He is 30 now, and the road map of David Archer's pro football travels is beginning to show in his face. "My wife tells me that too," he says with an easy laugh, his weather-beaten skin marked by some wrinkles and lines. "Funny, because people always told me I had a baby face."
But it wears you down when the Atlanta Falcons judge Scott Campbell to be a better quarterback than you are, and the Miami Dolphins prefer to stick with a 37-year-old Ron Jaworski, and the Washington Redskins discard you once Doug Williams recovers from appendicitis, and the San Diego Chargers decide to go with Mark Vlasic, and the Philadelphia Eagles favor Pat Ryan to you and two others in a four-man tryout, and the Detroit Lions reacquire Chuck Long instead of giving you a shot—all in four years.
Losing out to Ryan...that one cut deep. After Randall Cunningham, the Eagles' starting quarterback, went down with a season-ending knee injury in the 1991 opener, Philly invited Archer, Campbell, Ryan and Turk Schonert to try out as Jim McMahon's backup. Ryan, who had last played in the NFL in December 1989 and had entered the construction business, hadn't thrown a pass for six months until he played catch with his wife right after the Eagles called. On the other hand Archer had been working with a personal trainer, trying to stay game-ready in case just such an opportunity arose. Philadelphia signed Ryan. "All the blood ran out of my body," Archer says. "That's how it feels every time you get thrown on the scrap heap."
But now, in a bizarre twist of his football fortunes, Archer is on top of the World. With last Saturday's 21-7 victory over the Ohio Glory, in which he threw for 360 yards and three touchdowns, Archer has led the Sacramento Surge to a 7-2 record and a berth in the playoffs with one week left in the regular season. A week earlier, in front of the Surge's largest crowd of the year (22,720, including the usual 800 Surge-on Generals in their surgical scrubs), Archer responded with 352 passing yards and three touchdowns to lead Sacramento on a 51-7 romp over the Frankfurt Galaxy. He is the highest-rated quarterback in the league, with a 60.2% completion rate, 2,640 passing yards, 22 touchdowns and only seven interceptions. As a result, like a handful of other World warriors, Archer has moved a step closer to getting another chance in the NFL.
"Remember the story about Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer?" says Archer. "We're like the Island of Misfit Toys. I think practically all of us can make it with some NFL team. We've just got to find the right fit."
But while Archer's story is uplifting, it doesn't bode well for the World League in the long run. The two-year-old league remains in a fight for its life, and for it to gain widespread popularity both in the U.S. and abroad, the stars can't be 30-year-old quarterbacks who have been spurned by six NFL teams in four years. The main attractions in this 10-team league have to be up-and-comers with NFL futures, such as quarterback Andre Ware and wideout Herman Moore, both of the Lions, Seattle Seahawk quarterback Dan McGwire and Dallas Cowboy wideout Alexander Wright.
Saddled with an identity crisis and plummeting TV ratings, the World League once again has its hand out to the NFL owners, who chipped in $1 million apiece last year to get the league started and another $500,000 each to bankroll the start of this season. The World League was supposed to survive this year on the $14 million subsidy from the 28 NFL owners plus $14.5 million in American and foreign TV rights fees. However, at an NFL meeting this week in Pasadena, the World League's board of directors was expected to ask each NFL franchise for an additional $100,000 to $200,000 so the spring league could meet this year's expenses.
"If the NFL will just focus on where the league will be in 1996 and continue its support, the owners will all be looked at as geniuses in sports history," says World League CEO Joe Bailey. "Look at Ted Turner with TBS. Look at Fred Smith with Federal Express. We've got to look at the long haul."
But in the present economy, and with the mother of all lawsuits looming over the NFL in June, when the players will go to court seeking unrestricted free agency, the long haul may be obliterated by developments in the short term. The woes of this World:
•Lack of quality players. In an attempt to improve the caliber of play, the NFL lent the World League 110 players for this season. But most of the loaners were bottom-of-the-roster remnants with dim—if any—NFL futures: Only 63 of the allocated players opened the season on World League rosters, including just 30 in the starting lineups. Instead of sending Ware, the exciting but underachieving quarterback who was their first-round draft pick in 1990, the Lions sent free agent Greg Jones, who's no better than a practice quarterback for the London Monarchs. Big deal. "We wanted Andre to work with our new offensive coordinator, Dan Henning," says Detroit executive vice-president Chuck Schmidt. "Plus, frankly, we were concerned about injuries, and we weren't sure he would have gone." Valid concerns, but what about the advantages to the little-used Ware, like much-needed playing time and the chance to boost his confidence?