State Your Case: Tobin Rote

(Tobin Rote photos courtesy of the Detroit Lions)

By Rick Gosselin

Talk of Fame Network

The Pro Football Hall of Fame is all about the extraordinary — extraordinary players, extraordinary performances.

Tobin Rote fits the profile. He played 15 seasons, with stops in four cities covering three leagues, and accomplished feats that few quarterbacks have accomplished.

Rote is one of only three quarterbacks in history to win championships in two different leagues, joining Otto Graham and Joe Kapp. Graham won four titles in the All-America Football Conference and three more in the NFL, all with the Cleveland Browns. Kapp won a CFL title with the B.C. Lions in 1964 and an NFL title with the Minnesota Vikings in 1969. Rote won an NFL title with the Detroit Lions in 1957 and an AFL title with the San Diego Chargers in 1963.

Rote also came within a whisker of becoming the first quarterback to win a third title in a third league. That was in 1960 when he quarterbacked the Toronto Argonauts to a 10-4 record and their first Eastern Division championship in 24 years, only to lose in the conference finals to the eventual CFL-champion Ottawa Rough Riders, 21-20.

In 1957, Rote came off the bench late in the season for injured Hall-of-Famer Bobby Layne and led the Detroit Lions to three consecutive victories and an NFL championship. In his second start, a Western Conference playoff game at San Francisco against the 49ers, Rote rallied the Lions from a 27-7 third-quarter deficit for a 31-27 victory. He completed 16-of-30 passes for 214 passes and a touchdown that day.

The following weekend in the NFL championship game, Rote passed for four touchdowns and rushed for a fifth score in a 59-14 romp over the Cleveland Browns. Rote completed 12-of-19 passes for 280 yards with TD tosses of 23, 26, 32 and 78 yards.

Rote spent three years in Canada, from 1960-62, and led the league in passing yards each season. In his very first year north of the border, he became only the second quarterback to pass for 4,000 yards in a single CFL season and also led the league with 38 TD passes. He threw for a CFL-record seven touchdowns in a game twice that year and also passed for 524 yards in a game against Montreal.

Rote returned to the U.S. in 1963 and became the starting quarterback of the San Diego Chargers, steering them to an AFL championship that season. He completed 10-of-15 passes for 173 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for another score in the title game, a 51-10 romp over the Boston Patriots.

Rote began his career with the Green Bay Packers in 1950 as a second-round draft pick out of Rice. He led the NFL in interceptions as a rookie with 24, but rebounded to win an NFL passing title by 1952. He led the league in touchdown passes in 1955 with 17 and again in 1956 with 18. Rote also passed for an NFL-high 2,203 yards that season, but was traded to Detroit in 1957 in a blockbuster six-player deal.

In addition to his big-game prowess, the other extraordinary aspect of Rote’s game were his legs. He rushed for 3,128 yards in his career, which puts him ninth all-time among NFL quarterbacks. He’s right behind Donovan McNabb, John Elway and Cam Newton and just ahead of Kordell Stewart, Bobby Douglass and Roger Staubach.

Rote rushed for 100 yards twice in 1951 — this in an era when quarterbacks did not rush for 100 yards in a game. Only two quarterbacks rushed for 100 yards in a game in the previous 20 NFL seasons. But Rote gained 150 yards in a game against Chicago and 131 more against Detroit. He added another 100-yard rushing game in 1952 against the 49ers (106). In 1956, when he was the NFL’s most prolific passer on the way to his first Pro Bowl, Rote also rushed for an NFL-runnerup 11 touchdowns. He went to his second Pro Bowl with the Chargers in 1963.

Do extraordinary performances stamp anyone as an extraordinary player? That’s the discussion Tobin Rote deserves for his career.



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  1. bachslunch
    September 27, 2016

    No question Tobin Rote had a unique and fascinating career, though I don’t think he’s a HoFer. Will say that anyone who pushes for Jim Plunkett as a HoFer (he isn’t either, not even close) without championing Rote first has a skewed set of standards, as Rote also has two titles and was a far better player. Rote had the bad luck to play several years for the awful 50s pre-Lombardi Packers, though he was on better teams later on.

  2. Rick Gosselin
    September 27, 2016

    Maybe Rote doesn’t deserve to be in the Hall of Fame but his candidacy deserved to be discussed. Too many deserving candidates have slipped through the cracks without ever having their careers dissected by the selection committee. That’s a hole in the process. How Ken Riley, who ranks second among pure cornerbacks in interceptions, can go 25 years without his career ever discussed as a modern-era candidate is mind-boggling. There are way to many players to count who have been short-changed by the selection process. They may not all be Hall of Famers, but they certainly deserved to have their careers discussed and debated.

  3. Joseph Wright
    September 27, 2016

    Tobin Rote is the only other quarterback besides Randall Cunningham to lead his team in rushing multiple seasons and the second of three (Norm Van Brocklin and Peyton Manning) to lead to different teams to pro championships in the U.S. You’re slippin’, Rick. You’re slippin’.

  4. bachslunch
    September 28, 2016

    Rick, agreed that far too many players slip through the cracks and never get a chance to be discussed. The big question of course is how to fix that, and there needs to be an overhaul of the Senior process to make that happen — such as having more (not fewer!) Senior slots to vote on, maybe in conjunction with having the Senior process become solely the province of a dedicated committee from nomination through election (avoiding the problems faced by Claude Humphrey, Dick Stanfel, Henry Jordan, and Bob Hayes, all deserving to varying degrees who failed to get elected as Senior nominees but got in subsequently, wasting chances for others). Would also like to see knowledgeable football historians join the Senior process as well (there are several good options with membership over at the PFRA, for instance) to help sort the Mick Tingelhoffs (guys who should have been at the head of the line long ago) from the Marshall Goldbergs (who maybe deserve discussion but aren’t the most egregious snubs — I don’t think Goldberg belongs in, but that’s another issue). Wish the PFHoF would make overhauls like this. But give them credit — at least the system seems to work well for the regular candidates — which is more than can be said for the train wreck that is the BBHoF’s various election processes.

  5. Scott Dochterman
    September 30, 2016

    I’m interested to see what you think of Jimbo Covert, who also was left off the preliminary list. He was a first-team all-decade selection in the 1980s behind only Anthony Munoz and ahead of Gary Zimmerman and Joe Jacoby. Once Kenny Easley gets inducted, Covert will be the only first-team all-80s pick not in Canton. And he can’t even make the preliminary list? Seems like a complete whiff by nomination committee.

  6. bachslunch
    October 1, 2016

    Can’t speak for others, but I’m not sold on Jimbo Covert for the HoF — he had a fairly short career and minimal honors of 2/2/80s. Would be interested to know why he’s on the all-80s team instead of Jackie Slater (3/7/none). He’s one of a few puzzling Bear choices on all-decade teams along with Larry Morris (0/0/60s) and Joe Fortunato (3/5, all during the 60s but for some reason is on the 50s decade team).

  7. Sam Goldenberg
    October 2, 2016

    Agree the Senior process needs to be revamped. Definitely need more historians that understand the contributions of players from other eras. Older Hall of Famers like Mike Ditka or Bob Lilly should be on the committee. Also one or two players per year is not enough, there is such a backlog. The first thing that should be done is a one-time class of 5-10 players to clear out the backlog. This year’s selection of Kenny Easley was not warranted. Not that Easley doesn’t deserve consideration, but that other players with stronger resumes that have waited for years were bypassed. We all seem to agree about these issues. The question is how can changes be made? Who oversees the Senior Committee that can be approached about these issues?

    • October 3, 2016

      Sam, bachslunch is right. Any changes would have to come from the Hall, and I dont see it happening anytime soon. Your suggestions are good ones, but I dont forsee any immediate changes — especially with the Hall cutting into that pool every other year with a contributor nominee at the expense of a senior.

  8. bachslunch
    October 2, 2016

    Sam, a couple thoughts. I’m fine with older HoFers continuing in their advisory capacity, but not so sure I like them being directly on the committee. They haven’t done well when used by the BBHoF, tending to be heavily biased towards former teammates and others with direct connections to them regardless of accomplishment. I also think Kenny Easley was an excellent Senior choice from the standpoint of worth, as he has an excellent 4/5/80s profile and reportedly looks excellent via film study — but his health would also appear not to be good given that he recently underwent triple bypass surgery. That still doesn’t change the fact that there are so many deserving Senior options of advanced age and in some cases in poor health who should be acted on soon, so we agree there. Any changes though would have to come from the HoF itself, and given that they decreased the number of Senior slots to accommodate Contributor candidates, that might be a hard sell, though it shouldn’t be.

  9. Sam Goldenberg
    October 4, 2016

    Clark & Bachslunch:

    You maybe right about Hall of Famers being on the committee having a bias toward former teammates. However, I think it is important that these types have input because they are the only ones who actually were in the trenches with some of the candidates. It just seems to me that some committee members do not understand the contributions that players from the 60’s and 70’s made. I really don’t have a problem with the contributor candidate, but it should be in addition to two senior players. The system the way it is now will never be able to recognize all the candidates that deserve recognition. The other thing that is frustrating to me, as a Jerry Kramer advocate, is that as fans we are encouraged to send letters to the Senior Committee but are these letters even considered? I know Kramer fans send letters every year and he has endorsements from many Hall of Famers, but we have no idea if these letters or endorsements are read or considered. I think there is a lack of transparency with the Senior Committee. They should have some sort of obligation to explain who was considered and why. The average fan also doesn’t know which committee members vote each year.

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