Rattay, keen on becoming a high school football coach after college, is hardly worried about whether his future includes the NFL. He's just thrilled to be playing. In high school he didn't start at quarterback until his senior year. College recruiters ignored him even though at Phoenix Christian High in 1994 he passed for an Arizona-state-record 40 touchdowns, seven of them in one game.
Without a scholarship, he enrolled at nearby Scottsdale Community College, home of the Artichokes and the same school where quarterback Joe Germaine of Ohio State had played the year before. Rattay beat out seven other contenders for the starting job. "I don't know how I got it," he says. "I was probably the smallest and the weakest of the bunch. They were classic NFL types, 6'4" and 240, with big arms."
"Tim was never the sort of athlete who just jumped out at you, but neither was Joe Montana," says Tim's father, Jim, coach at Desert Vista High in Phoenix. "Even when Tim was playing Pop Warner, the coaches were putting bigger and stronger kids ahead of him. He'd start at tight end or someplace, but eventually he would take over and be the quarterback, and he always won for you."
In 1995, as a freshman at Scottsdale, Rattay led junior college quarterbacks in passing yards with 3,526 and touchdown passes with 28. He also threw 18 interceptions, which explains in part why no school but Louisiana Tech made him an offer. "I watched Tim on film, and he had no pass protection," says Crowton, who was the Bulldogs' offensive coordinator at the time. "Every time he threw the ball he'd get crushed. They'd hit him so hard you wondered how he could take it, then he'd pop up and complete another pass. I thought, This kid is tough. Then I visited another school, Mesa Community College, which had played against him, and the players there told me they were taking bets on the sideline to see which of them was going to mock him out of the game, because they were pounding him every play."
Crowton called Rattay at home and left a message on his answering machine identifying himself as an assistant at Louisiana Tech, where Terry Bradshaw had played. 'I'd never heard of Tech, and I'd never heard of Ruston," Rattay says. "I didn't even know the school was in Division I-A."
Rattay flew out for a visit and quickly became enchanted. The people of Ruston [pop. 20,000) were as friendly as any he'd over met, the cuisine was better than any he'd ever eaten, and the way the girls spoke with a delicate Southern drawl...well, to his way of thinking, they couldn't have been more appealing. Everywhere you looked there were pine trees and red dirt. And come dinnertime, people really liked their peas. "I never knew there were so many kinds of peas and so many ways to eat them," Rattay says. "In Arizona I was used to just green peas. Here they have have black-eyed peas and all these other peas. I don't know if that counts as a cultural difference, but it certainly was new for me, and I liked it."
Rattay also liked Crowton, the mastermind behind what some people in football :all a "global offense" for its anything-goes approach to moving the ball. As a journeyman assistant, Crowton studied under LaVell Edwards, Mike Holmgren and Tom Coughlin, among others, and at Tech he has established his reputation as a formation geek who really likes to chuck the ball. Having run out of numbers with which to label his plays, Crowton, who became head coach in 1996, turned to the heavens for inspiration. "We've got formations called Moon, Sun, Stars and Mars," he says. "Something we did looked like a star, so I called it that. I know our offense is unique, and people are starting to take notice. We had about 200 college coaches come visit last year to learn what we're doing."
After his redshirt season Rattay quickly showed that he was the perfect leader for Crowton's sophisticated passing game. "I remember in Tim's first scrimmage, he was about to be sacked, and he turned and fired the ball upfield to an area where he knew the receiver was going to be open," says Pete Carmichael, the Bulldogs' quarterbacks coach. "It takes great vision to do that, and Tim has it. He's also as smart as anyone you'll find at his position."
The Tech offense requires Rattay to call many of the plays at the line of scrimmage, a task he completes with hand signals rather than verbal calls. As he taps his helmet and pads and waves his hands, he looks more like a third base coach than a football player. In particular, he's developed a symbiotic relationship with Edwards, who understands Rattay's intentions simply by looking at him. "They have a kind of ESP," says Jim Rattay.
"It comes from hours and hours of work," Tim says. "Over the summer Troy and I worked out together four days a week. I would throw it, and he would catch it, over and over again. You get to where all you have to do is look at each other to communicate."