Offseason Biography: Dick Shiner

The first in an occasional series of posts seeking to shed some light on the forgotten NFL greats of yore…

  • Name: Richard Earl “Dick” Shiner
  • Born: July 18, 1942 in Lebanon, Pennsylvania
  • Position: Quarterback
  • Height: 6 feet 0 inches
  • Weight: 197 pounds
  • College: Maryland
  • NFL Teams: Washington Redskins (1964-1966), Cleveland Browns (1967), Pittsburgh Steelers (1968-1969), New York Giants (1970), Atlanta Falcons (1971-1973), New England Patriots (1973-1974)
  • Main Claims to Fame (in order of importance):

  1. His name. I’m sure people in the ’40s had much cleaner minds than we all do now and weren’t as aware of the hilarity double entendres can bring into our lives, but come on. His parents HAD to know what they were doing when they named him Richard, right? You can’t give him that first name in conjunction with the last name “Shiner” and NOT know the eventual consequences that kid’s going to face starting at approximately age eight and ending approximately never. I refuse to believe they could be that oblivious and for that alone, DCFS should have taken poor Dick out of the Shiner household and placed him in foster care where he could have been given another boring ’40s name. Like Glen. Or Burt. Of course, if that had happened Mr. Shiner would have just gone down as another unmemorable career backup in the Stoney Case or Cody Carlson mold. So everything happens for a reason, I guess.
  2. He backed up a couple of Hall of Fame quarterbacks. During his stint with the Redskins, he was the second-string behind Sonny Jurgensen and got some action in 1965, going 28-of-65 for 470 yards, three touchdowns and four interceptions. Unfortunately for Dick, Otto Graham became the Redskins coach in 1966 and, as Sports Illustrated put it in their 1966 preview, convinced Jurgensen to “(trim) down his familiar paunch.” Sonny’s post-paunch efficacy rose dramatically and that left no window of opportunity for Shiner in the nation’s capital. He would later back up Fran Tarkenton on the 1970 Giants and actually put up a better Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt figure than ‘ol Fran – 6.00 to 5.57. Sure, Dick only dropped back 13 times that whole season but sample sizes don’t matter! So that’s a pretty good thing to put on your resume – “I studied under two Hall of Fame quarterbacks and emulated their good qualities (strong arm, decisive decision-making, quick wits) and disregarded their bad ones (paunch).” Better to put that than “I couldn’t beat out Bob Berry for playing time on the ’71 Falcons.”
  3. He was very good at taking orders. His college coach Tom Nugent told John Underwood in the October 15, 1962 issue of SI that “if I told [Shiner] to take three steps back and fall down, he’d do it.” What a team player! Anybody who can do that belongs in the NFL, no questions asked.
  4. He was nicknamed “The Rifleman.” In college, anyway – I don’t think it’s legal for any person not named Chuck to hold on to that nickname for more than three years. From that same issue of SI: “One Shiner pass split the palm of an end’s hand and put him out for weeks. But with Maryland winning as it is, and Shiner completing a majority of his passes, his coaches wouldn’t dream of changing his style, even if he used up a dozen ends.” Nor should they have! All football teams, collegiate or otherwise, run at least fifteen players deep at receiver and wouldn’t have to resort to lining the head groundskeeper at flanker if their quarterback broke the hands of his top dozen receivers. This was a good career move by coach Nugent.
  5. His mechanics were fundamentally sound. Except for the times where he “often throws off the wrong foot,” according to the September 22, 1969 issue of SI. For a quarterback getting his first extended action as a starting quarterback on a terrible pre-Steel Curtain Steelers team, you’d almost think that would be a problem. On the other hand, the magazine went on to note that Dick “has a lot of confidence and a good touch” and as wide receiver Roy Jefferson noted, “All we need is confidence and a little luck and we’ll be on our way to a new Steeler tradition.” Hey, he turned out to be pretty right about that! Unfortunately, Dick did not get to be a part of that Steeler tradition after he went 3-16-1 in his two seasons starting for Pittsburgh.
  6. Norm Van Brocklin believed in him. This would have meant a whole lot more if Van Brocklin wasn’t one of the worst head coaches ever, proving to be as adept a hard-headed dingus as he was a phenomenal quarterback. As SI wrote in its November 19, 1973 issue, “Van Brocklin, who had decided on his quarterback more by default than logic, was determined to prove that journeyman Dick Shiner could win for the Falcons, although he had never won consistently for any other team.” Other than that? NO ISSUES HERE. Dick wound up getting sacked eleven times in just 75 dropbacks and got shipped off to New England to back up Jim Plunkett.
  7. Lee Corso also believed in him. Corso was the assistant coach at Maryland who ended up convincing Shiner to skip out on Duke and play for the Terrapins instead. No word on whether Corso did an Irish jig during the recruiting process.
  8. He got booed in practice… Having to back up Sonny Jurgensen will make you seem rather impotent in comparison, but poor Dick probably didn’t deserve that! “Sonny’s the best passer I ever saw,” he said in 2007. “When I was his backup with the Redskins, we’d practice down by the river and people would come out and watch and we’d have a crowd sitting up there on the bank. And Sonny would always put on a show, throwing the ball behind his back, sprinting to his right and throwing a strike back across the field to some fast wide receiver 30 yards down the far sideline…So, when it came my turn to run the offense, I couldn’t do any of that stuff, and the crowd up on the bank would always boo. They’d boo me in practice!” And that’s why you always want to be the backup quarterback on a team with a bad quarterback.
  9. …But once got cheered during a game. An actual, real game! This is hilarious. That same 2007 article from above presents the highlight of Shiner’s NFL career as the one time Jurgensen sucked horrendously (“Sunday, Nov. 28, 1965”) and Shiner got sent in for spot duty. “Shiner buttoned his Redskins helmet,” Wilt Browning writes, “and as he did, the roar from the crowd began to build. By the time Shiner trotted onto the well-worn D.C. Stadium turf, the cheers were thunderous.” Getting token cheers from a ticked-off crowd who would have cheered the insertion of the backup quarterback even if it was Nikita Krushchev? That, my friends, is living the NFL high life.

So today we salute you, Richard Earl “Dick Shiner,” for all your contributions to this great sport you love. Your time on the NFL gridiron may be gone…but it shall NEVER be forgotten.

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