Photo by Jared Thomas
Brett Favre of Kiln, Steve McNair of Mount Olive, Archie Manning of Drew and Charlie Conerly of Clarksdale are popular names when fans talk about native Mississippians who were successful NFL quarterbacks.
But none of that foursome has had a start like Gardner Minshew of Brandon has had this season. In fact, no quarterback in NFL history has had a better first three games of their career.
Gardner, a sixth round draft pick out of Washington State, was thrown into the action for the Jacksonville Jaguars in the first quarter of the season opener against the Kansas City Chiefs when starter Nick Foles went out with a collarbone injury. Gardner was terrific, completing his first 13 passes of his NFL career, a feat not accomplished in 25 years. Gardner completed 22 of 25 passes for 275 yards and two touchdowns. Then Gardner made his first career start against the Houston Texans and had another good game, passing for 213 yards and one TD. Then came Thursday night when he was superb again, completing 20 of 30 passes for 204 yards and two touchdowns and got his first win in a 20-7 decision over the Tennessee Titans.
Gardner has completed 73.9 percent of his passes (65 of 88), the best percentage in NFL history in his first three games with a minimum of 30 passes. He broke the record of another native Mississippian, former Southern Miss quarterback Austin Davis, who played at West Lauderdale High. Davis completed 72 percent for the St. Louis Rams in his first three games in 2014.
Gardner’s win Thursday night was the first victory for a native Mississippian as a NFL starting quarterback since Davis did it in 2014. And like Davis – who went to Southern Miss on a baseball scholarship and walked onto the football team – Gardner was lightly recruited out of high school. His well publicized collegiate journey started at Troy for a semester, then transferred to Northwest Mississippi Community College where he won a national championship. Then Gardner went to East Carolina where he won the starting job and played two years before he graduated in 2017. Still with eligibility, Gardner considered going to Alabama and learn to be a coach under Nick Saban, but Washington State coach Mike Leach asked Gardner to come to the Northwest where Gardner led the nation in completions, attempts and passing yards per game. He received the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award as the nation’s top senior or fourth year quarterback and finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy.
Davis had an interesting journey of his own. An All-State player in both football and baseball, Davis’ only football scholarship offer was from Southeastern Louisiana so he decided to sign with Southern Miss in baseball. He also decided to walk on in football and after being redshirted his first year, Davis became the first freshman in 17 years to start at quarterback at Southern Miss. He set a school record for passing yards and broke Favre’s record for most touchdown passes by a freshman. Davis set dozens of school records, was named All-Conference USA and won the Conerly Trophy for the best player in Mississippi, but wasn’t drafted in 2012. He was signed as a free agent by the St. Louis Rams and cut, signed by the Miami Dolphins and cut. Then the Rams signed him again and 2014 where he made his NFL debut and first start. Davis completed 22 of 28 passes for 235 yards in a 19-17 victory over the Tampa Bay Bucs. In his sixth start, he completed 17 of 20 passes to lead the Rams to a 28-26 upset over the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks.
Davis played seven NFL seasons for six teams and is now an assistant coach with the Seattle Seahawks.
Minshew isn’t the first native Mississippian to make a splash in their first season in the NFL.
Conerly, after his All-American career at Ole Miss, was the NFL Rookie of the Year in 1948 for New York Giants where he set many rookie passing team records that still stand today. Conerly passed for 2,175 yards and 22 TDs – both second best in NFL – in the 12-game regular season. He completed two touchdown passes in a 27-7 win over the Boston Yanks in the season opener. Conerly, who has a a trophy named after him awarded to the best Mississippi college player each year, was the first native Mississipian to play quarterback in the NFL.
Manning, after his All-American career at Ole Miss, was the second overall pick in the 1971 NFL draft by the New Orleans Saints. Manning started his first game in the NFL as he led the Saints to a 24-20 victory over the Los Angeles Rams in the season opener. Manning ran for a 1-yard touchdown in the game’s final play. He completed 16 of 29 passes for 218 yards and one touchdown. A month later, Manning ran for two TDs and passed for one in a 24-14 win over eventual Super Bowl champion Dallas Cowboys.
Gardner is the 15th native Mississippian to play quarterback in the NFL, according to profootballreference.com. Many of them have been successful, but none as prolific as Favre, who played at Hancock North Central High for his dad Irvin and at Southern Miss. Favre is the only player in NFL history to win three straight MVPs (1995-97), played in 11 Pro Bowls, (third most in NFL history for a quarterback) and was the first player to throw for 500 touchdowns and 70,000 yards. Favre, drafted by the Atlanta Falcons in the second round in 1990, played very little for the Falcons as a rookie, then was traded to the Green Bay Packers. He started the fourth game that season and started 297 consecutive regular season game until 2010, a streak that may never be broken.