A transfer from Cerritos, Jim Zorn played at Cal Poly-Ponoma, where he set multiple passing records for the school from 1973 to 1974 as a dual threat quarterback. He was not selected in the 1975 NFL Amateur Draft, but he signed a free agent contract with the Cowboys. Jim did not make the squad, but made enough of an impression that he was brought in by the brand new Seattle Seahawks franchise the following year (1976) to compete in camp.
Jim ended up winning the starting quarterback job outright, and was named rookie of the year in 1976, leading the league with 439 attempts- and interceptions with 27, while rushing for 4 TDs. In 1977 he started 10 games, but posted a gaudy league leading 16.2 yards per completion on 104 passes. By 1978 it was obvious that Zorn to Largent was becoming a household name, as the franchise posted back to back 9-7 records under his leadership. Jim’s penchant for scrambling was in full effect, as he carried the ball 59 times for 290 yards and 6 TDs. He’d have all career single season passing highs in the latter year (1979) throwing for 3661 yards (285/505) and 20 TDs to 18 interceptions. It seemed that Jim’s best games where when he was on the run and improvising. As his rushing stats decreased over the following seasons, so did his passing stats, and win/ loss record. In 1983 he’d be benched in favor of Dave Krieg. At that time, Jim, had been the only quarterback pretty much in the history of the franchise, and owned virtually all the franchise passing records.
Jim signed with the Green Bay Packers in 1985. He posted a 3-2 record for the team, passing for 794 yards and 4 TDs. In 1986, Jim traveled to Winnipeg where he backed up John Hufnagel and Tom Clements, on the Blue Bombers. After his lone season in the CFL, Zorn returned to the NFL in 1987 where he played one final swan song for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, beating the Minnesota Vikings 20-10, before retiring.
Jim has an extensive coaching resume. He started shortly after retiring from football in college, taking stops in as an assistant coach, offensive coordinator, and quarterbacks coach at Boise State (1988-1991), Utah State (1992-1994) and 1995-1996 at Minnesota. He quickly joined the NFL as an assistant with his former team- the Seahawks in 1997. Afterwards it was off to the Lions from 1998-2000, where he began to really develop a reputation as a great quarterback whisperer. He then returned to the Seahawks in 2001. He remained QB coach for the franchise until 2007, where he made the jump to head coach with the Washington Redskins.
Jim Zorn’s Washington Redskins tenure was shortlived. Embarrassing moments were not in short supply unfortunately. First the Redskins broke the hapless Lions 0-16 streak dating back through 2008. Then, during a game in 2009 against the Giants, Jim called a ‘swinging gate’ formation (which is reliant on the element of surprise to make mismatches)- so the Giants wisely called a timeout. The Redskins not only stuck to the play- it resulted in an interception, and caused the team to get booed off the field at half time. He lasted two seasons, as the Redskins failed to compete- posting a 12-20 record.
After coaching for the Redskins, Jim served one season as QB coach of the Ravens in 2010, and then as QB coach for the Kansas City Chiefs in 2011 and 2012. He joined the XFL as head coach of the Seattle Dragons, and as his offensive coordinator Mike Riley took a leave of absence from the team, Jim had to take a more hands on approach. He was able to navigate the team through a quarterback controversy and a win before the league was terminated after the 5th game of the season, due to COVID.
I was surprised that Jim was not a part of the XFL 2020 set released by Topps. Nonetheless I wanted to get his autograph on this Upper Deck 1997 Legends card I had of his. I love this card. The detail is stunning, even down to the cheerleaders and band in the background.
He signed this card in 6 days flat and inscribed it with an interesting passage:
Like snow in summer or rain in harvest, honor is not fitting for a fool.
Ja’Quan Gardner played runningback for Humboldt State University from 2014 to 2017. While playing for the Lumberjacks he compiled some truly impressive numbers. During his Sophomore run, Gardner had 2266 rushing yards on 337 carries and 25 TDs. He finished his career for the Jacks with 880 carries, 5,495 yards, and 72 TDs, Ja’Quan was also a talented receiver out of the backfield managing 81 career receptions for 767 yards and 4 TDs.
Gardner, despite his numbers did not receive a call to attend the NFL combine or get drafted in 2018. A sparkplug- at 5’6″- teams probably shied from his size and small school stature. He received a tryout call for the San Fransisco 49ers- but after working out, didn’t hear back from them. Still Ja’Quan stayed in playing shape and waited for his chance.
Three months later he received the call from the 49ers, but he thought that his agent was joking with him. The 49ers though were aching at runningback with Matt Brieda, Jerick McKinnon, and Joe Williams all being bit by the injury bug entering the team’s final preseason contest. More of an insurance policy for the team than anything else, Gardner spent all of 3 days on the roster before being waived.
Ja’Quan was allocated to the San Diego Fleet of the AAF in 2019. Gardner came recommended by a Chargers scout to head coach Mike Martz, so despite not really knowing who he was, the coaching staff decided to take a stab at him. Runningbacks in Mike Martz’s systems tend to be do-it-all backs- and Gardner took the lead role.
During his debut against the San Antonio Commanders, Gardner rushed 8 times for 55 yards, but the Fleet were thankfully more interested in passing the ball- than rushing the ball. Ja’Quan was fast once he hit the hole. His size and gameplay speed were quite deceptive.
“He can change direction and he has good hands. He’s very patient and if the hole’s there — boom, he’s gone.”
– DAVE BOLLIER SAN DIEGO FLEET
Ja’Quan came back the next weekend and ran all over the Atlanta Legends. He’d carry the load for the Fleet rushing for 104 yards and on 15 carries. His 2 rushing TDs were both scored in the 4th quarter and were the first of the season on the ground for the franchise. Gardner was also the second player in the history of the league to record a 100 yard effort- only behind Zac Stacy who had beaten him to the punch only by a few hours.
In Week 3, Gardner powered the Fleet to a dominating victory over their rival San Antonio Commanders in San Diego, 31-11. During the 3rd quarter, Ja’Quan took a hand-off up the middle and dashed a record 83 yards to pay dirt. He also finished with 122 yards on 12 carries, which also stood as a league record- and he became the first player in league history to rush for 100 yards in back to back games.
“His run reads are impeccable. He sees things so well.” – MIKE MARTZ HEAD COACH
Teams began to gameplan against Gardner, and with injuries slowly taking their toll, he didn’t see the same measure of success the rest of the season. Still Ja’Quan finished 8th in the league in rushing with 311 yards in 7 games. Gardner wanted to get a shot with another NFL team, so he needed to rehab a shoulder injury. Shortly before Week 8, he’d be placed on IR. -Soon thereafter the league folded.
I love me some runningbacks and Gardner, despite gashing my team for 122 yards, was one of my favorites. I have been collaborating with Mark from Mark’s Signing Bonus. I had seen the address for Gardner after internet snooping only a day or two before he messaged me to tell me that he had luck with Ja’Quan. I excitedly put together the Topps Now cards and his base and sent them out. He not only responded- Gardner wrote a touching note thanking me for being a fan and supporting him.
I thought Gardner would make a nice fit for the XFL- perhaps the Houston Roughnecks where they went full Run N Shoot, but alas the Seattle Dragons nabbed him, Kenneth Farrow, AND Trey Williams. Ja’Quan in 5 games finished with 35 carries for 127 yards and a 13 yard long before the league shut down due to COVID concerns after the 5th game.
Ja’Quan wrote me another nice note thanking me for being a fan and writing him again. I hope he returns to the XFL again and keeps chasing his football dreams.
Looks like Steven was getting a bit tired of signing cards at this point. The autograph looks a bit shortened- but I’ll take it!
Steven Johnson is a great football story- as he’s managed to succeed against all odds. He didn’t receive any college opportunities out of high school, and after playing both ways at Wyoming Seminary, he suffered a devastating knee injury that tore it essentially from the socket. After rehabbing, he walked-on at Kansas and fought his way up the depth chart. By his Junior year he was an entrenched starter at linebacker. He finished his college career with 225 total tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, 3 pass deflections and an interception in 35 games.
Undrafted, Steven signed with the Denver Broncos in 2012 and managed to make the 52 man roster playing primarily on special teams. He started 7 games in 2014 at middle linebacker, posting 39 total tackles, .5 sacks, and a fumble recovery. He’d then embark on a series on stops with the Titans (2015), Steelers (2016), Steelers and Ravens (2017).
He’d join the Alliance of American Football for the 2019 season and be assigned to the Arizona Hotshots. Steven had a banner season for the Hotshots. He’d lead the team in interceptions with 3, and finish 3rd on the team in combined tackles with 48.
After the AAF folded suddenly, Johnson was selected by the Seattle Dragons of the XFL 2020. Over the course of the 5 game season, Steven posted 48 tackles to lead all players in the league. Unfortunately due to the Coronavirus outbreak- the XFL cancelled the remainder of the season
Celebrating the game, the players, the cards, and the autographs for over 25 years.