SI Vault
Rick Reilly
January 28, 1991
After a seven-year wait, Jeff Hostetler proved he's an NFL quarterback as the Giants beat the 49ers for the NFC title
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January 28, 1991

Hoss Is A Hit

After a seven-year wait, Jeff Hostetler proved he's an NFL quarterback as the Giants beat the 49ers for the NFC title

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So what if Jeff Hostler got straight A's his whole life, when his career as an NFL quarterback was one big Incomplete?

So what if he could run and throw and read defenses as though he had a photographic memory (which he does), when he spent his Sundays welded to a clipboard?

So what if he'd proved himself at every stop, done nothing but make the grade and win the game and marry the coach's daughter, when he'd spent so much of his time wearing a baseball cap where his helmet should have been?

And so what kept him from quitting? How did he find the patience to keep from ripping the coach in the papers in an attempt to force his team to trade him?

Maybe Jason, that's what. Maybe he kept thinking that if his son Jason could go through four heart operations before his first birthday and never quit, then how could he?

So Jeff Hostetler didn't leave the New York Giants through seven long seasons, even though he wanted to. He held on. He held for kicks and he held his clipboard, and, almost always, he held his tongue. And as he came into the 1990 season, the one that would be the most remarkable in his life, he held the world record for perseverance. Job should have tried a clipboard for seven years.

O.K., it's true that for the first four years, every year, he told his agent to ask for a trade, but every year the Giants told him no, and pretty soon he got tired of hearing it. And so he spent his time, most of it as the third-string quarterback, wondering what the odds were that starter Phil Simms and backup Jeff Rutledge would hyperextend something, or what the pay scale would be in the new World League of American Football.

Hey, you get desperate when it takes five years to throw your first regular-season pass. Five years! He'd blocked a football (playing on special teams), caught one (lining up at wide receiver) and even recovered one (his own bobble)—but throw one? Not until 1988, in a brief relief job against the Philadelphia Eagles. And when he finally got his first NFL start, later that season against the New Orleans Saints ( Simms was out with a shoulder injury), he threw an 85-yard touchdown pass in the first half. But after the intermission his coach, Bill Parcells, decided he wanted to play Rutledge. Hostetler did not take his benching well—"I couldn't believe it," he says now—and asked for another trade right in the locker room after the game. Didn't get it.

Something definitely funny had happened on his way to Canton. Hostetler was a two-way player in high school, an All-America at linebacker—and a valedictorian, too. He has this photographic memory that makes him one of the all-time great test-takers. "I can read the question, then flip through the pages of the book in my mind until I get to the right one," he explains. "Then I just read the answer." He's great with the yellow pages.

He went to Penn State in 1979 to play quarterback but got stuck behind Todd Blackledge and transferred to West Virginia, where he led the Mountaineers to an upset of Oklahoma in Norman, took them to two bowl games, put up a 3.95 grade point average while majoring in finance and married coach Don Nehlen's daughter, Vicky. "Transferring to West Virginia really worked out for me," he likes to say with a grin.

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