John Brodie stands next to his bronze statue at the Stadium Museum Hall of Fame// photo courtesy of Sue Brodie
by Lisa Horne
Del Mar, Calif—Washington State has produced some great quarterbacks. Mark Rypien and Drew Bledsoe blossomed in the NFL. Unfortunately, the more famous Cougar quarterbacks bottomed out after leaving the snowy confines of Pullman's The Palouse.
Jack Thompson, the third overall pick in the 1979 NFL Draft, and Ryan Leaf, the second overall pick in the 1998 NFL Draft, are forever associated with Washington State football. And the NFL's biggest busts.
Perhaps that is why Connor Halliday has thrown for 2,318 yards in five games but hasn't caught the attention of football analysts or Heisman voters. Pundits are just not willing to go all in on a Cougar quarterback. Especially one that is under the tutelage of college football's mad scientist, Mike Leach, who compared Halliday to his previous quarterbacks.
“He has as strong an arm as any of them and the ball comes off his hand really fast," Leach told me.
"Another factor is he has had to work through a great [deal] of adversity and [has] done a good job of developing into a leader for the team.”
The strong-armed quarterback leads the nation in total offense after being named to the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award and the Davey O'Brien Award preseason watch lists. If Halliday was playing in the SEC, wouldn't the analysts be falling all over him?
Probably. Fair or not, conference bias is rampant. Even Leach admits that he cannot do "more than what he does every day" and "just keep focusing on getting better."
No one is whispering Halliday's name as a Heisman candidate (except for this author) because the Cougars are 2-3. A winning record, according to public opinion, is a major criterion for winning the Heisman.
But not everyone is dismissing him as just another system quarterback under Leach's Air Raid attack.
When Halliday dons his No. 12 jersey and takes to the field, two fans will be watching him more closely than others. They're experts at this whole football thing. They both once played quarterback—Connor's father played at Boise State, his great uncle at Stanford. They both wore No. 12 but Connor reportedly wears No. 12 as a nod to his father's jersey number.
His great uncle wasn't too shabby of a quarterback. And while his voice may have been temporarily quieted 14 years ago, it is now loud and full of life.
From l to r: Y.A. Tittle, Bob St. Clair and John Brodie// photo courtesy of Sue Brodie
John Brodie was quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers from 1957 through 1973. He was a two-time Pro-Bowler and was named the NFL's MVP in 1970. He is also believed to be the NFL's first $1 million player. When he retired after the 1973 season, only Johnny Unitas and Fran Tarkenton had more career passing yards than Brodie.
Brodie suffered a massive stroke in 2000 that almost took his life. Through rehabilitation and alternative therapies, his wife Sue has overseen her husband's recovery. He still struggles while speaking. His obscenity filter has been permanently turned off. When he drops an f-bomb, it's surprisingly not offensive—it almost seems like it fits in the context of the conversation.
Brodie may have been robbed of some of his speech, but he wasn't robbed of sound mind and intellect. He is completely cognizant and very adamant about sharing his opinions on various matters. He doesn't really like football coaches. He thinks quarterbacks are smarter than offensive linemen despite linemen scoring very highly on the Wonderlic. And one more thing… he thinks Halliday is the real deal.
How many college quarterbacks have the backing of an NFL great? How many can count an NFL great as a family member and keep it under wraps for so long?
Family dynamics can be complicated in this day and age. In a nutshell, John has a sister named Katie Brodie Hohman and her grandson is Connor.
Lately, the Brodie clan has had a lot to celebrate.
The San Francisco 49ers Stadium Hall of Fame Museum opened and Brodie, along with other 49er Hall of Famers, were honored. Connor had one of the best games of his life despite the Cougars losing to the Oregon Ducks 38-31. It was a heartbreaking loss—one missed pass interference call may have denied the Cougars the opportunity to tie or win the game.
The following week, Washington State beat a 10-point favorite Utah team on the road. Halliday threw for 417 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions.
Halliday was throwing pellets. Some of his passes left vapor trails.
Brodie declared him the "No. 1 quarterback."
"He's smart, really smart," he added.
Brodie says that Halliday reminds him of Peyton Manning. He "throws the damn ball beautifully," Brodie marveled. The NFL great also didn't hold back from giving a little constructive criticism.
According to Brodie, Halliday like Manning, isn't a very mobile quarterback. But in the NFL, that's not necessarily a negative. Beside, Brodie believes that intellect is most important.
"No. 1 [is] smarts, No. 2 [is] pass ability," he explained. Halliday has both attributes.
Still, Leach says that Halliday should concentrate on "[getting] better every day in practice and focus on one play at a time."
Brodie has attended Halliday's training camp and watched Connor play in person, according to Sue. What's refreshing is that Halliday hasn't really played up the celebrity status of his great uncle. Maybe he doesn't need to—he is a rock star in Pullman. And he is becoming a media favorite.
Connor Halliday at Pac-12 media days// photo credit Lisa Horne
Ask Halliday a question and he'll answer with amazing detail and funny anecdotes. At Pac-12 media days, Washington State staffers were smiling and laughing while Connor held court with reporters rapt at attention. He totally owned us, the curmudgeons of the world.
Halliday isn't the guy who gives you canned answers. He's the guy who makes you lean forward and embrace his gregarious personality.
He's the guy who makes your jaw drop when he winds up that big arm and fires away. He's the guy that makes John Brodie shout with approval.
It takes a lot to get Brodie's approval.
After 57 years of marriage, he still thinks his wife is "really hot." He's right, of course. She is stunning and smart. While John is working on his recovery from the stroke (and return to the golf course), Sue is enjoying a very successful real estate business in the Palm Springs area.
As busy as they are, you just know Brodie is watching his great nephew play every chance he gets.
John and Sue Brodie at the San Francisco 49ers' opening game of the season// photo courtesy of Sue Brodie
Following a family member's famous footsteps can be intimidating. Few have overcome the cavernous task of filling of big shoes but Halliday is playing loose. He looks like he's having fun.
Watching No. 12 light up the scoreboards must conjure up some great memories for Brodie and the senior Halliday.
Don't rule out Connor creating a new family memory in New York City this December.
Note—all quotes taken first hand