WASHINGTON _ When Stoney Case became the Baltimore Ravens’ starting quarterback Monday, it was his first break in the NFL after five rather forgettable years.
The promotion was also part of a pattern that defines Case’s career. From Texas’ Odessa Permian High School to the University of New Mexico, Case worked his way to the top of each team, winning starting positions over favored veterans. Now, after four failed seasons with the Arizona Cardinals and a preseason with the Indianapolis Colts, the 6-3, 206-pound Case officially has broken into the NFL.
Texas Christian University coach Dennis Franchione, Case’s coach at New Mexico, predicts now that Case is at the top, he’ll stay there.
“Stoney is a money player, a game player and a pressure player,” Franchione said Tuesday. “I think that Stoney, given the opportunity to be a starter for a few games, will never give the position back to anybody.”
Franchione and others say Case’s strength is his work ethic and confidence.
Larry Morris, the running back coach of Case’s 1989 Odessa Permian state championship team, remembered Case as a “big tall kid” with a desire to be the best.
“He lived in the weight room. I know he did when he was at New Mexico and he’d come back here and use ours during the off season,” Morris said. “He was a good student of the game, studies the game film. And can tell you different defenses and strengths of other teams.”
In high school, Case didn’t start until his senior year. When he won the starting position in 1989, he threw 29 touchdowns and more than 2,000 yards, compiling a 16-0 record.
The success still earned him only one Division I-A scholarship offer _ from New Mexico. Case began as the school’s third-string quarterback. He began to blossom after Franchione arrived in 1992.
“His whole persona was that of winning,” Franchione said. “He’ll carry a degree of confidence. He’ll be able to make adjustments in the game he’ll compete until the clock says 0:00.”
Even in practice, Franchione said, Case was a competitor. “His edge has always been that he hated to lose,” Franchione said.
At New Mexico, Case set 14 school records, including nearly every single-game, single-season and career passing mark. He was the 1994 Western Athletic Conference offensive player of the year.
A third-round draft choice of the Arizona Cardinals in 1995, Case attempted only 57 passes. In 1997, Case started for the first and only time with the Cardinals against the Philadelphia Eagles, a 13-10 overtime loss. He then found himself mired behind Cardinals’ starter Jake Plummer.
“I don’t know how much of a chance Stoney really got to show himself as a Cardinal,” Franchione said. “It just takes a little while for him to get comfortable.”
When Case signed as a free agent with the Colts, he was once again waiting behind another player – this time, Peyton Manning. Case played in one preseason game with the Colts, completing five of six passes. He was released on August 11th, leaving with his $500,000 signing bonus and a questionable future.
Case quickly signed with the Ravens for $400,000. He was to challenge Tony Banks and Wally Richardson for a backup role. But in preseason games, Case became Baltimore’s darling with game-winning touchdown passes against the New York Giants and the Carolina Panthers.
In Sunday’s game against the Steelers, Case’s first appearance on the field was shaky. He replaced Scott Mitchell in the third quarter – and threw two incompletions. In his second series, he was sacked and fumbled. By the beginning of the fourth series, Case had completed only one of seven attempts.
As he has throughout his career, Case rebounded. He completed six of his last eight passes, threw a 19-yard touchdown pass and tied the game 20-20. The Ravens lost on a Steelers’ field goal. But Case’s performance was enough to convince Ravens’ coach Brian Billick that he should start the next game.
“He has earned that right,” Billick said during Monday’s press conference. “He brings another element, which is his athleticism. Stoney has given us a lift every time he has played. He is big enough and has a live arm. He is decisive. He can move around and make plays when something breaks down, and the guys respond to his leadership.”
“People see my confidence,” he said. “Guys on the offensive line see my confidence and it raises their belief in me and belief in themselves. They were behind me and they felt like they were going to get the job done on that last drive.
“To be an NFL quarterback, to be on the field, that’s been my dream. I was really excited to go out there and I wanted to do well. As much as this is a business, it’s still a game and I still love to play.”