Commentary

Rodgers under intense scrutiny; these four can relate

Aaron Rodgers isn't the first player to embark in the steps of a QB legend. Greg Garber has the stories of four others.

Originally Published: September 19, 2008
By Greg Garber | ESPN.com

Aaron Rodgers and Brett FavreUS PresswireAaron Rodgers has the unenviable task of following Brett Favre, who's now starting for the Jets.
Even back in May, Aaron Rodgers had a vague sense of what he was getting into. With dark brown hair hanging to his shoulders, he dispassionately discussed stepping out of the shadow of a legend.

"I'm following the guy that has 250 straight starts and has all the records and the Pro Bowls and everything," Rodgers said. "I know I'm going to have a short leash.

Following a legend

Aaron Rodgers isn't the first QB to replace a legend. What advice do others who followed "the guy" have for him? Greg Garber reports.
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"A lot of people love Brett … and that's fine. The one thing you've got to learn as a quarterback is you've got to have thick skin, because everyone's going to be a critic -- even more when you're following a guy like Brett Favre."

What Rodgers didn't know that day in Green Bay, Wis., was that the NFL's all-time leader in touchdown passes (442) and passing yards (61,655) would eventually decide to unretire and make Rodgers' transition from backup to starter even more difficult. Favre, of course, is now a member of the New York Jets, and Rodgers -- who had his locks drastically trimmed before the June minicamp -- has been a revelation.

In games against Minnesota and Detroit, Rodgers completed 42 of 60 passes for 506 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions. His ranks fifth in passer rating (117.8) and, more important, the Packers are 2-0.

So far, the 24-year-old Rodgers has made it look almost too easy, while Favre, 38, has had some issues following the less-than-legendary Chad Pennington and Kellen Clemens in New York.

Rodgers isn't the first to embark in the footsteps of a passing fancy. Here are the stories of four other quarterbacks who followed legends:

AFTER BART STARR: Scott Hunter

Here is a man who operated in the yawning shadow of an iconic quarterback -- a presence that never seemed to dissipate. For Hunter followed Bart Starr not once, but twice.

[+] EnlargeBart Starr
Vernon Biever/Getty Images With Bart Starr, right, serving as his QB coach, Scott Hunter guided the Packers to 10 wins in 1972.

Hunter was recruited by coach Bear Bryant to play at Alabama, and the selling point was the tradition that had been forged by Joe Namath, Ken Stabler and, yes, Starr himself. Later, Hunter was chosen by the Packers in the sixth round of the 1971 draft.

"It wasn't hard for me when I got to Green Bay to be in that legacy environment as it would have been if I was from Nowhere Tech," said Hunter, an investment specialist in Mobile, Ala. "Coach Bryant pointed out to me the legacy of the quarterbacks there; he challenged me to come up there and be as good as them."

Hunter actually surpassed Namath's records at Alabama.

"Well, someone said that Scott broke all of Joe Namath's records, and I reminded him that they were just on the field," Hunter said, smiling. "Not the ones on sorority row."

Starr had won Super Bowls I and II for the Packers, but an injury forced Hunter into the starting lineup in 1971. He threw 17 interceptions and only seven touchdown passes as Green Bay went 4-8-2. Starr retired the next year -- only to become the Packers' quarterbacks coach in 1972.

"The previous year [1971] I had called the plays as a rookie, and that was the standard of those years," Hunter said. "But Bart was calling the plays. I didn't really know how this would work, but it was the perfect scenario for a second-year guy, Bart Starr coaching you, calling the plays, letting you, when you saw something, do what you wanted to do."

The Packers went 10-4 that season, but lost in the first round of the playoffs. After Hunter's third season in Green Bay, he was traded to Buffalo. His starting record: 21-18-3.

AFTER JOE MONTANA: Steve Young

It was a grim beginning for Young.

After a season in the United States Football League, Young landed in Tampa, where he was 3-16 as a starting quarterback. When the Buccaneers drafted Vinny Testaverde with the first overall pick of the 1987 draft, Young was shipped to San Francisco.

[+] EnlargeSteve Young and Joe Montana
George Rose/Getty ImagesAfter serving as Joe Montana's understudy, Steve Young went on to claim two MVPs and a Super Bowl title.

His reward? Sitting behind the 49ers' Joe Montana for most of five seasons. In that time, Montana won his third and fourth Super Bowls and redefined the position of quarterback.

"I never took it personally," said Young, now an analyst for ESPN. "I loved Joe Montana. The way he played -- you know what I mean? I watched it. I witnessed it. I was in awe of how he played."

And then, in 1991, Montana suffered a season-ending injury to his throwing arm.

"We should have been coming off a three-peat," Young said. "Now Joe's hurt, and I play. And so there's massive expectation for the team, and if we don't meet it, it's very clear why we don't -- there's only one reason -- me.

"He would do some amazing things on the field, and I would just stand there and be like, 'I can't believe he just did that.' But at the same moment I was thinking, 'How am I ever going to do that?'"

The next year, Young won the league's MVP award.

"I told Aaron Rodgers the other day, you don't realize it, but I actually won the MVP and Joe was sitting on the sidelines the whole year," Young said. "It's just a unique dynamic. I've always said that our relationship was as good as it possibly could be with what was being asked of both of us."

Two years later, Montana had been traded to Kansas City and Young won another MVP award and took the 49ers to a Super Bowl victory, the franchise's fifth.

AFTER DAN MARINO: Jay Fiedler

When Dan Marino's spectacular career with the Miami Dolphins came to an end in the 1999 playoffs -- with a 62-7 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars -- Fiedler was on the other side of the field, playing quarterback for the winning team.

And then he was asked to replace the towering legend who left the NFL with most significant passing records.

[+] EnlargeJay  Fiedler
Paul Spinelli/Getty ImagesDespite achieving moderate success, Jay Fiedler was never a fan favorite in Miami.

"My thought wasn't that I was replacing anyone at that point," said Fiedler, who operates a Manhattan entertainment company. "I was just coming in and it was my first opportunity to compete for a starting job, period."

Indeed, after graduating from Dartmouth, he had bounced from the Philadelphia Eagles, to two years out of football, to a season each with the Minnesota Vikings and Jaguars before arriving in Miami. Eventually, Fiedler beat out Damon Huard for the starting position.

The questions, which began in training camp, persisted through the entire season.

"Here you are following the legend Dan Marino, and all the angles of every question is going to be [that] comparison," Fiedler said. "What is this team going to do with Jay Fiedler at quarterback? How is Jay going to compare?"

Just fine, as it turned out. In 2000 Fiedler, who threw 14 touchdown passes and 14 interceptions, led the Dolphins to an 11-5 record and first place in the AFC East. Miami lost again in the playoffs, but Fiedler and Marino, a Hall of Famer, have this in common: Neither man ever won a Super Bowl.

"I think there was a good population of the fans that were going to be clamoring for the Dan Marino days, no matter what I did," Fiedler said. "I wasn't going to be throwing for 400 yards a game and 40 touchdowns a season.

"There were a lot of people who appreciated me at the time, but there was always that certain group on the talk radio, in certain papers, certain fans at games that would boo pretty loudly. I'm sure they're still wearing 13 jerseys in Miami. That's not going to change."

AFTER TERRY BRADSHAW: Cliff Stoudt

Stoudt saw history firsthand. A fifth-round draft choice of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1977, he watched Terry Bradshaw lead the team to victory in Super Bowls XIII and XIV to give the franchise four titles in six seasons.

When Bradshaw went down with an injury in 1983, Stoudt was unprepared for what followed.

[+] EnlargeCliff Stoudt
Manny Rubio/Getty ImagesAfter a promising start as the Steelers' starter, Cliff Stoudt endured a precipitous fall in Pittsburgh.

"I kind of got blindsided by it," said Stoudt, who today makes his home in Ohio. "In Pittsburgh, the backup quarterback's always the most popular guy. I had a nice little run there, a nice little routine on the banquet circuit.

"But things started going bad near the end of the year and the roof caved in."

The Steelers began the season 9-2 under Stoudt, but with many of the Super Bowl heroes gone from the roster, Pittsburgh lost four of its last five games. Stoudt was the target of boos -- and worse.

"My wife was going to the mall one day, and there was a radio show on," Stoudt remembered. "Right before they break at the top of the hour, the DJ comes on with a news flash that I had just been killed in a car accident at an intersection downtown.

"Now, this is before cell phones and my wife's just driving around frantically thinking I'd been killed, and it was all just a big, I guess you could call it a joke."

The Steelers were eliminated in the divisional playoffs, and Stoudt happily signed with the Birmingham Stallions of the United States Football League. Three months after his last game in Pittsburgh, Stoudt was back at Three Rivers Stadium in a game against the Maulers. It was the only sellout in the team's only season in Pittsburgh -- solely because of Stoudt, who received a number of death threats from disgruntled fans.

"When we landed at the airport, they stopped the plane at the end of the runway," Stoudt said. "They took me off because I wasn't allowed to travel with the team once we got to Pittsburgh. I had to stay in another section of the hotel with an armed guard outside the door. My parents had to sit in the baseball press box with an armed guard outside.

"That's carrying it a little bit too far."

The fans pelted Stoudt with snow and ice that day, as well as frozen beer cans and bottles. When the Stallions were backed up near their end zone, some of those bottles hit Stoudt in the head.

In another piece of history, it was the last game at Three Rivers that beer was sold in glass bottles.

Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Greg Garber

Writer, Reporter
Greg Garber joined ESPN in 1991 and provides reports for NFL Countdown and SportsCenter. He is also a regular contributor to Outside the Lines and a senior writer for ESPN.com.