By Kevin Askeland
With the former Jeannette quarterback Terrelle Pryor seeing playing time as a true freshman for the Ohio State Buckeyes in their showdown Saturday with the USC Trojans, we felt it would be a good time to look back at the legendary Pennsylvania quarterbacks that preceded the former Jayhawk star.
Pryor earned national player of the year honors last year in leading Jeannette to a state championship. He became the first player in state history to run and pass for over 4,000 yards and he was the subject of a long recruiting battle between Ohio State and Michigan before he finally chose the Buckeyes.
However, Pryor is just the latest in a long line of outstanding quarterbacks to play in Pennsylvania, particularly the Pittsburgh area. While Pryor may someday make this list, here’s a look at the top 10 quarterbacks in Pennsylvania history.
10. Ron Powlus, Berwick
Although he never played at the NFL level, Powlus has to be on the list for what he accomplished at the high school level. The USA Today player of the year in 1992, Powlus set state records for passing yards (7,339) and touchdown passes (62). He was the No. 1 recruit in the country and chose Notre Dame instead of playing in-state at Penn State. He played 44 games at Notre Dame and finished his career holding 20 school records. He had 558 career completions, 969 attempts, 7,602 yards and 52 touchdowns.
9. George Blanda, Youngwood
Although known more as the oldest player to compete in the NFL, George Blanda was an outstanding quarterback early in his career. Born in Youngwood, Pa., near Pittsburgh, Blanda played for Bear Bryant at Kentucky in 1947. He was a 12th round draft pick, joining the Chicago Bears in 1949. His career was seemingly over in 1959, but he joined the Houston Oilers in 1960 in the AFL and went to play 16 more years, seven with the Oilers and nine with the Oakland Raiders. He finished his career as the NFL’s all-time leading scorer with 2002 points, but he was also a seven-time All-Pro and twice led the AFL in passing yards. Blanda played a total of 26 years in the NFL, retiring at the age of 47. He is a member of the NFL Hall of Fame, elected in 1981.
8. Rich Gannon, Saint Joseph’s Preparatory
A backup for most of his career, Gannon came into his own after joining the Oakland Raiders in 1999. He led the Raiders to the Super Bowl in 2002 and was named the NFL’s most valuable player. He is a three-time Pro Bowl selection and has twice been named the game’s MVP. He grew up in Philadelphia and attended Saint Joseph’s Preparatory where he earned All-City honors his senior year. He played at the University of Delaware before joining the NFL in 1987 as a member of the New England Patriots.
7. Babe Parilli, Rochester
After spending the first five years of his career kicking around the NFL as a backup, Babe Parilli joined the American Football League in 1960 and became a star. Parilli played in three Pro Bowls as quarterback of the Boston Patriots before finishing his career as Namath’s backup in Super Bowl III. Born in Rochester, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Pittsburgh, Parilli attended University of Kentucky and played under Bryant.
6. Johnny Lujack, Connellsville
The legacy of great Pennsylvania quarterbacks begins with Johnny Lujack, who was raised in Connellsville, which is in the western part of the state. Lujack had a stellar college career at Notre Dame, winning the Heisman Trophy in 1947. He did not have a long NFL career, but he did play four years for the Chicago Bears before retiring in 1951.
5. Joe Namath, Beaver Falls
Namath earned legendary status when he guided the New York Jets past the heavily favored Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III. The win was the first for an AFL team over an NFL team in the Super Bowl and is considered one of the most important games in NFL history. Born in Beaver Falls, which is just 20 miles from Pittsburgh, Namath was a standout in football, basketball and baseball. He received a scholarship to Alabama and led the Crimson Tide to a national championship in 1964. Although a series of knee injuries limited his NFL career, he was named to the NFL Hall of Fame in 1985.
4. Jim Kelly, East Brady
Although he holds the distinction of being on the losing end of four straight Super Bowls with the Buffalo Bills, Jim Kelly ranks as one of the NFL’s great quarterbacks. He played 11 years with the Bills after a two-year stint with the Houston Gamblers in the USFL. He was a four-time Pro Bowl player and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2002. He began his football career in the small Pennsylvania town of East Brady, which is located 55 miles northeast of Pittsburgh. He earned all-state honors and reportedly threw for 3,915 yards and 44 touchdowns his senior year. He went on to star at the University of Miami before being drafted by both the Gamblers and the Bills. During his stint with the Gamblers, he threw for 83 touchdowns in just two seasons.
3. Dan Marino, Central Catholic, Pittsburgh
Dan Marino set nearly every career passing mark during his 17-year career as quarterback of the Miami Dolphins. Marino was a standout from his early days at Central Catholic High School in Pittsburgh where he earned Parade All-American honors before heading off to the University of Pittsburgh. After a solid, although sometimes disappointing, college career, Marino was the sixth quarterback drafted during the 1983 draft. However in his second year under head coach Don Shula, Marino set NFL records for touchdowns and yards passing in a season. Although many of his records were recently broken by Brett Favre, Marino once owned career records for passing yardage (61,361 yards) and 420 touchdowns. He was the NFL MVP in 1984 and made the Pro Bowl nine times. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2005.
2. Johnny Unitas, St. Justin’s, Pittsburgh
Although he was named to the NFL’s all-time 75th anniversary team, Johnny Unitas was often overlooked early in his football career. Undersized in his youth, Unitas was not heavily recruited out of St. Justin’s School in Pittsburgh in the early 1950s. He also played on losing teams at Louisville before being drafted – and cut – by his hometown Pittsburgh Steelers. After a year of playing sandlot football, Unitas hooked up with the Baltimore Colts in 1956 and went on to a storied career that included three NFL championships. He appeared in 10 Pro Bowls and was the NFL MVP three times. He was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 1979.
1. Joe Montana, Ringgold, Monongahela
Considered by many as the greatest quarterback in NFL history, Montana got his start at Ringgold High School in Western Pennsylvania, 25 miles south of Pittsburgh. He was a starter only his junior and senior year, but he was selected to the Parade All-American team as a senior. An all-around athlete, Montana receiver scholarship offers in basketball, but chose to play quarterback at Notre Dame. After leading the Fighting Irish to a Cotton Bowl win over University of Houston in 1979. He went on to a stellar NFL career that included four Super Bowl trophies with the San Francisco 49ers. He was elected to the NFL Hall of Fame in 2000.