Kordell Stewart was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1995 NFL draft. A QB in college at UNLV, he was drafted to become a receiver in the NFL. This was a very common idea as recently as the mid-1990’s because some coaches thought athleticism was more or less wasted on the quarterback position. After all, a QB is supposed to “stay in the pocket” and “only scramble to buy time/last resort.”
Stewart made only 7 pass attempts in his rookie season…mainly on trick/gadget plays. He attempted only 30 in his second season. He had 14 receptions his rookie season and 17 in his second. “Slash” became his nickname…a quarterback-slash-running back-slash-wide-receiver. That’s where “slash” came from.
By his third season, and without a strong starting QB to hold down the job, the Steelers inserted him Stewart at the position. He was a bit short (6’1″) for a QB, but the Steelers thought he’d make up for it with his athletic ability and strong throwing arm. The reality is that quarterbacks are supposed to throw through “passing lanes” that the offensive line creates with their pass-blocking schemes, and height shouldn’t be a major consideration except under extreme (Doug Flutie-like) circumstances.
He played well, throwing for 3,020 yards, 21 TDs and 17 INTs. Only in 2001 did he again exceed the 3,000 yard mark passing with 3,109, 14 TDs and 11 INTs.
However, he never really could keep the interceptions down and his career ended with him throwing more interceptions (84) than touchdowns (77). The Steelers had always been a blue-collar type team with a very physical, run-first style of offense. The Steel Curtain has been alive and well since the 1970’s and their offensive philosophy, with few exceptions lately under Ben Roethlisberger, hasn’t changed much. They love that hard-nosed running game and physical defense.
I think Stewart’s off and on success kept alive the idea of the “athlete-quarterback” if not in his play, in theory. Cunningham before him had shown it can be done, but history wasn’t on their side – either athletically or racially. Sometimes old prejudices are hard to break, but if anything can do it, the idea of winning in the NFL can.
Minds were slowly beginning to change regarding the “racial” make-up of the starting quarterback as well.
Next…part 4 – McNabb and Culpepper