clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Sebastian Tretola's Place in the History of Pass-Throwing Linemen

The Razorback offensive tackle set the Internet on fire with his touchdown pass against UAB. But was it really all that historic?

Wesley Hitt

On October 25, 2014, it's fair to say Sebastian Tretola made history.

In one of the SEC's most meme-able moments of 2014, the Razorbacks' 350-pound offensive tackle threw a 6-yard touchdown to a long snapper/wide receiver to blow open a game against Alabama-Birmingham. National acclaim followed.  "I got out there and did what I needed to do," said Tretola, tongue ever so slightly in cheek. "I made a play, and made a great one ... I don't think any other play is up there with it."

That quote's from the SEC's best Heisman plug video of the year, courtesy of the Arkansas athletic department. But the time spent crafting this mocku-masterpiece might have prevented the UA folks from finding out if Tretola actually was the first major college lineman to pass for a touchdown.

Yes he is. In modern times, anyway.

A nice, OCD-y stroll down Data Verification Lane says so. Since 2000, there have been 776 games in which a player has completed a single pass which counted for a touchdown. As you can imagine, a majority of the passers who completed only one pass throughout an entire game are non-quarterbacks. Picking through the rest of the players - wide receivers, running backs, tight ends - I confirmed Tretola was the only full-time lineman to meet this criteria.

Siver medal goes to a former defensive lineman from Colorado State who threw a touchdown pass against No. 5 Boise State in 2011. Crockett Gillmore, a 6'6", 260-pound tight end who'd converted from defensive end only five months before, threw a 27-yard touchdown off a lateral in a 63-13 loss.

Two other notable unique passers were converted defensive backs. In 2003, San Diego State's Hubert Caliste threw a 25-yard TD pass on his first collegiate play as wide receiver. Three years later, Miami's Lavon Ponder threw a 37-yard TD pass against North Carolina on the only offensive snap of what would be a four-year career.

Has a lineman ever thrown a touchdown pass in the NFL?

Not in modern times. Nor has a lineman even completed an attempt. There have been two such stabs, btw:

1) Down by three points near mid-field, Indianapolis center Jeff Saturday was involved in some last-second Colts trick-play shenaniganery in 2004. It didn't work; Saturday's pass attempt was illegal and Jacksonville won.

2) In 1980, Tampa Bay tackle Charley Hannah also failed to even get off a legitimate attempt. At the end of a close game against Minnesota, the Tampa Bay QB was trying to avoid a pass rush when he "dumped a pass to tackle Charley Hannah, who threw the ball to the ground when he saw an official waving his arms. Vikings end Randy Holloway picked up the ball and ran it into the end zone for an apparent touchdown," according to the St. Petersburg Evening Independent as cited in Wikipedia. "The officials needed several minutes to sort out the situation, and eventually penalized Tampa Bay 14 yards for an illegal forward pass."

It's almost certain no other lineman in recent major college or NFL history has been able to wreak the Category 5 devastation Tretola hath wrought on defenses with right arm alone. "I think the [480] QB rating tells it all," he said on his Heisman commercial. "I'm flawless in my technique. What I do is impeccable. I work to be the greatest and I think I've achieved that."

No doubt, Tretola - you are an uncommon man. And so are your teammates, who tonight become the first team in college football history to play five consecutive conference opponents ranked in the Associated Press Top 10. The opponent: Mississippi State, on the road. The Bulldogs are 10.5 point favorites, according to Sports Betting Acumen. Sure, they're undefeated and ranked No. 1 but the task really isn't all that daunting relative to the rest of Arkansas' schedule. Any conference win at this stage, after 16 straight losses, would #BeUncommon enough.

PS: So, what about lineman passing before the modern era?

Well, in the early through mid 1900s, there was a lot more fluidity between positions. Guy went both ways on defense and offense and linemen occasionally passed the ball as well. Of course, the big boys of that era were nowhere near the size of Tretola but just as now they could still be huge compared to other positions.

One such player, the 6'0", 260 pound Howard "Cub" Buck, completed a touchdown pass for the Green Bay Packers in 1924. One of the best known examples of an olden-times lineman TD thrower at the college level comes courtesy of California's Brick Muller. Today, the Brick Muller Award goes to the Golden Bears'  most valuable defensive lineman. At about 200 pounds, Muller was a noted beast along the line but he became most famous for throwing possibly the longest pass of the early football era. Muller was sometimes used as a passer who surprised defenses with the long, low spirals he could manage with the rounded football that was much less aerodynamic than the modern one.

Muller's signature play came early in the 1921 Rose Bowl against Ohio State. Here's how it's described on one California sports history blog:

"QB Charley Erb called for the 'dead man's play,' a favorite trick play of Andy Smith's that required some advance preparation. It called for Archie Nisbet to fake an injury and hobble around with his teammates after the previous down. The Cal backs stood hands on hips as Nisbet edged closer to where the football sat. In a flash he bent down and lateraled it to Pesky Sprott [ed. Gotta love these 1920s name, right?], and the play was on. Ohio State reacted quickly to Sprott's run around end, but then the halfback stopped and lateraled across the field to Muller. Cal's end was now well behind the line of scrimmage, at about his own 45 yard line.

"... What he did became headline news in newspapers across the country the next day. Rather than run, he heaved the ball higher and farther than anyone had ever seen a man throw a football. Ohio State had committed no deep defenders, and the Buckeyes watched in awe as Muller's pass traveled over their heads to fellow end Brodie Stephens, who caught it on the goal line and walked in for a 14-0 Cal lead. Muller was credited with a 53 yard pass, though witnesses claimed the ball actually traveled 70 yards in the air on the diagonal.. It was such an unexpected feat that Ripley's Believe it Or Not featured it in one of their popular newspaper serials."

How often did linemen throw for TDs in the 1920s? Football historian Andrew McKillop of FootballGeography.com helped  here: "I don't have the college football stats, but the NFL closely mimicked the college game in the 1920s," he told me. "So I took a random season (1924) and found out that lineman threw three of the 66 TDs (5%) thrown that year. The three lineman TD passes all came from different teams, too. That tells me it was a widely used option if not all that common."

PSS: For the most impressive lineman-quarterback conversion in Arkansas high school history visit thesportsseer.com, where this article was originally published.

Tyler Wilson promises you won't be disappointed.