First, let me dispatch a nasty bit of business. The NFL Quarterback Club was not formed to address a looming shortage of Bubby Brister cards. It was formed because Bernie Kosar’s wife, Babette, threatened Bernie with divorce if he didn’t get the damn thing put together (and then she went and divorced him anyway, because all he got from Nevin Shapiro was a photo op with Donna Shalala).
Actually, it’s pretty obvious why the QB Club burst into existence like a dwarf star (which, yes, could refer to Will.I.Am). It burst because the trading-card and memorabilia biz was blowing up like Alderaan, and the guys who ostensibly made it all possible weren’t getting nearly enough of the proceeds. And yes, we’re talking about you, Ken O’Brien, Jim Harbaugh, Boomer Esiason, Chris Miller, and the aforementioned Bubby.
Okay, better QBs than that traipsed through the QB Club. I have record of John Elway, Dan Marino, Steve Young, Jim Kelly, Jim Everett, Randall Cunningham, Troy Aikman, and Warren Moon doing hard time in the club, but unsurprisingly not Joe Montana, if my definitive source on the topic, my QB Club T-shirt, can be trusted.
(This makes total sense, as Joe Montana was renowned even during his playing days as a money-hungry free-ranger who would take a check from anything, even a soul-sucking one-eyed alien vampire zombie – or, more outrageously, Upper Deck's Richard McWilliam.)
The QB Club was a self-contained marketing force, neither league-born nor players’-association-spawned, meant to glorify, and in the process make money for, pro football’s most elite marquee players: its quarterbacks.
That was how the QBs saw it, anyway. The rest of the world looked at the club’s roster and said, “Hmmm … Dan McGwire. Nascent Storage Wars guest star. Twice voted most likely to be named golf pro at the Snoqualmie Country Club before the age of 30.” The word “pass” has double meaning for many members of the Quarterback Club.
Part of the reason for the disconnect was the QB Club’s membership requirements. Initially at least you had to be a National Football League quarterback. It never said anything about being good, or mobile, or articulate, or having a clean driving record, or not being pulled in the second half in favor of Stan Gelbaugh.
Oh, and one more thing: You had to look good in zebra-striped shorts. I had forgotten about this until I saw an old clip of Ken O’Brien at the QB Challenge, the club’s skills competition that served as its Battle of the Network Stars. The club had a uniform consisting of black-and-white-striped cutoff Zubaz (and if you don’t remember Zubaz, God bless you), I guess because they go with any jersey and make your legs look like they’re being tapped for rubber. And nothing helps you nail bull’s-eyes on moving golf carts like having zebra torsos attached to your feet.
As scripted reality TV goes it was no Cupcake Wars, and it was even less impressive in person. I went to one in Hawaii and lasted about 15 minutes before walking out. Stacey O’Brien was wearing a T-shirt, for crying out loud, and Bubby Brister was overthrowing 20-foot-tall targets 10 yards downfield. As a lovely parting gift I got a pair of tentlike Zubaz and, not finding Gilbert Brown in the vicinity, regifted them to a sanitation receptacle. Several years later the resort was destroyed in a hurricane. I’m pretty sure it was retribution.
The first time the QB Club showed up in football cards was in 1991, when they appeared in an Upper Deck-produced set distributed by Domino’s Pizza.
There was some serious want on this set at the time. Dealers were buying stacks of Domino’s cheese pizzas, snabbing the cards and then ditching the pizzas – never a bad idea – and delivery drivers were being offered $20 or more for the cards that came in the pizza boxes, even though ultimately the pepperoncini were more collectible.
The Domino’s set opened the door for a storm surge of special sets and subsets featuring the QB Club, and once that door was opened even Aaron Gibson didn’t have enough avoirdupois to hold it shut. The 1994 battle between the NFL and the players’ association over licensing money turned the surge into a tsunami. The QB Club even began to admit non-QBs who smelled the money: Jerry Rice, Michael Irvin, Emmitt Smith. Basically any non-quarterback who could dance the fox trot and audition for a Just For Men ad was in.
Trading-card companies that had contracted with the QB Club had to find unique ways to fulfill their obligations. Third-party sets like the inimitable King-B Jerky Stuff discs were custom-made for the QB Club, as were precious-metal medallions and metal cards. (That’s why God made the airbrush.) Even so, most of the QB Club’s on-card appearances were in chase sets. The cries of, “Wow -- David Klingler!” still resonate in the space between my ears.
The battle over licensing and the rapid decline of the card business hastened the development of the one semi-legitimate spawn of the Quarterback Club: video games. I’m not going to say much about the long-running series of GameBoy and N64 games featuring the QB Club because they’re not funny, other than to comment how much a young Brett Favre resembles Squirtle.
The QB Club still lives in a much-diminished capacity, like Chad Ochocinco, and every now and then they dust off the Quarterback Challenge and the bull’s-eyes on golf carts. Personally I think it’s time for another revival. Tim Tebow, Cam Newton, and Jason Campbell slinging fastballs at 10-foot-square targets 20 yards downfield? Now that’s entertainment.