• Travis Rapp

From Joe to Jimmy: A Study of the 49ers Backup Quarterback Position Part 2

Image Credit: USA Today Sports

Back Up in the 90’s Bono and Elvis Meet Kansas

Last week, we looked at the backup quarterbacks to share the classroom with Joe Montana from his first year starting for the San Francisco 49ers to his last year with the team. If you missed it, take a look here, before reading on.

In 1991 Steve Young took over starting duties for Joe Montana due to Montana’s elbow surgery. Although Montana wasn’t officially gone, it was the first step in handing off the torch. It was also the beginning of one of the most dominate decades of quarterback play out of San Francisco by Young. That means there is a long list of backup quarterbacks who couldn’t crack the starting lineup ahead of Young.

The 90s were actually somewhat of a golden goose time period for the 49ers backup QB position. The first was honestly one of my favorite 49ers backup QBs of all time.

Steve Bono

Even in that first season without Montana, Young didn’t start all of the games. Bono started five of them, winning all five of them after entering midway through the ninth game, which the 49ers lost.

Bono’s NFL career didn’t start in 1991 though, although it did start in California, being drafted out of UCLA in 1985 by the Minnesota Vikings. After spending his first two seasons as a third string quarterback in Minnesota, he was signed as a free agent by the Pittsburg Steelers in 1987. He ended up starting three games, but was allowed to walk after the 1988, when he signed on to be the third-string quarterback behind Montana and Young. In his third season, due to Montana’s elbow injury taking him out for the year, and Young going down with a knee injury, Bono ended up playing in six games in 1991, starting five, and going 5-1, winning his five starts. After returning to the bench in favor of Young at the end of the season, Bono remained Young’s backup until 1994.

That offseason, Bono was traded to the Kansas City Chiefs where he found himself backing up Montana for a season. In 1995, Montana decided to call it a career, and the Chiefs coaching staff decided to make Bono their starting quarterback. All he did was win 13 games on the season while throwing for 3,121 yards and 21 touchdowns with 10 interceptions. Bono made the Pro Bowl in the best season of his career. He started the next year for the Chiefs, before moving to Green Bay to back up Brett Favre for a season. H he had the opportunity to start again for the St. Louis Rams in 1998, but lost in both games he started, before giving way to Tony Banks.

In 1999, the last season of his career, he backed up Steve Beuerlein in Carolina.

Bono was the first preseason All-Pro quarterback for the 49ers fan base, due to his incredible play in 1991 when he came in and helped lead the team to five straight victories. A pretty stacked football team with Jerry Rice, John Taylor, and Brent Jones to throw the ball to.

His biggest claim to fame came in that 1995 season with Kansas City. Taking a naked bootleg, with such a great play action that Bono, not one of the fastest quarterbacks you’ve seen, headed down the sideline for 76 yards, the longest scoring run by a quarterback at the time. I loved to win Super Bowls with him in the early Madden Series for the Sega Genesis.

Elvis Grbac

Grbac was drafted in the eighth round in 1993 out of Michigan as statistically the greatest quarterback to ever play there; he won three Rose Bowls and a Gator Bowl. Grbac was used in eleven games as a reserve in 1994, his rookie year, lucking out and winning a Super Bowl ring. In 1995, Grbac ended up starting five games due to a Steve Young injury. He won three of them, including the huge upset of the then-league-leading 8-1 Dallas Cowboys.

Grbac remained Young’s backup until 1997 when the Kansas City Chiefs decided to sign him as Bono’s replacement as their starting quarterback. That made three straight 49ers quarterbacks (Montana, Bono, and Grbac started for the Chiefs. Grbac led the Chiefs for four years, making a couple of trips to the AFC Championship game. His final year in Kansas City, 2000, he was a Pro Bowl player, throwing for 4,169 yards and 28 touchdowns with 14 interceptions.

In 2001 he signed a five-year contract with the Baltimore Ravens to replace Trent Dilfer. He spent only one season in Baltimore, underperforming to the Ravens’ front office expectations.

He threw for 504 yards one game with the Chiefs, and the quarterback room in Baltimore was Grbac and Randall Cunningham, which is just awesome. He went 26 – 21 as a starting quarterback for the Chiefs and 8-6 his final season with the Ravens, ending his career with a win-loss record of 40-30.

Bill Musgrave

A fourth-round draft pick by the Dallas Cowboys, Musgrave was signed to the practice squad by the 49ers after being cut by the Cowboys in 1991. Musgrave was activated in Week 11 and played his first professional game in Week 17. Musgrave spent 1992 as the fourth-string quarterback, ending up on injured reserve. Musgrave was the team’s third-string quarterback in 1993 and 1994, rarely being activated in Sundays, but learning football under George Seifert, Mike Holmgren, and Mike Shanahan. He completed his one pass attempt in the Super Bowl win over the San Diego Chargers.

In 1995 he signed with the Denver Broncos, backing up John Elway under head coach Mike Shanahan. Musgrave retired from playing football in 1997, and began a coaching career. He has left a much larger mark on the NFL as a quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator than he ever did as a quarterback.

Musgrave started his coaching career with the Oakland Raiders as their quarterbacks coach. He then went to the Philadelphia Eagles under Ray Rhodes as offensive assistant, before being promoted to offensive coordinator when Dana Bible was fired. In 1999 Musgrave was the quarterbacks coach for Seifert in Carolina and then his career found him as offensive assistant in Carolina, offensive coordinator at the University of Virginia – where he trained Matt Schaub – offensive coordinator for the Jacksonville Jaguars. quarterback coach and then assistant head coach/quarterback coach - coaching Mike Vick, Matt Schaub, and Matt Ryan all to career years, offensive coordinator for the Minnesota Vikings – when Adrian Peterson eclipsed 2,000 yards rushing, quarterbacks coach for the Philadelphia Eagles, offensive coordinator for the Oakland Raiders and his current position as offensive coordinator for the Denver Broncos and his former teammate Elway.

Cary Conklin

Conklin was a fourth round draft pick by the Washington Redskins in 1990 and served as a third string quarterback for them through 1994, winning a Super Bowl ring in 1992. Conklin spent his final NFL season as the third-string quarterback behind Young and Grbac.

Conklin has been working in the college game as a quarterbacks and wide receiver coach for the University of Washington and Eastern Washington, then as a college scout of the St. Louis Rams, Redskins and currently for the Detroit Lions.

Jeff Brohm

Brohm is another former backup quarterback who has left his mark on the game as a coach, not as a player. An undrafted free agent out of Louisville, Brohm beat out Trent Green to be the San Diego Chargers third string quarterback as a rookie in 1994. He signed on with the Washington Redskins the following year and held the same role as the third-string emergency quarterback role.

Brohm then hit the big time and signed with the San Francisco 49ers in 1996 to share the quarterback room with Young and Grbac. He entered Week 1 in 1997 as Young’s backup, entering a NFL game for the first time when Young left the game due to a concussion. He was going to start the next week, but ended up being passed over because of a broken thumb. While backing up Young, Brohm played in eight games and completed 66.6% of his passes for 353 yards, one touchdown and one interception. In 1998 he signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to compete as the backup quarterback behind Trent Dilfer, but he tore a ligament in his finger in the preseason, ending his season.

He spent the 1999 season as the third-string quarterback for the Denver Broncos before being cut during the preseason of 2000. He spent the rest of the season waiting for a phone call, until he was signed by the Cleveland Browns to be a third string emergency quarterback for the last week of the season. It proved to be the last time he would wear a NFL jersey.

In 2000, Brohm was the fourth overall pick of the Orlando Rage in the XFL draft. He played seven games for the Rage before a shoulder injury ended his career for good. His one season with the Rage resulted in a 99.9 quarterback rating, the highest in the league that year, and being named to the All-XFL team.

Upon leaving the game as a player in 2001, he was almost immediately named the head coach of the Louisville Fire arena football team. He only held that position for one season, going 2-14 before returning to the University of Louisville under Bobby Petrino as the quarterbacks coach. He was promoted to offensive coordinator before moving on the Florida Atlantic to be the quarterbacks coach, a position he also held at Illinois and UAB before being hired by Western Kentucky to be the Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Coordinator.

Western Kentucky promoted him to his first head coaching position in 2014 and taking the team to three Bowl wins in his three seasons as their head coach. In 2017 Brohm was hired to coach the Purdue Boilermakers. In his one year at Purdue, Brohm led the Boilermakers to a 6-6 record and a birth in the Foster Farms Bowl defeating Arizona 38-35. Brohm has been connected to jobs in Tennessee and Louisville, so he continues to climb up the ladder in college football coaching.

Jim Druckenmiller

Probably the biggest draft bust in San Francisco history, Druckenmiller was drafted 26th overall to eventually be Young’s replacement. Druckenmiller ended up starting the second game of the season, but he did not fare well, going 10 of 27 for 102 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions in a 15-12 win against the St. Louis Rams.

He would not start another game for the 49ers, and only stayed on the team for two seasons, appearing in six games, and throwing for 239 yards, one touchdown, and four interceptions all while completing 40.4% of his passes.

He was traded to the Miami Dolphins for a seventh round pick, but he was unable to make it on their roster. In 2001 he was seeing limited playing time for the Arena Football League’s Los Angeles Avengers, and was drafted to play for the Memphis Maniax of the XFL. In a testament to just how poor quality the football was in that league, Druckenmiller ended the season as only one of the three opening day quarterbacks to keep his position and finished the season fourth in quarterback rating along with 13 touchdowns against seven interceptions. In 2003 he tried out with the Indianapolis Colts to be the third-string quarterback behind Peyton Manning, but lost out to Jim Kubiak.

He was a disappointment outside of football as well, being acquitted of rape charges in 1999. Druckenmiler is probably the most forgettable quarterback in the 49ers history.

Ty Detmer

Another future coach to play behind Steve Young for the 49ers in the 1990s, Detmer won the Heisman Trophy his junior year in college, but a subpar senior season and his diminutive stature led to him being drafted in the ninth round (230th overall) by the Green Bay Packers in 1992. Detmer spent four seasons backing up Bret Favre, but appeared in only seven games. In 1996 he signed with the Philadelphia Eagles. In his first season with the Eagles, he became the starter due to an injury to the starter Rodney Peete.

Detmer won his first four starts, beating the New York Giants his first start 19-10. His second start saw him throw four touchdown passes to Irving Fryar. On the season he posted a 7-4 record with 2,911 yards and 15 touchdowns. His 80.8 passer rating was the fourth highest in the NFC. After leading the Eagles to the playoffs his first season on the roster, he spent the next season splitting staring reps with Peete and Bobby Hoying.

In 1998 he left the Eagles to join the 49ers. He spent one season in San Francisco backing up Young, starting one game against the Carolina Panthers, winning 25-23 while passing for 276 yards and three touchdowns. He only spent one season in San Francisco because in 1999 they traded him to the Cleveland Browns. The Browns wanted him to start his coaching career early, mentoring their number one draft pick, Tim Couch. After starting the first game for the Browns, Detmer gave way to the rookie, until he was injured in Week 15, letting Detmer start the two bookends of the season. His 2000 season was lost to an Achilles injury.

Detmer spent five more seasons in the NFL: three with the Detroit Lions (2001-2003) and his last two with the Atlanta Falcons. In Detroit he started four games, not excelling in any of them. He threw seven interceptions against the Browns his first start and was eventually replaced four games into the season. Detmer spent his final two seasons as the third-string emergency quarterback behind Michael Vick and Matt Schaub.

His playing career was as a long sustained backup journeyman quarterback, but he shared quarterback rooms with Brett Favre, Steve Young, and Michael Vick. He was able to soak up a lot of knowledge as a player and continued a career in football in the coaching ranks. In 2009 he was appointed the head football coach at St. Andrew Episcopal School, a K-12 private school. In 2015 he was hired by his alma mater, BYU to be the quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator.

His time there lasted only two years, after the offense did not perform to BYU’s standards. He is currently not coaching, but it would be expected that he will be back on the sideline coaching quarterbacks somewhere. After his 1990 record breaking season, Detmer will always go down as one of the greatest college quarterbacks, who just never excelled at the pro level.

Jeff Garcia

Garcia’s professional career started in Canada, due to his shorter height. Ironically he found himself backing up Doug Flutie for the Calgary Stampeders. After he replaced an injured Flutie, he threw for a team record 564 yards and six touchdown passes in his second start. This along with his consistently strong play, created a quarterback controversy when Flutie returned from his injury. Garcia won out and Flutie left for Toronto in the off-season. Garcia consistently performed well for the Stampeders, becoming a four-time West Division All Star, a Grey Cup Champion, Grey Cup MVP, and the Jeff Nicklin Memorial Trophy (for most outstanding player in the West Division).

Following his Grey Cup win and MVP, Garcia signed with the San Francisco 49ers to back up Young for the 1999 season. The plan changed when Aeneas Williams of the Arizona Cardinals ended Young’s career with a concussion in the Week 1 game. This meant Garcia had to step in and share time at starting quarterback with Steve Stenstrom. Garcia ended up going 2-8 his rookie season with 2,544 yards eleven touchdowns, and eleven interceptions for a quarterback rating of 77.9. After that season, Young retired and Garcia spent the next four seasons as the 49ers starting quarterback. Garcia’s overall win loss record with the 49ers was 74-71, with 16,408 yards, 113 touchdowns, and 56 interceptions for a quarterback rating of 88.3.

Garcia’s second season with the team began with lots of competition, as the 49ers spent two draft picks on quarterbacks – their third on Giovanni Carmazzi and a seventh on Tim Rattay. An outstanding 2000 season put Garcia in 49er history when he threw for 4,278 yards, 31 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. The yardage set a new team high and when he followed up the 31 touchdowns with 32 the following year, he became the first 49ers quarterback to record back-to-back 30 plus touchdown seasons.

After going 6-10 in 2000, Garcia led the 49ers back to the playoffs in 2001, but lost to the Packers in the first round. Although Garcia’s production dropped in 2002, the 49ers won more games, including grabbing onto the NFC West title for the first time in five years. In the final week of that season he defeated the Dallas Cowboys to clinch the division title. He brought the team back from a 27-17 deficit with under seven minutes to go, throwing touchdown passes to Tai Streets and Terrell Owens.

During the playoffs that season, he led the team back from a 38-14 deficit to the New York Giants with only three minutes left in the third quarter of the game – scoring 25 straight points. After spending his first five seasons in the NFL with the 49ers, Garcia moved on to the Browns. The season was not his finest, going 3-7 in his ten starts. He spent the rest of his career bouncing from team to team, starting for the Lions, Eagles, Buccaneers, and then back with Philly again as a backup to Donovan McNabb until Vick returned.

Although performing well, with quarterback ratings about 90 in his last three starting seasons, Garcia was never able to latch on with a team. After he retired, Garcia admitted that it was hard following in Montana and Young’s footsteps. Garcia was the gap quarterback, not only taking over in Young’s final season – becoming the first starting quarterback not named Montana or Young since Steve DeBerg, but bridging the transition between Steve Mariucci and Dennis Erickson as coach.

Steve Stenstrom

After an outstanding college career at Stanford, where he broke many school records, Stenstrom was picked by the Chiefs in the fourth round of the 1995 draft. The Chiefs planned to have him re-sign to the practice squad, as they had signed him to a much higher contract than a normal fourth round player. The plan didn’t work though, as the Bears picked him up off of waivers. He played one game that season, in relief, and he broke his ankle, knocking him out of the rest of the year. He played in three games in 1996 and then started seven in 1998 in rotation with Rick Mirer and Erik Kramer – quite the three headed monster there. Stenstrom signed with the 49ers the following offseason and instead of being a third string quarterback behind Young and Garcia, he ended up playing in six games, starting three, after Young’s career was ended.

He was not re-signed by the 49ers at the end of the season and he spent part of the 2000 season with the Lions and then part of 2001 season with the Denver Broncos, before retiring from the NFL.

Upon his retirement he returned to Stanford to lead the Cardinal Life Christian ministry for athletes and, with his wife, established a program called 2nd Mile.

Pat Barnes

Barnes was signed after Young went down in 1999 to be the team’s third-string quarterback. He never threw an NFL pass. He spent most of his career with the Cleveland Browns, but played his best football with the Frankfurt Galaxy of the World League of American Football. He finished his professional career with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the CFL in 2003.

Giovanni Carmazzi

In the draft that saw the New England Patriots draft Tom Brady in the sixth round, the 49ers drafted their quarterback of the future in the third round. Carmazzi moved onto the Rhein Fire of NFL Europe for the 2001 season. He eventually found himself in the CFL, playing a season each for the BC Lions and the Calgary Stampeders before retiring from professional football for good in 2005.

Tim Rattay

Rattay was drafted four rounds after Carmazzi and stayed on the team for three seasons longer. Rattay backed up Garcia from 2000 to 2002, before being handed the starting job in 2003 after Garcia left. Rattay started three games, going 2-1 before getting injured and ending his season on the IR. He then started nine games the following season and four in 2005, his final season in San Francisco, going a combined 2-11.

In 2006 the Bucs traded for him with a sixth round pick to back up Bruce Gradkowski. Rattay saw playing time when Gradkowski was injured in Week 15 and played so well that he was named the starting quarterback to close out the season. Jon Gruden decided to not re-sign Rattay and instead signed Garcia to lead the Bucs, so Rattay signed with the Tennessee Titans, but was cut before Week 1. He signed with the Arizona Cardinals, to back up Kurt Warner after Matt Leinart went down with a collarbone injury in 2007. It proved to be his last season in the NFL. In 2009 he signed with the Las Vegas Locomotives of the United Football League. This is where he retired after the 2010 season.

After retiring from football, he entered the coaching ranks as a wide receivers coach for the Locomotives and was then hired in 2013 to hold the same position with Skip Holtz and Louisiana Tech.

Rick Mirer

In 2000, the player who was dubbed the next Joe Montana going into the 1993 draft joined the 49ers as a backup quarterback. After a college career at Notre Dame that saw him win the Orange Bowl, Sugar Bowl, and the Cotton Bowl, Mirer was drafted second overall in the 1993 draft after the New England Patriots drafted Drew Bledsoe at number one. After a rookie season that saw him come in second in offensive rookie of the year voting to Notre Dame teammate Jerome Bettis, Mirer regressed in years three and four, and was traded to the Bears along with a fourth round pick for Chicago’s first round draft pick.

After not being able to earn the starting position in Chicago, he asked to be released and signed with the Green Bay Packers to back up Brett Favre. He was never activated on game day for the Packers and was then traded to the New York Jets to back up Vinny Testeverde. After Testeverde was sidelined, Mirer took over starting duties for six games before being benched for Ray Lucas.

Which brought him to San Francisco as competition for Garcia. That made an initial quarterback room of Garcia, Carmazzi, Rattay, and Mirer – what a quartet of pig skin hurlers. Mirer played in one game that season, completing 10 of 20 passes for 126 yards and 1 touchdown.

He was not kept after the 2000 season and resurfaced in Oakland in 2002 as a backup, but he ended up starting some games. He finished his NFL career in 2004 as the Detroit Lions’ emergency quarterback.

Ken Dorsey

Dorsey was a seventh round draft pick in 2003 out of the University of Miami after being a two time Heisman finalist. He was drafted to back up Rattay, and ended up starting seven games in 2004, going 1-6. In 2005, after the team drafted Alex Smith number one overall and traded Rattay, Dorsey found himself the number-two quarterback on the depth chart. He ended up starting three games, going 1-2, in place of an injured Smith. He was traded to the Browns after that season for Trent Dilfer. Dorsey was never able to win a starting position in Cleveland, battling the likes of Derek Anderson, Brady Quinn, and Charlie Frye, and was released in 2009. He then played briefly as a backup quarterback for the Toronto Argonauts of the CFL. In 2013 he was hired by the Panthers to be their quarterbacks coach, a position he held until being let go in 2018. In March of this year he was hired as assistant athletic director for Florida International University.

Cody Pickett

Another seventh round pick, this time in 2004 out of the University of Washington, Pickett played for the 49ers in 2004 and 2005. After Rattay was traded in 2005, Pickett found himself as the third string quarterback behind Smith and Dorsey. He still started two games and appeared in five. Pickett, as fans will remember, spent the majority of the season on the special teams coverage team before Smith and Dorsey were both injured. A natural athlete, Pickett would fill in for “dummy” offensive skill players, mimicking opponents in practice for the defense to prepare for.

After being traded to the Houston Texans before the 2006 season and then being cut, he was selected by the Rhein Fire of NFL Europe in 2007, spending the season as their starting quarterback. He was signed by the Raiders, but was cut before the 2007 season and subsequently signed with the Toronto Argonauts of the CFL. He spent three seasons with the Argonauts, earning a start here and there, before a brief stop with the Montreal Alouettes and then the Calgary Stampede. After that season, he retired from professional football.

Dorsey and Pickett represent the transition of before Alex Smith and after Alex Smith, both of them bridging the year before Smith’s draft and the end of his rookie season. They are the beginning of a long list of quarterback to come during Smiths reign among 49ers starting quarterbacks.

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