Druck: A Lock for the Next Level
by Will Stewart, TechSideline.com, 3/8/97
Spoken in a droning, preacher-like voice (imagine the preacher on The Simpsons):
Friends ... neighbors ... fellow Hokie fans ... we are gathered here today to talk about, and pay homage to, a man who has already achieved legendary status at our humble university ... a man who is so revered in the minds of Virginia Tech Hokie fans that he is now identified by a single syllable ... a man whose accomplishments grow larger every time the tales of his exploits are told ... a man who rose from anonymity to take his place, rightfully so, among the legends of Virginia Tech football ... the man known simply as ... DRUCK.
(Note from Will: if you like biased commentary on Virginia Tech sports, commentary such as I've been known to provide, then you're going to love this.)
In just two short years, Jim Druckenmiller went from being an unknown backup quarterback, repeatedly called "Drunkenmiller," even by Hokie fans, to being acknowledged as the best QB available in the 1997 draft and perhaps the best Virginia Tech quarterback ever. It was a remarkable rise to prominence by a quarterback who hadn't seen significant playing time until his junior year at Virginia Tech.
While Don Strock amassed incredible statistics that rightfully placed him at the top of many of Virginia Tech's career passing categories, Druckenmiller was at the helm when Tech achieved, by far, its two greatest seasons ever: the Sugar Bowl and Orange Bowl years of 1995 and 1996. Strock was the QB during the wild and woolly Charlie Coffey years, and he possessed the pure passing skills that allowed him to accumulate eye-popping totals like 6009 yards passing in his three-year career, and 527 in a single game, against Houston in 1972 (a game which, amazingly enough, ended in a 27-27 tie, according to the 1996 Hokie Football Yearbook).
Strock also piled up a gut-wrenching 47 interceptions in his three years. I never saw him play, but my dad swears to this day that Strock is color-blind, because, he says, "He used to drill opposing players in the chest with the ball."
Strock never caught on in the NFL, although he did have his moments, most notably against San Diego in a playoff game in the early 80's, in which he gained over 400 yards passing despite not even entering the game until midway through the second quarter. But other than that, it was an uneventful career for Strock. He was drafted by the Dolphins and spent many years carrying the clipboard and backing up Bob Griese. Then, in the late 70's, when Griese retired, Hall of Fame coach Don Shula inexplicably made the decision to start David Woodley ahead of the veteran Strock. Woodley, you may remember, didn't have the physical skills to throw a pass from one hand to the other, much less downfield in an NFL game.
Woodley floundered around for 3 or 4 years, and then some guy named Dan Marino arrived, and that was the end of it for Strock. He made a brief splash with Cleveland a few years later, and then retired quietly.
Druck, However, Will be a Big-Time NFL Quarterback
All of which brings me full circle to the point of this piece. Despite his incredible physical skills, Don Strock never "made it" in the NFL. But I'll go on record as saying that unless Jim Druckenmiller gets drafted by a bunch of idiots, he's a lock to be a big-time quarterback in the NFL.
I can hear the groans now: "Oh, nice opinion, Will. Now tell me something I don't already know. Sheesh. I wonder what's going on over at ABCNet.Sportszone.com?"
Stick with me, though, because not every opinion piece has to be an acidic tirade that ticks off 75% of the people who read it. If you want that all the time, tune into see Lee Corso, the Village Idiot, on ESPN, that obnoxious ABC sports marketing division. It just struck me that I've never written a long piece in which I fawned over Druckenmiller, so, well, here it comes.
Ask yourself this question - what does it take to make it in the NFL? It takes two things:
Druckenmiller's got both, so he's a lock for the NFL (see how easy this "My Opinion" stuff is?). You can make it in college with one or the other, but you can't make it in the NFL unless you have both. None of this explains Bernie Kosar, but that's another story.
Tech's has had good quarterbacks in the past, or at least, quarterbacks who have had great years: Strock, Furrer, DeShazo, and Druckenmiller. I left Bob Schweickert off the list because I don't know anything about him, so I can't include him in what I'm about to say.
Strock and Furrer had arms that were about as good as Druckenmiller's. Strock's might have been better, and Furrer's may not have been quite as strong. And DeShazo could scoot pretty well. But none of those other three guys had the pure physical stature of Druckenmiller, plus the cannon arm.
The Real Difference Between Druck and the Others
But there's one area in which those other three guys can't even touch Druckenmiller. Druckenmiller has a great head for the game, and he almost never threw stupid interceptions that made you scream in agony. Strock was legendary for his interceptions, and Will Furrer is close behind him, with 40+ interceptions in his career, many of which were back-breakers that went for touchdowns or killed late-game comeback drives. And you're all familiar with DeShazo's struggles in 1994. His first pass of the Gator Bowl, for example, hit a Tennessee linebacker square in the numbers.
I can only remember Druck having one bad game: Cincinnati, 1995. He threw 3 interceptions in that game, and the two I remember looked really bad. One of them was returned for a touchdown, and the Bearcats beat us, 16-0.
The very next week, however, Druck was mistake-free in the now-legendary win over Miami. He only had about 100 yards passing, but more important than that, he didn't donate any passes to the Canes, and with the rest of the team plowing Miami under, a steady game from Druck was all that was needed.
Right after that, one thing became crystal clear. With the overall talent that Tech boasted, all the quarterback had to do was show up for work each week and not screw it up. Druckenmiller did just that, only throwing 8 interceptions in Tech's last 10 games that year, and not a single one of them hurt.
Along the way, he perfected the art of striking late with a dagger to the opponent's heart. We had seen a flash of it in that year's Boston College game, when Tech had stormed down the field late but couldn't complete the deal and lost the game. However, in Tech's last two games, against UVa and Texas, it was Jim Druckenmiller TD's that won the game (to Holmes against UVa) or put it out of reach (to Still against Texas). The pattern was consistent: the Tech offense would hang around all game long, biding its time, until BAM! Druck was killing you with a long pass. Just ask Pittsburgh, which may have beaten us that year if not for two long passes, from Druckenmiller to Jermaine Holmes and Bryan Still.
I consider Druck's mind for the game, and his ability to take care of the ball by not throwing interceptions, to be his biggest asset. His second biggest asset is his size and his ability to avoid injury, but if he threw a lot of interceptions, you wouldn't really care whether or not he was able to stay in the game. For most of Will Furrer's career, fans called for Rod Wooten or Cam Young to play, because Furrer wasn't a winner like Druck. And when DeShazo was having a rough 1992, fans cheered every time Treg Koel (remember him?) entered the game.
One of my favorite quotes about Druck was uttered by one of Virginia Tech's assistant coaches during 1995. I can't remember who the coach was, but he said, and I'm paraphrasing here, "Druck has a great mind for the game. When Will Furrer used to throw an interception, he'd come off the field and say 'What happened?' and we'd have to explain it to him. When Jim throws an interception, he trots off the field and tells us why the play didn't work. We just stand there and nod and say, 'Yes, you're right, Jim. Now don't do it again.'"
And he rarely, if ever, "did it again."
Oh, Yeah, it Helps to be Big, Too
So much has been written and said about Druckenmiller's sheer size and strength that there's not much I can add to it. I will say that we've all grown spoiled by not needing to worry for the last two years about whether our quarterback was going to get hurt when he was hit on a blitz. As a matter of fact, I used to laugh and shake my head in amazement when a corner would blitz, tag Druckenmiller, and Jim would just shake him off. I guarantee that I won't be laughing next year when our quarterback gets crushed on a blindside hit.
The best examples of that were a downfield pass to Jennings in the Miami game this year, and the TD pass Druck threw to Corney White in the Orange Bowl. In both instances, the opponents blitzed, and Jim just stood there, fired a strike, and took the hit like it was nothing. Man, I'm going to miss that.
Another of my favorite Druck quotes was posted on a message board after the Miami game this year. A Cane fan said, "That Druckenmiller is amazing! On the way out of the stadium, I hit him with a baseball bat, and he shook that off, too!"
Just kidding, obviously ... or maybe not.
With NFL linemen and linebackers, and even safeties, getting bigger and bigger every year, Druck is the perfect size for an NFL QB these days. Fifteen years ago, he would have been a linebacker, or a smallish defensive end. These days, he's just about the right size to play QB in the NFL.
There's reason number two why Druck's a lock for the next level.
Cool as a Siberian Breeze
Back to the BC game in 1995. It was Druck's first start, and he piled up nearly 300 yards passing, never flinching in the face of pressure the whole game. With the Hokies down 20-14, Druck drove them downfield towards the goal line, and if Corney White had caught that pass at the 5 yard line ... well, we'll never know what would have happened. Suffice to say that Druck did his part, despite having thrown maybe 20 passes his entire Tech career before that game.
Miami, 1995 - after an 0-2 start, and facing the mighty Hurricanes, Druck plays a mistake-free game.
Virginia, 1995 - "Druckenmiller fakes short, firing it deep, into the end zone ... it is caught! It is caught for a touchdown by Jermaine Holmes! Jim Druckenmiller has engineered the greatest comeback I've ever seen!" (thanks to Bill Roth for that spine-chilling call)
The 1995 Sugar Bowl - 18-34, 2 TD's, 266 yards, just one INT.
But my favorite story to tell when I'm trying to convince people about how cool Druckenmiller is under pressure is the story of his first pass in this year's Orange Bowl, which ironically was an incompletion. In perhaps the biggest game in Tech history, facing the fearsome two-time defending national champions, Druck's first pass was a long down and out to Scales. The coverage was pretty good, and Druck threw one of the most beautiful passes I've ever seen. He led Scales perfectly to the outside, and the pass had TD written all over it.
Scales dropped it, of course, but that's not the point. To come out after a five-week layoff in such a huge game, and to throw such a perfect pass on the first try, is the classic example of how great under pressure Druck is. Nothing rattles this guy. Nothing.
There's Nothing Else You Need in Your NFL Toolbox
Let's review the facts:
It's a no-brainer. It makes me wish I had gone to law school, so I could be his agent.
My favorite NFL team, the Miami Dolphins, have the 15th pick in the upcoming NFL draft. Previous speculation by Mel Kiper has been that the Dolphins would take either Farrior or Sharper, I can't remember which, out of UVa. But the buzz is that Jimmy Johnson likes Druckenmiller, and last week, JJ was seen checking out Druck in the Rector Fieldhouse in Blacksburg. This was one day after Johnson had been in Charlottesville to look over those other two guys.
I repeat - it's a no-brainer. When you have the choice of drafting a linebacker, who can make some good plays for you, or drafting a quarterback who can dominate a game, then what choice is there to be made?
Of course, why Druckenmiller would even be available by the time the 15th pick rolls around is beyond me. But I've been known to be biased.