Brett Favre’s origin story is one that several SEC schools wish they could rewrite.
The kid from Kiln, Miss., (pronounced “Kill”) quarterbacked a run-heavy offense for his father, Irv, at Hancock North Central High School in the mid-1980s.
With his passing prowess kept secret by a conservative gameplan, Favre didn’t receive a Division I scholarship offer until Southern Mississippi reached out in the final days of his senior recruiting period.
That was the opportunity Favre needed, and he parlayed a successful college career — including a Hail Mary win against Louisville and impressive victories against Florida State, Alabama and Auburn — into a second-round selection in the 1991 NFL Draft.
The Green Bay Packers legend will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this weekend, and it got us thinking: How many southern superstars were passed over by the SEC in recent decades? Here’s a list of 16 other studs that slipped through the cracks:
Jimmy Smith (Jackson State)
Smith’s route to becoming a five-time Pro Bowler and the NFL receptions leader in 1999 was a wild one.
The Jackson (Miss.) Callaway High School grad played well enough for Jackson State that the Dallas Cowboys made him a second-round draft pick in 1992. The Cowboys won the Super Bowl in both of his first two seasons on the roster, but Smith was sidelined for much of the action with a broken fibula and complications from an appendectomy.
When the team asked him to take a pay cut in 1994, he declined, so the Cowboys cut him. He flew to Philadelphia, where he played for the Eagles for a little more than a month of the preseason before getting cut for the second time that year.
After sitting out the season, Smith finally landed with the expansion Jacksonville Jaguars in 1995.
According to the Associated Press, Smith’s career would never have been resurrected had his mother not sent Jaguars coach Tom Coughlin a “binder of press clippings to help him earn a tryout.” He was inducted into the Jaguars ring of honor last December.
Charlie Joiner (Grambling State)
When Joiner retired from the NFL in 1986, he was the league’s all-time receptions leader; his 18-year career with the Houston Oilers, Cincinnati Bengals and San Diego Chargers netted 750 catches, 12,146 yards and 65 touchdowns.
Joiner was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1996 and is part of the Chargers’ 50th anniversary team.
All of that came after he decided to go out for football as a high school junior, his tardiness bumping him out of the Division I recruiting race. A stellar college career under legendary Grambling coach Eddie Robinson got Joiner into the league, where the Oilers wanted him to play defensive back. He eventually switched to the other side of the ball, and a star was born.
Phil Simms (Morehead State)
Simms was born in Springfield, Ky., roughly equidistant from the University of Kentucky and University of Louisville, but his college choice — Morehead State — meant he had to drive right through Lexington to play football.
Morehead was the only offer he got, and Simms was so good there that the New York Giants made him the No. 7 overall pick in 1979. He later won two Super Bowl rings, a Super Bowl MVP award and the NFL MVP.
If he hadn’t originally gotten a call from the Eagles in eastern Kentucky, he said he would’ve followed the family tradition of becoming a teacher and football coach.
“Going to college gave me the chance to lead a different life away from home,” Simms told Amy Wimmer Schwarb of NCAA.org. “I’ll never forget the fact that they gave me a football scholarship. I’ll never get over that. That was the only way that I could go to college. It was the perfect school and the right situation.”
Terrell Owens (Tennessee-Chattanooga)
Born in Virginia and raised in various southern cities, Owens lettered four times at Benjamin Russell High in Alexander City, Ala., but he did not start until his senior year, and “had to be talked out of quitting the sport,” according to ESPN.com‘s Harold Abend.
Chattanooga allowed Owens to be a multi-sport athlete — in addition to football, he played basketball and ran track — and he caught enough footballs to pique the interest of the San Francisco 49ers, who took him in the third round of the 1996 NFL Draft.
While playing with his idol, Jerry Rice, Owens developed into a star. He caught the game-winning touchdown from Steve Young to knock off the two-time defending NFC champion Green Bay Packers in January 1999, and eventually earned a spot on the 2000s All-Decade Team after impressive tenures in Philadelphia and Dallas.
His boisterous personality threatens to keep him out of the Hall of Fame, but his career numbers (1,078 catches for 15,934 yards and 153 touchdowns) and cache of memorable moments should be more than enough for induction.
DeMarcus Ware (Troy State)
Ware and Super Bowl hero Osi Umenyiora played on the same team at Auburn (Ala.) High, but neither garnered much attention.
Reporter Chadd Scott remembered watching both in a blog post on his website, calling Ware “reed-thin” and Umenyiora a “fire hydrant.” Here’s an excerpt:
I never saw them play on a winning team. Those Auburn teams were rotten. They got pushed around by everybody they played and were embarrassed as often as not.
Sounds as if we can’t blame the SEC for allowing these defensive linemen to attend Troy, but fans can still look at the pair’s 219.5 career NFL sacks and wonder what would’ve happened if Alabama or Auburn had caught a glimpse of their potential.
Mel Blount (Southern)
Southern’s 1969 team had a mountain of talent. Blount, a future NFL Hall of Fame inductee, was joined by six-time Pro Bowl linebacker Isaiah Robertson, four-time Pro Bowl receiver Harold Carmichael and two-time Pro Bowl defensive back Ken Ellis, per NOLA.com.
Blount, a Vidalia, Ga., native, spent his entire 14-season pro career with the Pittsburgh Steelers, helping the Steel Curtain win four Super Bowl titles in that time.
The 6-foot-3 cornerback was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1975, and later earned a spot on the league’s 75th anniversary team.
Aeneas Williams (Southern)
Another Southern defensive back, Williams did not play college football until his junior year, but the Phoenix Cardinals picked him in the third round of the 1991 NFL Draft (one round after Favre).
The kid from New Orleans’ Alcee Fortier High School toiled away in the desert for 10 seasons, earning six Pro Bowl berths with the Cardinals while making the playoffs just once.
Williams nearly earned a ring when he signed with the St. Louis Rams in 2001, though. A crucial defensive cog opposite “The Greatest Show on Turf,” Williams returned two Favre passes for touchdowns in a January 2002 playoff game, picked off another pass in the NFC title game against Philadelphia, and then fell just short against Tom Brady and the upstart Patriots in the Super Bowl.
He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2014 after making the 1990s All-Decade Team and totaling 55 career interceptions.
Richard Dent (Tennessee State)
One of the most valuable parts of the Chicago Bears’ “Monsters of Midway” defense in the 1980s, Dent won a Super Bowl MVP award and collected 137.5 career sacks prior to his Hall of Fame induction in 2011.
The Bears didn’t know what they were getting with their eighth-round pick in 1983, just as the SEC didn’t know what it was missing in 1979. Apparently, all the skinny kid from Atlanta needed was a trip to the dentist, according to ESPN.com‘s Melissa Isaacson:
The Bears deduced that dental problems were the cause of Dent’s relatively low weight and had them fixed. One way or the other, Dent would grow an inch and a half taller and gain nearly 40 pounds over the next two years.
Ed “Too Tall” Jones (Tennessee State)
The legend of “Too Tall” is unforgettable: The 6-foot-9 defensive lineman was a basketball and baseball star at Merry High School in Jackson, Tenn., trying to decide between dozens of hardwood offers and a minor-league baseball career.
He signed at Tennessee State to play hoops, but quit after two seasons to try football instead. At one of his first practices, a teammate remarked that Jones’ equipment was ill-fitting because he was “too tall” to play, according to a 1981 Sports Illustrated feature by Douglas S. Looney.
The Dallas Cowboys made Jones the No. 1 pick in the 1974 NFL Draft, and he eventually won a Super Bowl and earned a spot on three All-Pro teams.
Steve McNair (Alcorn State)
“Air” McNair had several Division I offers out of Mount Olive (Miss.) High School, but decided to try minor-league baseball in the Seattle Mariners organization for a summer. It didn’t work out, and he enrolled at Alcorn in the fall.
McNair became a prominent Heisman Trophy candidate in 1994 and eventually finished third in the race, the highest-ever finish for a player in the Southwestern Athletic Conference (higher than some of the players further down this list).
From a 1994 feature by the Philadelphia Inquirer‘s Jay Searcy
McNair, 22, is a polite, cocksure, 6-foot-3, 220-pounder who grew up dirt-poor in a shack of a home in Mount Olive, Miss., a two-hour drive from Alcorn. His father left the family when Steve was small, and his mother, a factory shift worker, supported four children. McNair learned to play football in a cow pasture, with his older brother Fred, 25, who preceded him as a quarterback at Mount Olive High and Alcorn and was the original “Air” McNair.
McNair was selected No. 3 overall by the Houston Oilers in 1995, and led the franchise — now known as the Tennessee Titans — within a yard of the first overtime in Super Bowl history. The kid from Mount Olive won co-NFL MVP alongside Peyton Manning in 2003, and is firmly entrenched alongside Super Bowl MVP Doug Williams as one of the most successful quarterbacks ever from a historically black college or university.
McNair was shot and killed by his girlfriend in a murder-suicide seven years ago. He was posthumously inducted into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame earlier this year.
Willie Brown (Grambling State)
Brown was one of few players who built Hall-of-Fame-worthy careers in both the AFL and the post-merger NFL; he made five AFL All-Star games and won an AFL championship before earning four NFL Pro Bowl nods and winning a Super Bowl ring.
His career with the Denver Broncos and Oakland Raiders resulted in his selection to the AFL All-Time Team, the 1970s NFL All-Decade Team, and a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Not bad production for a kid from Yazoo City, Miss., who received little interest from major colleges and went undrafted upon graduating from Grambling.
Willie Roaf (Louisiana Tech)
Roaf was so far under the radar at Pine Bluff (Ark.) High School that he considered playing basketball instead of football in college. But he eventually got a gridiron offer he liked (from Tech) and became a consensus All-American in Ruston, La., before launching a 13-season Hall-of-Fame career with the New Orleans Saints and Kansas City Chiefs.
Among his highlights was blocking for Chiefs running back Priest Holmes in 2003, when Holmes set the NFL’s single-season rushing touchdown record with 27 scores.
Terry Bradshaw (Louisiana Tech)
One of the NFL’s all-time greatest quarterbacks sat on the bench for two seasons in college… behind a reality television star.
You might be familiar with Duck Dynasty‘s Phil Robertson, who was once a Louisiana Tech quarterback trying to keep his job while an upstart kid from Shreveport, La., began showing off his cannon.
“I had the arm,” Robertson told ESPN.com‘s Doug Williams three years ago. “The ability was there. Bradshaw probably had me a little more on distance. I was about a 65-yard man. … I remember at some point, Bradshaw and I would get out there and he would throw like 70-plus.”
Bradshaw eventually got on the field in Ruston, La., and was so good that he went No. 1 overall to the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1970. His pro accolades — four rings, two Super Bowl MVP awards, NFL MVP, 1970s All-Decade Team, Hall of Fame inductee — put him in the top 10 conversation when discussing the league’s greatest passers.
Marshall Faulk (San Diego State)
How did the 1992 Heisman Trophy runner up and two-time NFL MVP escape New Orleans Carver High School without any SEC offers? Faulk was recruited primarily as a defensive back.
Unlike most of the country’s major programs, Faulk had the foresight to know his future would be in the offensive backfield, and decided to accept an offer from San Diego State, which had promised him he could play running back.
Here’s Faulk’s version of the story (via NCAA.com):
“The wide receiver coach for the San Diego State Aztecs, now coach for the New Orleans Saints, Curtis Johnson, a New Orleans native. He was in town on a recruiting trip at our game, recruiting another player. He saw my tape, took that tape back to (then-SDSU head coach Al) Luginbill and Coach Luginbill said, ‘We need to have this kid.’
Faulk set the national single-game rushing record — 386 yards to go along with seven touchdowns — in his second game as a true freshman, and finished with more than 5,500 total yards for the Aztecs.
Jerry Rice (Mississippi Valley State)
Generally considered the best wide receiver of all time, Rice’s inexperience — he didn’t play organized football until his sophomore year in high school — and relatively lackluster speed kept him from getting much serious recruiting interest.
Once he got on the field in college, his film blew away San Francisco 49ers coach Bill Walsh, who eventually selected Rice No. 16 overall in the 1985 NFL Draft. Rice set the pro record for single-season receiving touchdowns (22) in his third season en route to becoming the only receiver ever to win NFL MVP.
By the time he retired in 2005, Rice held nearly every career receiving record and had three Super Bowl rings — and a Super Bowl MVP award — to his name.
Walter Payton (Jackson State)
According to Jeff Pearlman’s book Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton, one of the best football players of all time was kept out of the SEC by the racial climate in 1970.
“The few SEC- or Mississippi-based schools that might have considered Payton were turned off by his antics in the Prentiss (High School) game, when he held the ball aloft and jogged backward into the end zone,” Pearlman wrote.
Payton signed a letter of intent with Kansas State — his only Division I offer — but skipped his flight after Jackson State coach Bob Hill made a final recruiting pitch hours before takeoff. The course of college-football history was forever altered (Kansas State had a locker and a “22” jersey ready for Payton in Manhattan), and Payton eventually became the NFL’s all-time leading rusher over a 13-season career with the Chicago Bears.
Who did we miss? Let us know in the comments section.