Wilson? Or would he have been a seldom used backup for 6’4” prototypical NFL pocket passers? Unfortunately, he didn’t want to risk finding out, so we’ll never know.
In the end the amazingly talented Charlie Ward won a National Championship and the Heisman trophy, but would walk away from football forever. Whether he was forced out because of his size, the “running QB” stigma, his race, or a combination of the three…the supremely gifted All-American was a true contemporary, 20 years ahead of his time.