By Connor Buestad (email@example.com)
When the San Francisco 49ers take the field at Bank of America Stadium in North Carolina on Sunday, they won’t have to deal with temperatures hovering at zero and below. Nor will they be up against the savvy and experience of Aaron Rodgers, or the ghosts of Lambeau Field’s past. Instead, the Niners will have to overcome a new challenge all together: the youth and talent of Cam Newton, coupled with the knowledge and quiet competitiveness of their former quarterback turned coach, Ken Dorsey.
If you are of the belief that life often comes around back full circle, well Dorsey versus the 9ers in the Divisional Playoffs is a prime example of said belief. Ever since his days as a prep quarterback/shooting guard at Miramonte High in Orinda, Kenny Dorsey, it seems, has always been destined for a career outside of the Bay Area. On Sunday, Dorsey will be doing his best to send San Francisco’s Faithful home with an upset loss.
No matter how big of numbers he put up on the football field, or how much leadership he showed on the hardwood, schools like Stanford and Cal refused to recruit Dorsey as hard as he probably deserved. Citing his lack of arm strength, average foot speed and overall blase athletic appearance, the Bay Area at large took a collective pass on Dorsey, even while the mighty Miami Hurricanes came offering a scholarship.
So Dorsey did what anyone in his position would do. He went where he was wanted, and he started winning games. Lots of them. In 40 games as a starter at Miami, Dorsey went 38-2. In 2001, Dorsey led the ‘Canes to an undefeated season, culminating with a BCS National Championship victory over Nebraska. A year later, Dorsey went undefeated again, only to lose to Ohio State in the title game. By the time his college career was all said and done, you wouldn’t be mistaken if you called Ken Dorsey one of the 10 best college Quarterbacks of all-time.
Once Dorsey left Miami for the NFL, the Hurricanes would effectively fall apart. Contrary to popular belief, their elite talent scattered throughout the depth chart at skill positions like receiver and running back would prove to not be enough. It may not have been due to a big, strong arm or blazing speed, but whatever it was, Dorsey knew how to win.
Six rounds passed in the 2003 NFL Draft before Dorsey was finally picked by the San Francisco 49ers (Pick #241). The East Bay kid who grew up idolizing the likes of Joe Montana and Steve Young, was now going to be given the chance to wear the Scarlet and Gold and prove himself in front of his hometown fans at the highest level. Unfortunately, things did not work out for Dorsey in the Bay. Surrounded by a group of sub-par skill position players, coupled with an unproven coach and an overall bad team, the three years that Dorsey wore the 49er uniform left much to be desired. By the end of 2008, Dorsey was out of the league. And after a short stint in the Canadian Football League, Dorsey would be done wearing the pads completely, opting instead for a visor, clipboard and a lanyard with whistle at the end of it.
Eventually, Dorsey’s path would cross with Cam Newton, or as he was so often referred to at Auburn University, $cam Newton. Now in his third season at the helm of the Carolina Panthers, Newton is enjoying his best season yet, leading the Panthers to a 12-4 record and home field advantage in the second round of the playoffs. His quarterback coach, new as of this season, is Ken Dorsey. It’s no coincidence that under the steady guidance of Dorsey, Newton is having his winningest season of pro football yet.
If marriages are best formed when opposites attract, perhaps the same can be said in the relationship between a quarterback and his coach. For in many ways, Cam and Ken couldn’t be more different.
While Dorsey’s high school career went off without much national fanfare, Newton was one of the mostly highly sought after football recruits in the history of the state of Georgia. Nicknamed “The Show” at Westlake High in Atlanta, Newton was hotly recruited by literally every major school in the country, finally settling on Florida where he would serve as Tim Tebow’s backup.
During his college career, Dorsey was the epitome of a team leader who virtually never made a mistake, on the field or off. In contrast, Newton was effectively sent packing to a Junior College in Texas after stealing laptops from Florida classmates and underperforming on the field under coach Urban Meyer. Newton attracted even more negative attention when his father Cecil allegedly sold his sons services to Auburn for upwards of $100,000. Meanwhile, Ken Dorsey’s dad hardly even followed college football, let alone attempted to serve as his son’s agent.
Despite all of the yin and yang of the Dorsey and Newton relationship, one can surely argue that the one thing these two have in common is what is most important in the NFL: Winning.
Upbringing, hype, physique, and style of play all aside, Ken Dorsey and Cam Newton both flat out know how to win big games. This fact alone surely has Jim Harbaugh’s full attention as he tries to navigate through another road playoff test en route to a return trip to the Super Bowl.
Once an afterthought from the forgettable lean years of 49er history, Ken Dorsey has now popped up back east, ready to try to put an end to the Niners’ Quest for Six. Harbaugh has his own understudy to bring to Sunday’s battle in Colin Kaepernick. And following Cam and Kaep’s pending duel in Carolina, don’t be surprised to see Ken Dorsey receive a firm handshake from Mr. Harbaugh at midfield during the post-game. From one “Quarterback-turned-coach” to another.