Neil O’Donnell is officially my first response to kick off 2014. He responded in 9 days signing 2 of the cards I sent. The third- a Skybox 1992-1993 ‘Colors’ edition he kept. It’s a shame as it was a nice card, but at the same time I am sometimes flattered when they keep a card or two.
Neil was of a long line of Maryland quarterbacks to make it to the NFL. He was proceeded into the league by noteworthy signalcallers such as: Boomer Esiason, Stan Gelbaugh, Frank Reich, and Mike Tice, while his back up Scott Zolak followed him into the NFL in 1991. O’Donnell transferred to Maryland at the end of the Henning era in 1986, and split time with him as the starter in 1987. In 1988, Neil became the fulltime starter with young Scott Zolak hot on his heels for the job. An injury, suffered in the Virginia game allowed for an opening to be created, but Zolak could not keep Neil from retaining his starting job through the 1989 season.
In 1990 Neil O’Donnell was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Drafted in the 3rd round, he’d be the 5th quarterback off the board behind Jeff George (#1 overall), Andre Ware, Peter Tom Willis, and Tom Hodson. It was not considered a very strong position that year and after George and Ware, none of the quarterbacks that were taken were really expected to contribute as long term solutions unless serious investment was taken by those respected franchises. The Steelers at that time seemed content at quarterback, with Bubby Brister leading the way and Neil riding the bench behind Rick Strom. In 1991, Bubby was injured and missed 8 games. Neil stepped up and delivered, setting the stage for an open quarterback competition in 1992. With new head coach Bill Cowher coming in, Neil took over the starting job and cemented his efforts, with his one and only Pro Bowl appearance.It’d be the 1995 season that O’Donnell was best known for. Powering the team through the playoffs the Steelers faced the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl XXX. In that game Neil misfired on multiple hot reads, allowing for Larry Brown to pick him off twice, en route to the Cowboys 27-17 victory. O’Donnell’s legacy is unfairly remembered based on that game alone. As a final straw to many Steelers fans, Neil signed with the Jets after the season, eschewing the Steeler organization’s ‘fair’ offer.
Largely, Neil’s next few years were difficult to say the least. Stepping into Rich Kotite’s offense, Neil was injured and the team finished at a lowly 1-15. Kotite was fired and Bill Parcells took over in 1997. Neil fared well under Bill’s guidance, and threw 17 touchdowns to only 7 interceptions. After the season, O’Donnell packed his bags for Cincinnati. While Neil again proved his worth in the pocket, leading the league with only 4 picks in 343 attempts, the Bengals finished at a lowly 2-9 under his direction.
He’d sign immediately with the Titans in 1999 where he’d enter the backup phase of his career, behind Steve McNair. Coach Fisher loves his veteran backups. Crafty, smart, adaptable, and ready to come into a game in a pinch, O’Donnell was a valuable member of the Titans organization. During the team’s Super Bowl run in ’99 Neil stepped in and led the team to a 4-1 record in McNair’s stead. He’d play sparingly over the next few seasons for the Titans, before retiring officially in 2004, after rejecting an offer from the Steelers to return to the organization to mentor young quarterback Ben Rothlisberger. Consequently the Titans organization under Jeff Fisher’s stead employed a scrappy veteran back up with Kerry Collins and Matt Hasslebeck both finding life as a journeyman under the reign of Fish.
O’Donnell lives in the Nashville area. He’s done color commentary for the Titans, but most recently has been involved in stadium turf sales.
G/Gs 125/100 Att 3229 Comp 1865 Yds 21690 Pct 57.8% Td 120 Int 68 Rat 81.8 |
Rush 215 Yds 446 Avg 2.1 Td 4 Lg 27