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Where the 15 Minutes of Fame Never End
I was watching ESPN Classic this morning and they had a sweet rerun of an old show you may remember, starring Kenny Mayne, called Two -Minute Drill. It was the worldwide leader’s trivia precursor to Stump the Schwab, and one of Mayne’s questions to a well-dressed Claude Julien-lookalike was “What journeyman quarterback led the 1995 Kansas City Chiefs to a 13-3 regular season record?” I was completely stumped, and surprised to find out it was one-year wonder Steve Bono. So let’s talk about this fellow.
Bono was a two-sport star at UCLA, earning letters as both the catcher of the school’s baseball team and as the Bruins’ starting quarterback. Bono ultimately chose football, and was picked in the sixth round in 1985 by the Vikings. In four seasons spent between Minnesota and then Pittsburgh, he played in just seven games, starting three of them. It wouldn’t be until the 49ers started him in six games in 1991 that Bono would get his first significant playing action. In that ’91 season Bono went 5-1 as a starter, throwing 11 touchdowns and four interceptions, filling in for Joe Montana, before being moved back to the bench in favor of the rapidly ascending Steve Young.
After being moved to Kansas City following the 1993 season, Bono was once again relegated to backing up Montana. He waited out Montana’s retirement and was given the starting job in 1995. His only season as a sixteen-game starter went swimmingly in KC. The team went 13-3 and Bono would go on to Honolulu for his first and only Pro Bowl. He threw for 3121 yards despite completing only 56.3 percent of his passes.
When the Colts visited Arrowhead in a divisional round matchup following KC’s first-round bye week, Steve Bono was
thrust into the spotlight in the most important game of his career. Against Jim Harbaugh and the Colts, Bono went 11-for-25 for 122 yards, including one touchdown and three interceptions. Bono was benched late in the fourth quarter for Rich Gannon, and the team went on to lose 10-7, while the Colts went on to face the Steelers in one of the greatest AFC Championship games ever played.
Bono never did recapture the magic of his ’95 season, and after 1996 was released in favor of future Kansas City great Elvis Grbac. He spent his final three seasons in Green Bay, St Louis, and then Carolina, starting only two more games in his career, both in St. Louis. He went 0-2 as a starter.
NFL, come on, what are we doing here? It’s WEEK 12, and you’re giving us Niners-Cardinals on Monday Night Football? These two
teams that, combined, have fewer wins than 11 NFL teams? Going into the season any moron could have pinned this NFC West matchup as a dumb one to showcase for the world on ESPN, but now that it’s finally happening, I’m in disbelief. How, in the era of Flex games and everybody making a shitload of money, could anyone in the NFL have let this happen?
In fact, most in the media are disregarding tonight’s game in favor of week-away analysis of next Monday’s Pats-Jets primetime showdown. Except the Worldwide Leader, who, if you watched their network’s pregame show this weekend, spent ample time ripping on the NFC West. Sorry guys, ya can’t say “The NFC West blows” all weekend and then Monday look into the camera and say “But it’s on our network, so watch it!” Sorry, Worldwide Leader, this game sucks, and I’m not gonna watch it. And I suggest you don’t either. It’ll be bad enough come January when an 8-8 team out of that division will be hosting a playoff game. Until then, I’m boycotting the NFC west. And the AFC West while I’m at it.
When I was a kid the first football video game I had was NFL Quarterback Club ’96 for the Super Nintendo. Steve Young was on the
cover and the 49ers were just considerably better than every other team in the game. Young was the quarterback of the Niners, and the receivers? Jerry Rice, and Jeral Jamal Stokes. Young to Stokes all day. It’s no wonder San Fran was so great, Terrell Owens was the third wide receiver!
The 49ers picked JJ Stokes with the tenth overall pick in the 1995 NFL Draft out of UCLA, and he had a successful rookie season with San Fransisco, catching 38 passes for 517 yards and 4 touchdowns in twelve games. After an injury-plagued 1996 campaign in which Stokes played just six games, Stokes rebounded well in 1997, catching 58 balls and racking up 733 receiving yards. Stokes never would return to his Steve- Young-era form after the team brought in Jeff Garcia to run the offense. Also, remember when Bill Romanowski spit in his face?
The 49ers released the 31-year-old Stokes during the ’03 offseason, and he was subsequently brought in by the Jaguars. Midway through the season, however, AFC North doormats the Cleveland Browns released wide receiver Kevin Johnson, and Johnson was claimed on waivers by the Jaguars. They then waived Stokes, who was almost immediately signed by the Patriots. In two games for New England during the 2003 season, Stokes caught two passes for 38 yards, including his first reception for New England– a 31-yard reception on a key third-quarter third and 8
against the Texans.
Stokes was released by New England after appearing in just two games, and he never would suit up for an NFL team again. But for two games in 2003, JJ Stokes was my favorite Patriot, and to this day remains one of my all-time favorite wide receivers. Young to Stokes yo!
Within the pantheon of badass names in the realm of professional sport, close to the top simply HAS to be obscure former NFL quarterback Elvis
Grbac. Grbac had a roller coaster ride of an NFL career, highlighted by a 2000 season in which he threw for over 4,000 yards and landed in Honolulu for the Pro Bowl.
Cleveland product Grbac attended Michigan, where he set several passing records by giving Desmond Howard the football and seeing what happens. He was picked in the now-defunct 8th round of the draft in 1993, and the 49ers somehow benched the future NFL great in favor of the considerably less obscure, but not-so-well-named Steve Young.
Grbac would finally get to start in the NFL in 1997 when the Chiefs brought him in and named him their starting quarterback before camp even started. In that season he started 10 games for KC and threw 11 touchdowns and 6 picks, despite completing only 57% of his passes.
Grbac experienced 15 minutes of mainstream fame in 1998 when he was named People Magazine’s Sexiest Athlete Alive, a story that would become infamous when Deadspin reported that the decision was a mistake and that Grbac’s teammate at the time, quarterback Rich Gannon, was intended to be bestowed the title, but due to a failure to communicate adequately, Elvis Grbac was named People Magazine’s Sexiest Athlete Alive, in certainly the most obscure manner in the history of the incredibly prestigous award.
In Elvis Grbac’s best season– the 2000 campaign, he threw for 4169 yards and made the Pro Bowl, and led his Chiefs to a stunningly unimpressive 7-9 record.
The following season, Elvis once again left the Midwest to pursue greener (and purpler) pastures for the Baltimore Ravens. That season, 2001, saw Grbac supplant team leader and fellow obscure athlete Trent Dilfer for the starting job in Baltimore. Grbac was 8-6 as a starter that year, throwing just 15 touchdowns and 18 interceptions. Elvis was essentially booed off the field by boisterous Trent Dilfer supporters and retired after that season, but not before leading the Ravens to a playoff victory over the Dolphins.
Men named Elvis seldom fade into obscurity. 8th round picks from Cleveland, Ohio, who go 40-30 in the NFL, get berated in Baltimore by raucus Trent Dilfer fans, and end their careers with slightly above average passer ratings, often find themselves in such a position. Mr. Grbac is no exception here.