The New York Jets took a chance on quarterback Browning Nagle in the 1991 NFL Draft.
The Jets were eager to take Southern Mississippi Eagles signal caller Brett Favre with the 34th overall selection that year.
Alas, the Atlanta Falcons, who had the 33rd overall pick, took Favre off the draft board.
The Jets, who did not have a contingency plan, settled for Nagle.
Nagle, who was coming off two impressive seasons with the Louisville Cardinals, seemed like a can’t-miss prospect.
Regrettably, Nagle never met lofty expectations as the Jets’ starting signal caller in 1992. He had seven touchdown passes and 17 interceptions that year.
The Jets promptly acquired proven veteran quarterback Boomer Esiason the following season.
Before long, Nagle’s days in the NFL were numbered. He spent three combined seasons with the Indianapolis Colts and Atlanta Falcons before embarking on a short-lived career in the Arena Football League.
Sadly, Browning Nagle, who’d had so much promise when he entered the NFL in 1991, became an afterthought in subsequent years.
Browning Kenneth Nagle was born in Philadelphia, PA on April 29, 1968.
Nagle and his family moved to the Tampa Bay, FL area in 1980 when he was 12 years old.
Nagle played as an offensive lineman in pee-wee football because he dwarfed the other players. It wasn’t until he was a high school freshman at East Bay High School in Tampa that the coaches assigned him to the quarterback position.
Long before Browning played in the National Football League, he grew up idolizing baseball legends Manny Trillo, Bob Boone, Larry Bowa, Greg Luzinski, and Mike Schmidt, per The New York Times‘s Timothy W. Smith.
Nagle attended Pinellas Park High School in Largo, FL. He excelled in baseball and football for the Pinellas Patriots.
According to the Orlando Sentinel’s Jerry Greene, Major League Baseball’s Boston Red Sox drafted Nagle out of high school in the mid-1980s.
However, Nagle decided to put his baseball bat aside in favor of a football helmet and a pair of cleats.
Despite playing just two years of high school football with the Patriots, Nagle earned All-State honors as a senior in 1985.
Browning Nagle did not excel in the college football ranks until his final two seasons with the Louisville Cardinals.
However, it was enough to put him on pro football scouts’ radars at the turn of the 1990s decade.
College Days with the Louisville Cardinals
Browning Nagle began his college football career with the West Virginia Mountaineers in 1986.
However, as Nagle’s true freshman season wound down, Mountaineers head football coach Don Nehlen decided to make quarterback Major Harris the focal point of his option offense for the next several years.
That paved the way for Browning Nagle’s transfer to the University of Louisville.
Nagle sat out the entire 1987 NCAA campaign due to transfer eligibility requirements.
He then suited up for Louisville Cardinals head football coach Howard Schnellenberger from 1988 to 1990.
Behind Nagle’s 2,150 passing yards and 16 touchdown passes, the Cardinals won eight of eleven games in 1990.
It was Louisville’s best showing since the 1972 NCAA season when the team had a gaudy 9-1 win-loss record in Lee Corso’s last year as head football coach.
OTD Oct. 20, 1990. Tough Bird. Louisville QB Browning Nagle knocked out of game 3 times w/separated shoulder & more. Returns to lead Cards to 27-20 win over Pittsburgh before 34,261 at Pitt Stadium. Curtis Lipsey runs in pair of TDs. Cards now 6-1-1 en route to Fiesta Bowl title. pic.twitter.com/c43EEOA9Pg
— John Salzman (@HighPrairieFarm) October 20, 2022
Nagle ended his college football career on a strong note.
He had 451 passing yards and three passing touchdowns in the Cardinals’ 34-7 romp over the Alabama Crimson Tide in the 1990 Fiesta Bowl.
Prior to kickoff, Nagle sang the national anthem. He showed his vocal prowess in other sporting events such as the Kentucky Derby and an Atlanta Falcons game, per the Orlando Sentinel.
Nagle met his future wife, Mallie Jo Adams, during his senior year at Louisville. They would come full circle and return to the city some thirteen years after he retired from professional football.
Nagle concluded his three-year stint at Louisville with 4,653 passing yards, 32 touchdowns, and 21 interceptions.
Browning Nagle had two great seasons with the Louisville Cardinals. When he became the New York Jets starting quarterback in 1992, he played well below expectations.
That made many pundits believe Nagle wasn’t ripe for the picking at football’s highest level.
Pro Football Career
The New York Jets made Browning Nagle the 34th overall selection of the 1991 NFL Draft.
Major League Baseball’s California Angels drafted Nagle as a pitcher that year.
“It’s a different mentality in baseball; it’s free and easy and loose,” Nagle told The New York Times in the summer of 1992. “Some of that I’ve carried over into football. You can’t get all uptight.”
Although Browning did not play baseball during his college days at Louisville, the Angels thought his rocket arm in the 1990 Fiesta Bowl was too good to pass up. That gave them the impression Nagle could excel on the mound in the majors.
“When you see a guy throw like that, it makes you wonder how he’ll throw a baseball,” Angels scout Tom Kotchman told the Los Angeles Times‘ Rich Cimini in June 1991.
Regrettably, the Angels never found out how good Browning Nagle could have been as a Major League pitcher.
On the other hand, Jets general manager Dick Steinberg was against the idea of Nagle becoming a two-sport athlete. Steinberg felt Nagle will compromise both his football and baseball abilities should he go down that path.
It was the second time Nagle arrived at a crossroads in his sports career. He’d had an opportunity to play for the Boston Red Sox toward the end of his high school days.
This time around, Nagle felt his commitment to the Jets took precedence over the baseball diamond.
Giving Up Baseball
According to Sports Illustrated‘s David Fleming, Nagle thought he had risen that high on the draft board because of his superb 451-yard performance against the Alabama Crimson Tide in the 1990 Fiesta Bowl.
Had Nagle also not separated his shoulder which made him sit out the passing drills in the 1991 NFL scouting combine, experts thought he might have been a first-round selection.
However, it turned out the Jets had their sights set on Southern Mississippi Eagles signal caller Brett Favre all along.
To the Jets’ dismay, the Atlanta Falcons foiled their plans when they selected Favre with the 33rd overall pick.
Since the Jets were in dire need of a quarterback, they settled on Nagle.
Browning, who watched the draft festivities on ESPN from his parents’ Tampa residence, did not hide his disappointment from the Tampa BayTimes‘s Kevin Thomas after his draft stock plummeted. He felt he had been a first-round selection all along.
Accepting the Inevitable
Although New York had a mediocre 8-8 win-loss record, the team snuck into the postseason and ended its four-year playoff drought.
The Jets became a postseason team thanks in large part to starting quarterback Ken O’Brien, who passed for 3,300 yards in the regular season.
Unfortunately, the Jets lost to the Houston Oilers in the AFC Wild Card Game, 17-10.
For some strange reason, Jets management ordered Coslet to bench O’Brien in favor of Nagle in 1992.
It was a colossal mistake on New York’s part. With the inexperienced Nagle under center, the Jets regressed considerably that year.
Nagle first went up against the Jets’ crosstown rivals, the New York Giants, in a preseason game on August 24, 1992.
When Nagle barked out the play at the line of scrimmage in the third quarter, he saw legendary Giants edge rusher, Lawrence Taylor, out of the corner of his eye.
Nagle told The New York Times‘s Ira Berkow that he knew he had to get rid of the ball as soon as he could. Otherwise, Taylor and the Giants’ other pass rushers will smother him.
Nagle and Taylor struck up a short conversation in the first half. Taylor told him he wanted to finish the game as soon as possible.
Nagle got the impression Taylor wanted to play golf early the following morning.
It got Nagle’s attention considering he had already been an avid golfer since his pro football career began in 1991.
A Forgettable Stretch
As the regular season progressed, Nagle had seven touchdown passes and 17 interceptions in a forgettable 4-12 campaign for Gang Green.
When Coslet coached the Cincinnati Bengals in 1999, he told Fleming starting Nagle and benching O’Brien seven years earlier was a huge blunder on his part.
“The biggest mistake of my coaching career,” Coslet told Sports Illustrated. “(The New York front office) didn’t care if we won or lost, they were just sick and tired of Ken O’Brien. Browning wasn’t ready to be the starter.”
The Jets put Nagle on the bubble after his poor performance in the 1992 NFL season. They traded a third-round draft choice to the Bengals for quarterback Boomer Esiason prior to the 1993 NFL campaign.
Esiason had 3,421 passing yards in his first year with the Jets. They won eight games but missed the postseason for the sixth time in seven years.
The Jets released Browning Nagle following the 1993 NFL campaign. He signed with Ted Marchibroda’s Indianapolis Colts the following offseason.
Trying to Find His Place
Nagle joined a Colts quarterback rotation that included Jim Harbaugh and Don Majkowski.
Nagle completed eight of 21 passes for 69 yards and one interception in his lone start for the Colts in 1994.
Indianapolis won eight games and missed the postseason for the tenth time in the eleven seasons since the team relocated from Baltimore, MD in March 1984.
The Atlanta Falcons, the team that forced the Jets to draft Browning Nagle in 1991, signed him in the 1995 offseason.
In Nagle’s lone season in Atlanta, he took the field five times, completed six of 13 passes, and passed for 59 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions.
After winning nine games in the 1994 NFL season, the Falcons took two steps backward with an atrocious 3-13 win-loss record one year later.
It was Atlanta’s worst record since 1989 when it won the same number of games.
Regrettably, Browning Nagle’s lone season in Atlanta turned out to be his last in the National Football League.
Nagle and his wife Mallie Jo enrolled at the University of Memphis to complete their undergraduate degrees in communications following Browning’s release from Atlanta, per Fleming.
Bryant Young recovered a fumble after the strip sack By Roy Barker sacked Falcons QB Browning Nagle, and returned by Bryant Young for 43 yards into Falcons territory. #FTTB
1996 Week 14 MNF 49ers vs Falcons pic.twitter.com/Fu3W8PZITY
— 49ers Throwback ❤💛 (@49ers_Throwback) October 12, 2022
Nagle competed in celebrity golf tournaments in between football jobs. He also looked after his three-year-old toddler, B.J.
On the other hand, Mallie Jo Nagle entered several beauty pageants while her husband stepped up his golf game. Mallie Jo eventually won the Mrs. Tennessee America pageant in the spring of 1999.
Pounding the Pavement
Although Browning was in football limbo, he continued looking for a job in the National Football League after his only season with the Falcons in 1996.
Nagle sent faxes and called hundreds of team executives hoping he could get a second lease on life in the NFL.
Despite Nagle’s best efforts, no NFL team showed interest in him.
“That really crushes your psyche,” Nagle told Fleming in the spring of 1999. “There wasn’t just one low point. When people won’t even call you back, you go from low to lower to lowest pretty quick.”
In Fleming’s assessment, several factors came into play. First, Nagle, a six-year veteran, commanded a minimum salary of $400,000. Many general managers preferred to dangle contracts to three rookies for that amount.
Second, Nagle was convinced Coslet tarnished his name among the NFL coaching ranks.
For his part, Coslet told Sports Illustrated that was not true at all. Coslet quickly referred to Nagle’s stats which were indicative of his abilities on the pro football field.
However, Nagle insisted Coslet never gave him ample opportunities to show his true worth in the NFL. In a nutshell, he felt Coslet wasn’t patient enough with his development as a young quarterback.
“I was making mistakes 95 percent of the young quarterbacks in the league make,” Nagle told Fleming in 1999. “Bruce just bailed on me and turned me into a scapegoat. Then he dogged me around the NFL, so I’d go away and never be able to show him up.”
An Unlikely Second Chance
Ironically, it was a football movie that helped revive Browning Nagle’s pro football career.
Famous movie director Oliver Stone tapped Orlando Predators starting quarterback Pat O’Hara to appear in his 1999 movie, Any Given Sunday.
However, filming overlapped with the 1999 Arena Football League season kickoff in February. O’Hara was stuck in South Florida because of his movie commitment.
On the other hand, the Predators were in dire need of a quarterback.
Predators head coach Jay Gruden, the brother of then-Oakland Raiders head coach Jon Gruden, reached out to Nagle, his former college teammate with the Louisville Cardinals.
Jay Gruden told Sports Illustrated he had to call Nagle five times to persuade him the AFL was not a hoax.
Once Nagle signed with the Predators in 1999, Gruden had to teach him the nuances of playing quarterback in a league with eight players per side. Nagle also had to get accustomed to playing on a 50-yard indoor football field.
Despite Nagle’s unfamiliarity with arena football, he was thankful to receive a second chance. He told Fleming he was willing to play flag football so he could return to the National Football League someday.
Browning Nagle exceeded expectations in his arena football debut. He had five touchdown passes in his first AFL game in the winter of 1999.
Nagle quickly racked up 1,100 passing yards and 22 touchdowns in his first five AFL games.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t smooth sailing for Nagle in his lone season with the Predators
The Iowa Barnstormers nicked him up so badly, he felt the pain consume his body the following day. Iowa prevailed over Orlando on May 1, 1999, 64-47.
Browning considered that beatdown the biggest in his pro football career.
“I have never been pummeled in my career like I was in Iowa,” Nagle told Sports Illustrated.
Nagle’s stint with the Predators was short-lived. He left Orlando after the 1999 AFL season and signed with the Buffalo Destroyers.
Nagle played one just season for the Destroyers before retiring from pro football in 2000.
Browning Nagle had 2,489 passing yards, eight touchdowns, and 20 interceptions in six total seasons with the New York Jets, Indianapolis Colts, and Atlanta Falcons from 1991 to 1996.
Browning Nagle, his wife Mallie Jo, their son Browning Jr., and daughter Savannah Clair currently reside in the Louisville, KY area.
Nagle embarked on a successful post-football career in the medical technology industry. He became the senior manager of Medtronic Spinal and Biologics from May 2009 to July 2011.
According to Nagle’s LinkedIn page, he is currently a senior corporate sales representative of the Louisville-based company Wright Medical Technology.
When the Courier Journal’s Jake Lourim asked Nagle his sentiments on the old Cardinal Stadium—his old college stomping grounds that was torn down in 2019—he was nostalgic.
“It’s imprinted in my memory, my mind, forever,” Nagle told Lourim. “So even though those bleachers will go down and the surface will be torn up, it’s never going to go away in my heart and mind. It’s still a sad day, a sad time.”
Little golf before the big game!!! #GoCards pic.twitter.com/IbS8kFqJ9O
— Browning Nagle (@cardsqb7) September 17, 2016
Nagle singled out a 1989 home game against the West Virginia Mountaineers as his all-time favorite at the old Cardinal Stadium.
Even though the Cardinals lost, Nagle loved the energy from the 39,132 Louisville fans who attended the game. When he saw the sellout crowd, he felt the program was going in the right direction.
Prior to the demolition of the old stadium, Nagle, who moved back to the Louisville, KY area in 2013, drove by the site frequently.
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