These Kansas quarterbacks transformed the way NFL passers play the run game
Before Patrick Mahomes or Josh Allen made their names as ball-slingers who could also sprint, Bobby Douglass and Steve Grogan were using their legs to find ways to win football games.
In last Monday’s Wild Card game between Buffalo and Pittsburgh, Bills quarterback Josh Allen uncorked what became the second longest touchdown run by a quarterback in NFL playoff history — a 52-yard scamper for a touchdown.
“I tried to find a lane and got 15 or 20 yards downfield,” Allen said after the game. The sixth-year, first-round draft pick has 16 rushing touchdowns this season, the most ever by a quarterback.
“A lot of guys screaming, ‘slide,’” Allen remembered about the play. “And, I didn’t slide.”
Running performances like that stand to be a big part of the Bills’ next game, when they square off against the Kansas City Chiefs in the NFL Divisional Round Sunday evening. And they’re becoming more common across the league.
Fans of the more dynamic style largely have two quarterbacks with Kansas roots to thank for its modern emergence. In the late 1960s and early ‘70s, Bobby Douglass and Steve Grogan set the precedent for NFL quarterbacks to use their legs to find wins.
And Grogan, a native of Ottawa, Kansas, would surely support Allen’s refusal to slide. He detests when quarterbacks slide, especially when they’re short of the first-down marker.
“I still yell at the TV set when one of the guys, when I’m watching the game and they slide,” he said.
Grogan broke in with the New England Patriots in the 1970s, when quarterbacks were predominantly drop-back passers with little mobility.
His tendency to run started at Kansas State, where he took over for a more classic style quarterback.
“Lynn Dickey,” said Grogan who now makes his home in Belton, Missouri. “He graduated two years before I got the starting job at K-State. They had thrown the ball 40 or 50 times a game with him.”
“When I became the starter, they decided to go with the veer option,” he said. The veer is a college formation geared toward the running game.
That was in 1972, the same year Bobby Douglass, who grew up in El Dorado, Kansas, bucked the league’s drop-back tradition with 968 yards rushing as a quarterback for the Chicago Bears — an NFL record at the time.
Douglass also set a Kansas Jayhawks quarterback record for total combined yards, but he called his NFL record “infamous.”
“It’s not one that I was (as) proud of as I would have been to have thrown the ball for 25,000 yards,” Douglass said in 1994. “Because actually as a quarterback, you’re a passer No. 1.”
The quarterback position continued to evolve after Douglass and Grogan.
In the late ‘80s, Randall Cunningham emerged as a huge running threat for the Philadelphia Eagles and fell just 26 yards short of breaking Douglass’ record in 1990.
That record stood until Michael Vick had the NFL’s first 1,000-yard rushing season as a quarterback in 2006, with 1,039 yards for the Atlanta Falcons.
This season, Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson rushed for 821 yards while leading his team to a No. 1 seed in the AFC. Jackson has surpassed the 1,000-yard rushing mark twice in his career.
The No. 1-seeded Ravens will host the Houston Texans, seeded No. 4, in the Saturday Divisional Round game. The winner there will face the winner of the Chiefs-Bills game, setting the stage for a dual-threat AFC quarterback to advance to the Super Bowl.
These days, Grogan likes how the 6-foot-5, 238-pound Josh Allen handles himself for the Bills.
“Josh Allen is a guy that has that ability because of his size,” said Grogan, who gained 539 rushing yards in 1978. “There’s two or three other ones that are in similar situations.”
“They’re football players, they just want to win a game,” he said.
The Chiefs’ own scrambler, Patrick Mahomes, also appreciates Allen’s game.
“He’s a great quarterback,” said Mahomes, who is 3-3 against the Bills when Allen starts. “Physically talented, he can throw, he can run — can really do it all.”
Some fans would say the same for Mahomes, who has taken the position to another level. This season, he set career highs in rushing yards, with 389, and rushing attempts, with 75.
But it’s not because he’s looking to run.
“I’m always looking to throw first, knowing that the guys are faster than me and they can make the big plays happen,” Mahomes told the media earlier this season. “Whenever I do run, I run scared, try to get out of bounds and the first down as fast as possible.”
Whether it comes by arm or by foot, Chiefs fans are hoping for that Mahomes magic on Sunday evening against the Bills.