When quarterback Mike Pawlawski walked onto the 49ers' practice field for a tryout one day last month, he thought to himself, Jeez, it's so wide open out here! How can you miss? After throwing in Arena League bandboxes—50 yards long by 28 yards wide—the past five years, he now stood on a regulation outdoor field, 100 by 53? yards. "It felt great to be throwing outside again," Pawlawski said.
In the wake of the remarkable early-season success of Rams quarterback Kurt Warner, a three-year Arena veteran, and after his own 79-touchdown, seven-interception season with the Arena champion Albany Firebirds, Pawlawski hoped he might have an NFL job by now. But three weeks after his workout with the Niners (who never called back), Pawlawski—a Buccaneers' 1992 eighth-round draft pick out of Cal who was cut before the end of training camp that summer—was still waiting for another shot.
The attitude of most NFL scouts toward Arena players is summed up by one AFC pro personnel director, who still isn't sold on Warner. "I think the NFL will catch up to Warner," he says. "When we called Iowa [Barnstormers, Warner's former team] a couple of years ago to talk about prospects for training camp, they were lukewarm on him. So I don't see us running out to look at Arena League tape."
The 6'2", 215-pound Pawlawski, a three-time Arena passing champion, has an average arm and good speed (4.75 in the 40) by NFL standards. "Our league places such a value on reading defenses quickly, making decisions quickly and throwing accurately," Pawlawski said from the Bay Area last week, while prep-ping for his job as Cal's television colorman. "I'm so much more ready to play in the NFL than I was before."
One NFL personnel man identifies Pawlawski, the Houston Thunderbears' Clint Dolezel and the Nashville Kats' Andy Kelly as bona fide quarterback prospects, but even though the Cardinals recently signed the Arizona Rattlers' Sherdrick Bonner, there has been little or no interest in other Arena passers. "The complexity of the defenses up here is so great," says Browns quarterback coach John Hufnagel, who coached the New Jersey Red Dogs of the Arena League for two seasons before moving to Cleveland.
Granted, but if Stoney Case, a backup now with the Ravens, can get a chance with three NFL teams, then quarterbacks who have produced in Arena ball deserve a good look.