State Your Case: Tobin Rote

Last QB to win a title for both the Lions and Chargers

(Published September 2016)

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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