"You think he'll be good in the NFL?"
A question posed by little-boy me to my dad toward the end of the 1987 college football season. The Syracuse football program was "back" and its players were receiving more attention than at any one point in years. And of course, Don McPherson, the quarterback and center of my question, and in my opinion, star, of the team received more pub than just about anyone else on the team.
So I asked my dad, someone who had watched some of the best Orangemen to ever wear a Syracuse uniform, if McPherson would be the next Big Thing in the NFL. And, honestly, in my opinion then, it was more a rhetorical question. The Orangemen were nearing an undefeated regular season and McPherson, the leader, was about to clean up in the post-season awards circuit. The Maxwell Award, given out to the game's most outstanding player, was his. Quarterback awards like the Davey O'Brien Award and Sammy Baugh Award and the Johnny Unitas Award, all engraved with the names "Don" and "McPherson." The Heisman was the only award that eluded Donnie, and we all know he was robbed.
Really, that question to my dad really should have been, "Donnie is going to kill it at the next level, isn't he!?" Shades of Chris Farley praising Paul McCartney if instead of my dad in the family room I was fawning all over McPherson himself:
"I don't think so, Matt. No one seems to think he'll do much in the NFL."
That was the response. Prophetic as it turns out. McPherson was drafted by my Philadelphia Eagles in April of 1988 -- a backup until venturing to the Canadian Football League a few years later.
Now it could be McPherson was doomed from the start by poor mechanics, or by a low (even for 1987) completion percentage (56.3%), but there may have been other forces working, conspiring against Donnie Mc. Maybe it was the NFL didn't see Syracuse University as a school that could produce quality pro QBs, so maybe No. 9 was never given a fair shot.
An interesting thought, one examined by the Wall Street Journal's Jonathan Clegg -- which I found via Brent Axe. As Clegg points out, for every Brown or Monk or Morris or Gedney or Freeney or Harrison or McNabb there have only been three quarterbacks from Syracuse University to ever play in the National Football League. THREE! -- he writes for emphasis.
Nassib is certain, in some form or another, to be the fourth. But still, that's pretty hard to fathom, t-h-r-e-e QBs. Donnie Mc played for Coach Mac - Dick MacPherson - who was as basic as it could get on offense in college -- run the ball then run it some more. And after Coach Mac came Coach P - Paul Pasqualoni - who had a similar approach. And really, if you think about it, Donovan McNabb, the last true star QB for Syracuse, probably could have accomplished a lot more had he not been reigned in by Pasqualoni's (and George DeLeone's) run-first offense.
So now Nassib, a player who owns just about every "major" statistical record for quarterback at Syracuse, is hoping his last three years as starter, playing for a coach who had NFL ties and is now an NFL head coach, will be enough for scouts, coaches, and general managers in the NFL to ignore any prejudice and see him for what he is; a quarterback. One with a lot of work to do, but one who has already completed a lot of work. Times are certainly different, too.
Nassib is nothing like McPherson or even Marvin Graves -- another talented SU QB who never got a real look from the NFL. The fifth year senior is probably more "pro" polished, having worked under Doug Marrone and playing in a more NFL based system. But Nassib is still likely fighting against the same stigmas that surrounded a McPherson or Graves.
That could have been different, of course. If Pasqualoni hadn't let things go stagnant and if Greg Robinson didn't obviously hate SU, maybe the Orangemen program would have followed McNabb with another star? Michael Vick was close to committing. If Vick did sign on and the McNabb era success had continued, maybe Nassib isn't fighting history, maybe he's embracing it. It's impossible to figure out but interesting to think about: What could have been.
For Nassib, it's what can it be. A second or third draft pick and a chance to compete for a starting job year one, maybe. Should that happen, should Nassib actually see the field and play he could be not only making a name for himself, Ryan Nassib could be helping change the reputation of SU. For Orange fans, the plight of Ryan Nassib in the NFL could have much more of a direct impact on your program than you realized. A successful QB alum will certainly make selling SU to recruits, top-flight quarterback recruits, that much easier.
Hell, should things work out for everyone involved, maybe in a few years some six or seven year old kid may look up to his dad and say, "Do you think he'll be any good in the NFL?" and the dad could respond, "Well, there's no reason to think he won't be."