Tom Osborne recently was talking to J.C. Watts. Two lifetimes ago for both, Watts twice took down Osborne in epic OU-Nebraska games.
Those Big Red results, and a few before them, convinced Osborne something had to change in Lincoln.
“He said, ‘we could not compete with Oklahoma … until we made the decision to become more athletic at our quarterbacking position,'” Watts said.
Thus Nebraska recruited Turner Gill. Then Steve Taylor. Eventually Tommie Frazier. A Cornhusker dynasty ensued.
Now we're seeing the same decision made on multiple gridirons. Bob Stoops is committed to getting more athletic at quarterback. So are various NFL ports, including San Francisco, which dang near won the Super Bowl with a wunderkind in Colin Kaepernick making his 10th career start.
“Quarterbacks that can throw the ball like a Landry Jones but can move around like a Thomas Lott, you're going to have a real magic there,” Watts said. “There's going to be a special sauce.”
Watts was a special sauce himself. The best thrower of Barry Switzer's wishbone quarterbacks — I know, damning with faint praise — was a winner. A two-time Big Eight and Orange Bowl champ who had a knack for leading comeback victories in 1979 and 1980.
Watts was an excellent optioneer but threw well enough to be a four-year starter for the Ottawa Rough Riders of the Canadian Football League.
Watts stopped by our office this week, and we discussed the NFL's newfound fondness for multidimensional quarterbacks.
“Had I been born (after) 1970, I'd be making a lot of money today, either coaching that read option or running it,” Watts said. “But I've always thought there was a place in professional football, not for running quarterbacks, but for mobile quarterbacks.
“Joe Theismann back in my day. Steve Young. Warren Moon. Guys that could kind of extend the play as we say. But at the end of the day, you want somebody throwing the ball 15-18 yards downfield, not someone running the ball 18 yards downfield.”
That's what Stoops keeps saying. OU is moving to a mobile quarterback system — perhaps the Pistol offense invented at Nevada for Kaepernick? — but the QB's primary weapon will remain the pass.
Watts made a clear distinction between a running quarterback and a mobile quarterback.
“I don't think there's room for a running quarterback in the National Football League,” Watts said. “But a mobile quarterback … Michael Vick was a running quarterback, Vince Young was a running quarterback.
“But Russell Wilson, Kaepernick, Robert Griffin III, those guys have given you the confidence, they can sit back in the pocket and read defenses and move around and buy a little time, and they're looking to throw it, not necessarily to run it.”
Actually, Griffin and Kaepernick in particular sometimes do look to run it. And the field is so spread, it's hard for defenses to get a clean shot at them.
“We're seeing it creep more and more into National Football Leagues offenses,” Watts said. “I still don't think you're going to see a Colin Kaepernick or Robert Griffin III or Russell Wilson running for 1,500 yards. But I think their sweet spot's going to be 500, 600 yards a year, and at the end of the season, when you've seen a quarterback that can do that, and can throw the ball the way those guys can, that's going to present some challenges for defenses.”
A bunch of famed NFL quarterbacks got their start in Canada. Warren Moon, Jeff Garcia, Joe Theismann, Joe Kapp.
Watts had a strong arm but not overly accurate. In Canada, Watts completed 53 percent of his passes, with more interceptions than touchdowns, though that wasn't a high crime in the 1980s.
At OU, Watts completed just 44.2 percent, with eight TD passes and 19 interceptions. But he was coached to pitch, not pass. Coached to read defensive ends, not defensive backs. He had a good arm but poor mechanics.
Put J.C. Watts' skill set in a quarterback today, have him throwing the ball over the place by the time he was 15 years old, and he would be the perfect OU quarterback. Just like he was 33 years ago. Only this time, Watts might not have to cross the border to keep playing ball.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.