It was a scenario that would seem unimaginable today. Spring
football had begun, and the Stanford University football coach couldn’t find
his hotshot quarterback, the one who had turned heads the previous fall with
his slingshot arm.
It turned out that John Brodie was at the Stanford University
Golf Course, trying out for the Cardinal team, as recounted by Art Rosenbaum in
the May 1970 issue of Golf Journal. Brodie’s
explanation: “Spring is golf time.”
Brodie was certainly no stranger to the game – he went on to
win the Northern California Amateur a couple of years later. And yet he wasn’t
trying out for just any college team: Stanford had won the NCAA Championship two
years earlier. He made the team, no doubt buoyed by having competed against
regional contemporaries such as Ken Venturi, Tony Lema and Bob Rosburg, all of
whom went on to win major championships.
Brodie competed in two NCAA Golf Championships for Stanford,
saying at the time: “Golf is fun. I don't want to be committed to play football
at the expense of everything else.”
Brodie managed to get to football practice often enough to
secure the starting QB position, and he continued to blossom, earning consensus
All-America honors in his senior season of 1956. He was drafted third overall
by his hometown San Francisco 49ers and went on to play 16 seasons in the NFL,
twice making All-Pro and earning league Most Valuable Player honors in 1970.
People have marveled at more recent multi-sport athletes
such as Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders, who combined jaw-dropping baseball and
football skills. Consider that John Brodie played on the PGA Tour in the NFL
offseason for a couple of years, until he decided to concentrate on one sport.
Consider as well, that when Brodie arrived at Stanford, he hadn’t even planned
on trying out for football – he wanted to concentrate on baseball and
basketball, the sports in which he had earned all-city honors at Oakland Tech
High School across the bay.
Brodie suffered a separated shoulder in a freshman
basketball game, which kept him sidelined for the rest of the hoops season as
well as the baseball season. He decided to try out for football the next fall, and
immediately got the attention of head coach Chuck Taylor, who was not pleased
to hear about Brodie’s golf aspirations. Taylor would find out that – as gifted
an athlete as Brodie was – he was equally determined.
As Brodie’s wife, Sue, once put it, “John wants to be tops in
anything he attempts, or it's not worth the effort.”
Brodie went on to become one of the top NFL quarterbacks of
his generation. Granted, it was an era with far less emphasis on the passing
game, but in a 14-game regular season, Brodie led the league in 1965 by throwing
for 30 touchdowns and 3,112 yards. He earned NFL MVP honors in 1970 as the
49ers went 10-3-1, the best record of his career. The 49ers lost to the Dallas
Cowboys, 17-10, in the NFC title game, missing out on the chance to play in
Super Bowl V. When Brodie retired in 1973, he ranked third in career passing
yards behind Johnny Unitas and Fran Tarkenton.
Brodie’s performance in 1965 launched a bidding war for his
services between the 49ers and the Houston Oilers, then a franchise in the
rival American Football League. Brodie landed a multi-year contract approaching
$1 million to stay with the Niners, which kept him an amateur golfer for a
Earlier in his career, Brodie had given the NFL half of his
year and the PGA Tour the other half. He once shot a 65 in the opening round of
the San Francisco Open, and he posted several 66s and 67s elsewhere. But these stellar rounds were interspersed with
many in the high 70s and low 80s.
"In those early days," he recalled in the Golf Journal story, "I was rooming
with Tony Lema. He wasn't winning, either, but his champagne pace was too much
for me. I had to decide on continuing, or going back to football. I applied for
Brodie played many times at Pebble Beach in the Bing Crosby
Pro-Am, and in 1970, he finished one under par for the four rounds, though the
scores of amateurs were not officially kept, except in the better-ball portion.
He and professional partner Rosburg won the Crosby pro-am championship.
Said Rosburg at the time: "If I'd had John's game this
week, I think I would have won the pro tournament."
After retiring from the NFL, Brodie played from 1985-1998 on
the Champions Tour, earning a dozen top-10 finishes and winning the 1991
Security Pacific Senior Classic by defeating George Archer and Chi Chi
Rodriguez in a playoff. He suffered a serious stroke in 2000.
Brodie, 78, and a veteran of 11 USGA championships,
including two U.S. Opens, once addressed the subject of golf as a sport.
"Some critics claim golf is only a walk in the park and
cannot be called an athletic event," Brodie said, "but those people
are not low handicappers and they don't understand. I think golf is the most
demanding sport of them all in asking coordination from mind and body. It involves more qualities than any other game. Football
is repetition. After many hours of work with teammates, you react by reflex and
instinct. There are so many factors depending on more than one person. … I
learned a lot on the tour. Possibly most important, I learned a lot about
Ron Driscoll is the
manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.