August 26, 2013

Backup quarterbacks are always on call

Chiefs backup quarterback Chase Daniel has a great job. He makes good money, is one of the most popular people in Kansas City and doesn’t have to risk life and limb every Sunday like starter Alex Smith does. Except Rich Gannon once had the same job, and it’s not always what it seems to be.

Chase Daniel has the job everyone else wishes he had. As the backup quarterback for the Chiefs, he makes good money, is one of the most popular people in Kansas City and doesn’t have to risk life and limb every Sunday like starter Alex Smith does.

Except Rich Gannon once had the same job — and it’s not always what it seems to be.

“It’s like any other job,” said Gannon, who left the Chiefs in 1999 to become the starter for the Oakland Raiders. “There are all sorts of ways to look at it. There are good things about it and there are bad things. It can be a tough job if you have the passion to be the starter, but there are two different types of backup quarterbacks.

“Some guys are very content, very comfortable, being the backup. There are guys chomping at the bit who want to compete and will scratch and claw to be the starter. It can be frustrating at times if you’re that kind of guy and you don’t get to play.”

Daniel, a former college star at Missouri, knows the drill. He spent the last four seasons as the understudy to the indestructible Drew Brees in New Orleans. Brees never missed a start, leaving little room for Daniel in the Saints’ lineup.

In New Orleans, Daniel threw a total of nine passes in the regular season, all after the result of the games had long been decided. Yet he still found a way to be the model backup quarterback and attract the attention of the Chiefs — and several other teams — when he became a free agent in March.

“We’re very lucky to have him with us,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “I know Drew Brees, and Drew would tell you that Chase pushed him every day that he was there and presented competition every day that he was there. That allowed Drew to be even better than he would be without him there. …

“That’s his nature. He’s a competitive guy and he wants to be the best he can possibly be and make his football team the best they can possibly be.”

That can be a fine line for Daniel. He wants to play and needs to compete with Smith but also understand that he needs to be supportive because the job is not his.

“You have to understand your role,” Gannon said. “But I always prided myself on working harder than the guy in front of me. If you can outwork the guy who’s starting, you’re on the right path.”

One of the most difficult times in Gannon’s career occurred in 1997, when he played well and had the Chiefs rolling into the playoffs in place of the injured Elvis Grbac.

The Chiefs went with Grbac as their starter once he returned in time for the playoff game against the Broncos, which the Chiefs wound up losing. But the week of the game, Gannon stood up for Grbac in the locker room, telling his teammates the decision had been made and the Chiefs needed to support their starting quarterback, even if it wasn’t him.

“A lot of the people in the locker room knew it was the wrong decision,” Gannon said. “Everybody knew the kind of guy I was and the kind of guy he was and they responded to me differently and probably in a better way.”

Being ready at a moment’s notice is part of the job description as a backup quarterback. Gannon replaced the faltering Steve Bono in the fourth quarter of a 1995 playoff game against Indianapolis on a day when the temperature in Kansas City didn’t get much — if any — above 10 degrees.

“I sat there on that sideline in that cold for 57 minutes,” Gannon said. “I was as stiff as a board. There was no way to warm up or stay loose. But I went in the game, drove us down the field and we missed a field goal. It was just crazy, but you have to be ready at any time ... and the only way to do that is to prepare during the week.

“You can never have the attitude you’re not going to play in the game that week. You’ve got to believe the opposite, that you

are going to play. That’s the only way I know of to keep yourself sharp. You’ve got to really study the game plan.”

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