Provo, Utah. Fall of 1980. BYU offensive coordinator Doug Scovil calls 18-year-old Steve Young into his office and breaks the bad news.
“You’re not going to play quarterback here,” Scovil explains to the future Hall of Fame quarterback. “I don’t coach lefties. It ain’t happening.”
Scovil suggests Young play safety instead. Scovil believes Eric Krzmarzick, a right-hander, is BYU’s quarterback of the future. Scovil becomes San Diego State’s head coach a few months later and, in the winter of 1981, BYU replaces him with Ted Tollner.
Call it divine intervention.
Cut to spring of ’81. A glum, 19-year-old Steve Young walks into Tollner’s office.
“Look, Steve, Jim McMahon is the starting quarterback and we’re slow at safety. Our defensive coordinator, Fred Whittingham, wants you to play safety so you can start instead of backing up Jim. But I don’t want you to play safety. I want you to be a quarterback. Do you want me to represent you in this battle? Do you want me to bargain for you?”
“Do you really think I can play quarterback?” Young asks, surprised.
“I really do,” says Tollner. “There are some things you’ve got to learn, but I think you can be a heck of a starter. You’ve got the instincts, the accuracy and the quick release.”
Young perks up. “Well, then I’d like to be a quarterback.”
You know the rest — he becomes the greatest left-handed quarterback who ever lived. But he wouldn’t have become a quarterback at all if not for Tollner. Scovil almost robbed the world of Steve Young.
Scovil had his reasons and they made total sense. Football is a right-handed game. The best receiver usually lines up on the right side of the formation, the tight end typically lines up on the right side of the offensive line and the quarterback generally rolls out to his right. Quarterbacks are almost always right-handed and offensive coordinators think right-handed.
Offenses have to flip everything to accommodate a left-handed quarterback, have to play football in a mirror. Or, the left-handed quarterback has to learn to play right-handed, so to speak, to accommodate everyone else. Kenny Stabler, one of the greatest left-handed quarterbacks ever, played right-handed. John Madden did not flip formations for him. Sorry, Snake.
Left-handed quarterbacks almost are an extinct species. Only two currently receive checks from NFL teams — Michael Vick and Kellen Moore. Both are backups. Lefty quarterbacks are not treasured like lefty pitchers. Lefty quarterbacks are problems. They complicate things. Some coaches, like Scovil, avoid the problem altogether. Some college coaches won’t even recruit lefty quarterbacks, and some NFL teams won’t draft them.
“You see that kind of bias everywhere,” 53-year-old Steve Young said over the phone. “Luckily, Bill Walsh loved lefties, I think because he was a lefty. But there are a lot of lefties that coaches just discourage from playing. (Brief pause) Which is nuts. (Voice rising) How freaking bizarre is that? (Shouting now) That’s kookiness!
“If a guy can throw it, you can teach the same things. In fact, I learned how to throw and how to drop back and how to play quarterback from watching Jim McMahon. It’s a mirror image. It’s really easy. It’s like Phil Mickelson learning golf from his dad — mirror image. It’s like Simple Simon. Just follow that guy.”