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Where the 15 Minutes of Fame Never End
It’s request Thursday on Obscure Athletes, and the first suggestion on Our Page On Facebook was for Otis Smith. Let’s
face it, an Otis Smith Obscure Spotlight was inevitable, and I’m a man of the people. I’m not some malevolent, unreasonable lord and master of Obscure Athletes. What I’m trying to say is, we’re listening. Ya know?
Otis Smith is the consummate NFL underdog. In college, he suffered a separated shoulder but came back to be a two-year starter as an upperclassman. Undrafted out of Missouri, Smith signed on with the Eagles in training camp and made the team’s roster. In his four-year tenure with Philadelphia, he started only four games but appeared in all but one, mostly as a fifth defensive back. After his career in Philadelphia was over, Smith moved to greener pastures–namely, a Jets uniform, where he would be able to be a regular starter for the first time in his career.
Smith is known as one of the numerous “AFC East Guys” who seem to hop between AFC East teams throughout their career. He played 1995 for the Jets, but was waived by New York in late September of the following season, when he signed on with the Patriots. He went on to start nine games for New England, and was on the roster for their appearance in Super Bowl XXXI. That year, in the AFC Championship game against the Jaguars, Smith returned a fumble 47 yards for a touchdown, sealing the Jags’ fate.
The 1997 offseason saw Otis Smith on the move again, this time back to New York to play for the same Jets team that cut him less than a year before. The ’97 season was Smith’s best. He intercepted six passes, returning three for touchdowns, and forced a fumble. Otis Smith would stick around with the Jets until after his injury-riddled ’99 campaign, when once again, he was waived by the Jets and signed by the Pats.
Smith started for three more full seasons in New England, and he was key in Super Bowl XXXVI against St. Louis, recording an interception. Oft-forgotten about that game was the Otis Smith fumble return for a touchdown that was taken off the board due to a Willie McGinnest holding call. After the ’02 season Smith would have only one NFL season left in him, this time in Detroit, where he started thirteen games.
Smith is now a defensive assistant for the Chiefs. I’ll always remember Smith for how much McGinnest fucked up his moment of fame in the Super Bowl. But at least Otis Smith’s fifteen minutes of fame have Obscure Athletes to make sure they never end.
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I remember Gus Frerotte as the quarterback who 1) seemed to always be brought in when a team was down by about a zillion points in the fourth quarter, and 2) once slammed his helmetted head against a concrete wall on Sunday Night Football, straining his neck in the midst of celebrating a touchdown run. And with Charlie Batch injured for the Lions in 1999, Detroit called upon none other than the great Gus Frerotte to lead them in the playoffs against the Redskins–the very team that drafted him five seasons earlier. They lost, 27-13 and Frerotte completed just 21 of 47 passes, throwing two interceptions and posting a passer rating of just 52.0.
Frerotte’s the pride of the University of Tulsa, where he holds several major passing records. Surprisingly Tulsa’s not exactly pumping out NFL quarterbacks, so most of his records still stand. As a second-year quarterback for Washington, Frerotte became the starter. It was the Redskins for whom Gus would have his greatest success, and in 1997, made his first and only trip to the Pro Bowl.
Frerotte would see spot-starting action in 2000 with the Broncos, and made another starting appearance in 2005
when he beat out obscure athletes AJ Feeley and Jay Fiedler for the starting job in Miami. 2008 saw Gus Frerotte once again in the starting role, this time in Minnesota, where he led the Vikes to an 8-3 record in 11 games before suffering a back injury and losing his starting job. After being cut by the Vikings a year later, Frerotte retired. His 74.2 career passer rating is right on par with how mediocre you’d imagine it would be, and it nicely compliments his 114 touchdowns to 106 interceptions.
I was surprised to find that Frerotte only started six games for the Lions, all during that ’99 campaign. Maybe a Charlie Batch-led Lions team would have won a game or two in the playoffs. But I doubt it. Interestingly enough, the Lions haven’t been to the playoffs since. Perhaps it’s that Gus Frerotte was the key to their magical 8-8 playoff run in 1999. Or maybe he’s just another stop on the wonderfully, beautifully mediocre carousel of Lions starting quarterbacks.
After the 1993 season, the Lions were in search of a quarterback. The Rodney Peete era had come to a merciful ending, as he headed to Dallas, and for their starter Detroit looked eastward to Miami. Scott Mitchell looked to be a solid option, coming off of a season in which Dan Marino missed serious
playing time, leaving Mitchell with the starting role for a good chunk of the season. Mitchell held the fort down for the injured Marino, throwing 12 touchdowns to eight interceptions in seven starts.
Mitchell started nine games in his first season in Detroit, but didn’t become the full time starter until 1995, his best in the NFL. Mitchell threw 32 touchdowns to just 12 interceptions, and a total of 4338 yards, while leading the Lions to the playoffs. On Wild Card Weekend in Philadelphia, the Lions went down 58-37, with Mitchell completing just 13 out of 29 passes and throwing four interceptions.
After an average 1996 season, Mitchell rebounded a bit in 1997, leading Detroit back to the playoffs. The Lions, however, were dissatisfied with Mitchell’s performance and for the 1998 season inserted promising rookie, and future obscure athlete Charlie Batch into the starting quarterback role while Scott Mitchell sat on the bench. After the ’98 season Mitchell left the Motor City for Baltimore and then Cincinnati. He would never start in the NFL again. So, with Charlie Batch at the helm, the Lions were set right? They had their quarterback of the future in place, and seemed poised to return to the playoffs behind their new gunslinger. Find out what happens with Charlie at QB next time on, The Lions QB Saga: The Revolving Door in Detroit.
This year in Detroit, 09 first overall draft pick Matthew Stafford figures to be the starting quarterback. Now believe me, I’d love to see Stafford succeed just as much as every Lions fan out there who doesn’t go to any of their goddamn games. So for just a moment, we’ll pretend for just a moment that Stafford becomes a solid NFL quarterback for the forseeable future, avoiding injuries. With that in mind, it’s time for an Obscure Athletes series in which we explore the revolving door of starting quarterbacks in Detroit. And the first such QB on this list is Mr. Rodney Peete.
In 1989, the Lions used their sixth-round draft pick, 141st overall, to choose USC standout quarterback and Johnny Unitas award winner Rodney Peete, who quickly won the starting job right out of camp his rookie year. Peete, however would miss the start of the season with a sprained knee he suffered in a preseason game; injuries would be a trend throughout Peete’s career.
In his rookie season, Rodney Peete started 8 games and threw just five touchdowns and nine interceptions, while leading Detroit to a 3-5 record and completing only 52.8 percent of his passes. Peete would have a mediocre next four seasons in Detroit, before bouncing around the NFC East for a while.
After a brief stint in Oakland, Peete had a final resurgence to his career, when he once again claimed the starting role, this time in Carolina in 2002. Playing in 14 games for the Panthers, Peete led the team to a 7-7 mark, before losing his job to future Super Bowl QB Jake Delhomme.
Rodney Peete retired with a 45-42 record as a starter in the NFL, and an unremarkable 73.3 passer rating. Peete’s work recently has included his co-hosting gig on Best Damn Sports Show Period. Remember when that show was cool?