The Seahawks’ decision that day turned out to be between a player who will be a first ballot Hall of Famer and another regarded as one of the biggest first-round busts of all time.
Editor’s note: This is the first of two stories looking back at draft-day decisions that shaped the future of the Seahawks — one that worked out well and one that didn’t. This story looks at the 1991 decision to pick QB Dan McGwire over Brett Favre. In the second story we go back to 1997, when the Seahawks nearly passed on left tackle Walter Jones.
As the Seahawks prepared for the 1991 NFL draft, they didn’t keep their intentions for their first-round pick a secret.
“We needed a quarterback,’’ said Tom Flores, who was then the Seahawks’ president and general manager.
And with the No. 16 overall pick, the Seahawks seemed positioned to grab a quarterback who could learn for a year or two under veteran Dave Krieg and then take over.
The only question: Which quarterback? The answer turned out to be possibly the biggest “What if?” in Seahawks history.
Instead of taking a quarterback whose senior season had been pockmarked by injuries and whose maturity some questioned — Southern Mississippi’s Brett Favre — the Seahawks opted for a quarterback who was a favorite of then-owner Ken Behring — San Diego State’s Dan McGwire, the younger brother of baseball star Mark McGwire.
Favre overcame concerns about his health to start 297 consecutive games and finish with 508 career touchdowns (second only to Peyton Manning’s 539). McGwire threw two touchdowns in five starts over four seasons and was out of the league by 1996.
No looking back
Flores became the Seahawks’ coach in 1992 and was fired after the 1994 season, with the McGwire debacle forever serving as a lasting legacy of his failed tenure.
“You can drive yourself crazy with those what-if games,’’ Flores said in a recent telephone interview. “Once you make a choice, I learned a long time ago, you don’t look back, and you don’t second-guess yourself. Everybody has made mistakes, especially in the first round and especially with quarterbacks.’’
Few, though, have offered such a stark contrast in hindsight. The Seahawks’ decision that day turned out to be between a player who will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer and another regarded as one of the biggest first-round busts of all time.
The draft-day choice generally has been regarded as a tug-of-war between Behring, who favored McGwire, and then-coach Chuck Knox, who wanted Favre.
Knox famously didn’t attend a couple early news conferences after the selection of McGwire. Many considered it a protest, and possibly him wanting to avoid saying something he knew he shouldn’t.
According to ESPN.com, Knox told a reporter as he left the building after the pick of McGwire that, “I wanted the guy from Mississippi.”
Flores, though, said that’s news to him.
Asked if it’s true that Knox told the team to take Favre, Flores said, “No. If he did, he never voiced it to me. Not to me and not to our scouting department.’’
Knox has been in declining health in recent years according to the Seahawks and was unavailable for comment.
‘Looked to be an incredible talent’
And in the kind of thing that illustrates just how big of a crapshoot the NFL draft can be, it’s worth noting that few at the time questioned the choice of McGwire over Favre.
“Dan McGwire looked to be an incredible talent,’’ said agent Leigh Steinberg, who represented McGwire. “It’s easy to judge in retrospect, but at the time Brett Favre was a bit of an unknown.’’
Favre had undergone elbow surgery on his throwing arm in June before his senior season, then was injured in a car accident that summer. That led to him eventually undergoing intestinal surgery that resulted in losing almost 30 pounds.
“He had a lot of red flags at the time,’’ Flores said.
McGwire, meanwhile, was 6 feet 8, weighed more than 240 pounds and had a rocket of a right arm. He also had thrown for 3,833 yards as a senior, capped by a highlight-reel performance in a near upset of No. 3 Miami in his final game.
Favre threw for just 1,572 yards as a senior, more than 1,000 fewer than in his junior season. Some also wondered about Favre’s knack for interceptions — he had 34 in four college seasons.
ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. gave Favre and McGwire the same rating entering the draft, and a Philadelphia newspaper story a few days before the draft declared that “The two top (quarterback) prospects are Southern Mississippi’s Brett Favre and San Diego State’s Dan McGwire, and scouts are split on whom will be chosen first.’’
Steinberg, who was friends with Behring, said he was “lobbying’’ for the Seahawks to take McGwire. Many believed Behring also figured McGwire would be the easiest quarterback to sign (rookie contracts were not slotted like they are now).
Steinberg recalls that he and McGwire attended an event for a charity of Behring’s shortly before the draft.
“He spent time with Ken and Ken’s kids at that banquet, and I think they sort of fell in love with him,’’ Steinberg said. “ … It was going around at the time that Behring told (the team’s scouts) that, ‘I’m not going to tell you on a talent basis who to pick, but if it’s close, I’d really like Dan McGwire.’ ”
Said Flores: “Our owner was very adamant about getting a quarterback, and that’s the only one he knew, so we kind of went that way.”
Seeking a long-term solution
Favre fell to the second round, taken No. 33 overall by Atlanta. He famously spent a year on the bench in Atlanta and was traded to Green Bay for a first-round pick. He was a three-time NFL MVP with the Packers and led them to a Super Bowl victory.
McGwire, meanwhile, played only one half of one game in 1991, Krieg’s final season in Seattle. McGwire was unable to win the job in 1992, with Kelly Stouffer and Stan Gelbaugh handling the duties as Seattle went 2-14, the worst record in team history. McGwire got one start at midseason but suffered a broken hip and sat out the rest of the season.
McGwire, who lives in Reno and is an executive for a lighting company, started three games in 1994, then spent one final season with Miami. Of the 80 quarterbacks drafted in the first round from 1980-2015, only one threw fewer career touchdowns than McGwire — Jim Druckenmiller, the 26th overall pick by the 49ers in 1997, who had one touchdown pass in his career.
“He didn’t move quite quick enough,’’ Flores said of McGwire. “His feet weren’t quick enough. Everything was a little slower than we needed.’’
All of which compelled the Seahawks to change direction at quarterback the following year. With the second overall choice in 1993, they took Notre Dame’s Rick Mirer, right after New England drafted Washington State’s Drew Bledsoe with the No. 1 pick.
“We would have taken Bledsoe if we could have,’’ Flores says. But in keeping with the way things were going for the Seahawks at that time, Seattle had beaten New England in 1992 for one of its two wins, which gave the Patriots the No. 1 overall pick in 1993.
Mirer didn’t work out, either, and it took another decade for Seattle to find a long-term answer at quarterback in Matt Hasselbeck. By that time Favre was well on his way to the Hall of Fame and being Seattle’s big “What if?”
|A look at the NFL careers of quarterbacks Dan McGwire and Brett Favre:|
|Player (teams), years||Drafted (overall)||Pass Yds.||TDs|
|Dan McGwire (Seahawks, Dolphins), 1991-95||No. 16||745||2|
|Brett Favre (Falcons, Packers, Jets, Vikings), 1991-2010||No. 33||71, 838*||508*|
|*No. 2 in NFL history|