By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
As usual, Pat White was before his time, but now that time and football have caught up with him, he’s ready to make a comeback in the National Football League.
White, of course, didn’t invent the mobile quarterback in the NFL after his days of changing football at West Virginia University forever were over.
When he came out, a year after his and the entire state’s season had been shattered in a dismal loss to Backyard Brawl rival Pitt when standing at the doorstep of a national championship game, he seemed to be part of a natural progression that had included Vince Young, Michael Vick, Donovan McNabb and Randall Cunningham.
But, in truth, while that style of quarterback could adapt to the National Football League, the NFL would not adapt to that style of quarterback. The Vicks and McNabbs and the like operated within the rigid offensive guidelines that were far better suited to the Mannings and Tom Brady.
White was drafted in Miami as a freak show, of sorts, a change of pace rather than someone who would set the pace, that still being a few years away when Robert Griffin III won a Heisman Trophy and then set the league aflame with the Washington Redskins and Colin Kaepernick led the San Francisco 49ers into the Super Bowl.
This rekindled the flames that had burned so brightly in White when he was at WVU running Rich Rodriguez’s revolutionary offense, trying to get the chance to move into the NFL and change its approach to the way the game was played.
But White was lacking, perhaps, in his throwing ability, wasn’t built quite as strong and sturdily as those who would follow him into the league and, of course, his coach in Miami did not have the desire to commit to him or such an offense.
Looking back now, an aborted attempt at minor league baseball behind him and with thoughts of entering show business still bounding around within his life motor, he is willing to accept the blame for his NFL failure.
“Everyone wants to point fingers as to why it didn’t work out in the NFL. I felt it was because of me,” White told the Palm Beach (Fla.) Post this week as he showed up at the Senior Bowl, where he once was the MVP, and which is not far from his Mobile, Ala., home. “I could’ve done a lot more film study, a lot more working on my game. Instead of being there 30 minutes after practice, be there an hour. It’s the little things.
“I understand now that I was disrespectful, very disrespectful, to the gifts that I was given. I wasn’t as focused as I should have been, and I took my gifts for granted. Now that I know that, it won’t happen again.”
You see, with an athlete who has as magnificent natural gifts as White has, an athlete who has tasted greatness yet been left with so much unaccomplished, just walking away and beginning life anew in a different area is never enough.
The void of the NFL remains, growing as he saw the way the league suddenly finds itself evolving toward exactly the kind of quarterback he is and the offense that he runs best.
Now, it’s true that while athletically White may be as gifted or more so than other new-breed quarterbacks, what he lacks is something the NFL does seem to be insisting upon, and that is someone with far more size than White displays.
They not only are looking for talent, but durability.
Earlier this year, looking at where the league has been and where it is going, ESPN analysis Trent Dilfer, himself a former quarterback, put it this way:
“For years I’ve been kind of seeing this coming,” Dilfer said. “The biggest, baddest dude is now playing quarterback. Now they take the 6-5, 250-pound great athlete who is the biggest, baddest kid on the block, and they make him a quarterback. And then he gets this great training growing up.
“It’s a natural progression that the quarterback run game is going to enter the NFL. Purists are going to continue to say (defenses) are going to figure it out. That’s just not true. They’ve never had to deal with a Colin Kaepernick, (Griffin), the next generation of quarterbacks who are pass-first but also have this physicality.”
White lacks the physicality but has the ability, and he is looking for a chance to display it again, to show that it wasn’t really a matter of him not being ready for the NFL but the NFL not being ready for him.
“I’m still young. My legs are still with me,” White said. “I’m like a 2009 model with about 4,500 miles on it. It still runs just as smooth.”
It would be foolish for NFL teams to totally ignore White’s comeback attempt. Anyone with the skills that he brings to the game should be able to find a place where he can contribute and help make a team’s transition into the modern, successful offenses of today a smooth and successful one.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.