Monday, April 22, 2013

"Who is Ken O'Brien?"

The query above is not a Jeopardy question - at least not to UC Davis football fans - but to former NFL quarterback Dan Marino, it was one of the first things he uttered after finding out that O'Brien, and not himself, was the New York Jets' first-round pick in the 1983 NFL Draft.

Marino wasn't a happy camper and there were more than a few groans as well from the Jets faithful who crowded into the New York Sheraton waiting to hear Marino's name as the 24th pick. Marino went to Miami three picks later and I heard had an alright pro career. 

Marino recalls that moment as part of ESPN's "30 for 30" ("From Elway to Marino") documentary series that that looks back at a draft celebrated for its six quarterbacks taken in the first round. It airs at 5 p.m. (Pacific) but check, as they say, your local listings.

It's a class that saw John Elway (Stanford), Todd Blackledge (Penn State), Jim Kelly (Miami), Tony Eason (Illinois), O'Brien, and Marino (Pittsburgh) make history. Super Bowls, Pro Bowls and Hall of Fame careers were spawned on Apr. 26, 1983, and 30 years later, the celebrated draft returns to football fans' consciousness just as this year's NFL Draft takes center stage.

Ken O'Brien - BEFORE
O'Brien enjoyed a three-year UC Davis career (1980-82) that, to that point, was the best in school history. He threw for 6,637 yards, 44 touchdowns and still remains entrenched on six all-time Aggie passing charts. 

His 413 passing yards against Cal State Northridge in 1982 stood as the school record until current Aggie offensive coordinator Kevin Daft broke it (482 vs. New Haven) in 1997. 

O'Brien was a household name throughout the Division II ranks and was certainly on the draft boards of many NFL teams. Elway went with the first pick to the Baltimore Colts and was followed by Blackledge (Chiefs), Jim Kelly (Bills) and Eason (Patriots) before former NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle stepped to the podium, and with a wry smile, announced a name that sent many fans scurrying for information.

In fact, one reporter even called him "Ken Davis" before correcting himself twice and calling him "Ken O'Brien". And then there's that matter of Rozelle calling the school "California-Davis".
Ken O'Brien - AFTER

While not wildly known at draft time, O'Brien did go on and stake out a successful NFL run. He threw for more than 25,000 yards during a 10-year career - all but one year with the Jets - tossed for 128 touchdowns and made it to a pair of Pro Bowls in 1985 and 1991. His 96.2 passer rating led the NFL in 1986.

O'Brien currently lives in Manhattan Beach and enjoys a successful real estate career. He's a frequent visitor to campus and alumni gatherings and remains engaged to the Aggie program.

Eason, by the way, also enjoys a UC Davis connection. His brother, Bo, was a defensive back for the Aggies while O'Brien was quarterback and now travels and performs his acclaimed play "Runt of the Litter".

By the way, who is John Elway? 



Maybe it's just me, but I think any time NFL Films contacts someone, one of the following has to happen:

1) The legendary voice of the late John Facenda needs to come on and say, "Hi, this is John Facenda of NFL Films. Please hold for (insert dubbed name here)."


2) There needs to be the unmistakenable music of "The Power and the Glory" playing underneath the call or as an email attachment. (pause and click the link, please) Memories of Facenda narrating Super Bowl highlights with that song in the background is an indelible part of my growing up.

I'm sure I'd get goosebumps before it was my turn to talk. Then I'd probably stand up and run through a wall ready to sack a quarterback.

But, alas, that's not the way it goes. Instead, I was copied on a non-descript email in December as NFL Films looked to interview one "Kenneth O'Brien." We later sent them a photo as well. Just recently, the company got a hold of us again to approve some footage used in Tuesday's "30 for 30" episode looking back at the famed quarterback class of the 1983 NFL Draft.

Maybe I'll record myself reading the email with "The Power and the Glory" playing underneath.



UC Davis Football has a distinguished history from a lot of different angles. Former head coach Jim Sochor is in the College Football Hall of Fame. The program enjoyed nearly 40 consecutive winning seasons. The list of accomplished college coaches who either got their starts with the Aggies or stopped through for more experience is notable on its own.

But while USC may be known as "Tailback U", when it came to Div. II, the Aggies were definitely "Quarterback U".

Kevin Daft
No less than six UC Davis signal-callers were drafted into the NFL during the Aggies' Div. II era, a product of the program's pro-style offense that featured a potent passing attack.

Mike Moroski (Falcons, 1979), Ken O'Brien (Jets, 1983), Scott Barry (San Francisco, 1985), Jeff Bridewell (St. Louis, 1991) Kevin Daft (Tennessee, 1999) and J.T. O'Sullivan (New Orleans, 2002) each heard their names called on draft day.

Khari Jones (1991-93) staked out a prolific and MVP career in the Canadian Football League while Mark Grieb (1994-96) rewrote Arena Football League recordbooks with his impressive play.

Mike Robles is Assistant Athletics Director, Communications and will be looking for a "Photo courtesy of UC Davis Athletics" in the end credits of the "30 for 30" episode.

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