The NFL conference championship games this weekend will settle which teams advance to Super Bowl XLVIII at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. Three of the four quarterbacks who will play a large role in determining the outcome of those contests were once promising baseball players drafted by Major League teams. And the fourth has baseball connections as well.
Russell Wilson (Seattle Seahawks) is the only one of the four quarterbacks who played professional baseball. He turned down the Orioles as a 41st-round pick out of a Richmond high school in 2007, but he signed for $200,000 as a fourth-rounder in 2010 after three years at North Carolina State. (NCAA rules allow players to be professionals in one sport while retaining their amateur eligibility in another.)
Wilson batted .229/.354/.356 in two summers as a second baseman while continuing his college football career at Wisconsin, then gave up baseball to join the Seahawks. The Rangers selected him in the Triple-A phase of the Rule 5 Draft in December, though he's unlikely to ever return to the diamond.
"At the time he came out of North Carolina State, we thought there was a good opportunity baseball would be his future," Rockies scouting director Bill Schmidt says. "We knew he needed a lot of at-bats before we knew what we would really have. But the thing about Russell, he has off-the-charts character and work ethic, and whatever he puts his mind to is full go. He had some strength and quickness, and we felt in time he'd be able to play Major League defense."
The Expos chose Tom Brady (New England Patriots) in the 18th round in 1995 out of Serra High in San Mateo, Calif. -- also the alma mater of Barry Bonds, Jim Fregosi and Gregg Jefferies. Brady showed promising power and arm strength as a catcher, but he was committed to play football at Michigan.
"He was drafted in the teens because he was going to Michigan to play football," Jim Fleming, an Expos crosschecker in 1995, told MLB.com's Joe Frisaro in 2012. "We took him down a little lower and worked with him over the course of the summer. I think we got him to consider baseball, but in the end, his heart was in football."
Colin Kaepernick (San Francisco 49ers) never played baseball while he was at Nevada, but that didn't stop the Cubs from selecting him in the 43rd round in 2009 after his junior year. Chicago liked his arm strength and athleticism, and the Cubs were willing to let him play both sports, but Kaepernick has said he never seriously considered playing pro baseball.
"We had brief reports that he threw 89-93 mph in high school and his arm worked pretty good," said Tim Wilken, who was the Cubs' scouting director in 2009 and is now a special assistant for the club. "We had pretty good NFL contacts and we talked to three different NFL teams. One said Kaepernick would be a Canadian Football League player, and the other two said he'd be a late draft. That shows you how much he has improved after that sophomore season."
Peyton Manning (Denver Broncos) never got picked in the First-Year Player Draft, but his father, Archie, got selected four times by three teams before beginning his own NFL career. A shortstop, Manning was drafted by the Braves (43rd round out of high school in 1967), White Sox (third round in both the 1970 and '71 June secondary Drafts) and Royals (second round of the '71 January secondary Draft). Manning played two seasons of college baseball at Mississippi.
Peyton Manning has one more baseball connection as well. His predecessor at quarterback at Tennessee was none other than Todd Helton, whose knee injury paved the way for Manning to start as a freshman. Helton would go on to become the eighth overall pick in the 1995 Draft and play in five All-Star Games for the Rockies.