Commentary

After son's death, Rypien devoting life to foundation

Mark Rypien is hoping for some good to come out of a family tragedy, writes Rudy Klancnik.

Originally Published: January 23, 2008
By Rudy Klancnik | Special to ESPN.com

Mark RypienGetty ImagesMark Rypien became the third QB under Joe Gibbs to lead the Redskins to the title.

Their Shot At Glory

Of the first 41 Super Bowls, 51 different quarterbacks have started. Some, like Joe Montana, Terry Bradshaw and Tom Brady, are legends. But whatever happened to some of the lesser-known starters? Take a look:

• Tony Eason (SB XX)
• Vince Ferragamo (SB XIV)
• Jeff Hostetler (SB XXV)
• Stan Humphries (SB XXIX)
• Craig Morton (SB V, SB XII)
• Jim Plunkett (SB XV, SB XVIII)
• Mark Rypien (SB XXVI)

For a guy who was once a Super Bowl MVP, it's interesting -- and telling -- that Mark Rypien's lasting impression on society will have little to do with perfect spirals or crisp touchdown drives. Rypien has devoted his post-playing days to running the Rypien Foundation in memory of his son Andrew, who died of cancer at the age of 3.

"We changed the name from the Mark Rypien Foundation to the Rypien Foundation because it won't be too long from now that absolutely no one will remember my playing days," Rypien said. "I wanted to leave this for my family for the long term."

OK, he might be selling his career a tad short, but we get the point.

Rypien did make a name for himself in the early 1990s, especially the 1991 season for the Washington Redskins. The season culminated with MVP honors for Rypien in Super Bowl XXVI in Minneapolis (born in Calgary, Rypien remains the only Canadian-born player to win that award) and the first of two trips to the Pro Bowl.

By handily beating the Buffalo Bills, 37-24, Rypien became the third different starting quarterback to win a Super Bowl for Redskins head coach Joe Gibbs. It's not surprising that after Gibbs' recent retirement, his former star quarterback had nothing but kudos for his old boss.

"Joe Gibbs is a great head coach and a better man," Rypien said. "He and that team went through a strange season, especially in dealing with the death of Sean Taylor, who seemed as though he was just turning around his life.

"Joe was the perfect guy to be leading that team through that type of crisis. He'll be missed because they just don't make many like that guy."

Rypien In The Super Bowl

In ESPN.com's rankings of the 82 performances by starting quarterbacks in the first 41 Super Bowls, Mark Rypien's performance for the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl XXVI ranks 20th. Here are his stats:

Super Bowl XXVI

Comp. Att. Yards TD INT
18 33 292 2 1

• All Super Bowl QB performances

Coming out of Washington State, Rypien was a Paul Bunyan-like figure. A multisport star in high school, Rypien had the type of size and strength pro scouts dream about. However, something must have been missing since the Redskins found him still on the board in the sixth round.

"When Mark Rypien was drafted in the sixth round, I was shattered," Jim Walden, Rypien's coach at Washington State, told Spokane.net. "It bothered me to no end that they thought one of my kids wouldn't be able to compete."

Rypien competed -- make that succeeded -- at the highest level with the Redskins, but then found himself in a game of musical teams. A year in Cleveland. A year in St. Louis. A year in Philadelphia. Then back to St. Louis.

He then signed with the Falcons for the 1998 season but never made it to Atlanta. His son's death from a malignant brain tumor that August caused Rypien to leave the game (although he would return in 2001 for a stint with the Colts) and change his career trajectory.

Rudy Klancnik is a freelance writer based in Texas.