Former Giant Jeff Rutledge Talks Playing and Coaching

Jeff Rutledge was part of the first Giants Super Bowl, celebrating its 30th anniversary this year.

“I think it’s hard to believe,” Rutledge said. “I remember when we celebrated 25. Time flies. The older you get, the more you realize it.”

Rutledge was a quarterback in the NFL from 1979-92 but might be remembered best for a two yard run. Bill Parcells liked calling trick plays for his special teams unit. In the 1986 divisional playoffs, Rutledge threw a 23-yard pass to Mark Bavaro when the 49ers were expecting a field goal try and didn’t have a defensive back on the field.

With the Giants trailing the Broncos 10-9 early in the third quarter of Super Bowl XXI, New York broke its punt formation and Rutledge lined up under center. The Broncos kept it’s defense on the field with one man back in case the Giants decided to punt but Rutledge looked to the sidelines, Parcells gave the go-ahead, and Rutledge gained two yards. “Certainly a gutsy call to do in that situation,” Rutledge said.

The Giants would go on to score 30 second half points in the 39-20 win.

Rutledge had not played in the Rams Super Bowl XIV loss to the Steelers and then backed up Mark Rypien on the Redskins Super Bowl XXVI championship team. “Three teams I played with and all made it to the Super Bowl, not that I had a helluva lot to do with it,” Rutledge said.

Later in his career, the QB had a message for teams. “All you need to do is keep me around,” Rutledge said.

His high school team won 36 games in a row and had eight players go to SEC teams. Rutledge went to Alabama, where his brother, Jeff had played and won a national championship. Rutledge was the starting QB on the 1978 national championship team which won a classic Sugar Bowl over Penn State. Then he was selected by the Rams.

“I ran the wishbone which was not what NFL teams were looking for,” Rutledge said. “Ray Malavasi saw something in me enough to draft me.”

Rutledge spent most of his career as a backup although he started four games for the 1983 Giants and threw for over 300 yards in three of them. Once his playing days ended, he had to figure out what to do for work. “We didn’t make the money those guys get today,” Rutledge said. “My best year in the league I didn’t get what the league minimum is now.”

Although he had been under Parcells and Joe Gibbs, a coaching career wasn’t on his radar. “I had played football since I was eight years old,” Rutledge said. “It had been my life. You don’t think about what you’re going to do when it’s over.”

In 1995, Vanderbilt hired Rod Dowhower as head coach. The former Redskins QB coach brought in Rutledge as the quarterbacks and receivers coach. Rutledge and his wife had just moved into their dream house in Atlanta, but felt it was the best job available.

After seven seasons at Vanderbilt, Rutledge became the head coach at Montgomery Bell Academy, a school for seventh to 12th grade boys in Nashville.

Then he was back in the NFL as the quarterbacks coach for the Cardinals under Ken Whisenhunt, who had been on the staff at Vanderbilt with Rutledge. Rutledge again ended up on a conference champion when Kurt Warner led Arizona to Super Bowl XLIII, although Rutledge was fired when a new offensive coordinator came in.

Then came a one year stint with the New York Sentinels of the United Football League. The team finished 0-6 but did play a game at a familiar site. “It was good to be back at Giants Stadium other than I was coaching and not playing,” Rutledge said.

He was the head coach at Pope John Paul II High School in 2010, and had led Valley Christian High School in Arizona since 2013.

“You coach for the kids,” Rutledge said. “You hope you have a positive impact on them.”

The coach is big on how his players dress off the field and their grades in the classroom. One of the toughest things can be teaching them to practice as hard as they play, although he still shows off his arm occasionally in practice. “I’ll still throw the ball pretty well for my age,” Rutledge said. “I’m in more of a grandfather phase. I’ll do something and they’ll go, ‘Oh, you did play.'”

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