With Dan McGwire’s rifle of an arm and imposing physique, it seemed he was destined for greatness in the National Football League.
The 6’8″ McGwire, the younger brother of baseball legend Mark McGwire, made history as the NFL’s tallest quarterback during his time.
He was also the first quarterback selected in the 1991 NFL Draft – seventeen slots ahead of future Hall of Famer Brett Favre.
The Seattle Seahawks hoped Dan McGwire could finally help them solve their quarterback dilemma once and for all.
Alas, he never did.
Instead, McGwire languished on the Seahawks’ bench behind Stan Gelbaugh and Rick Mirer during his four-year stint in the Emerald City.
Had the Seahawks listened to Chuck Knox’s instinct and drafted Favre, they could’ve won a Super Bowl ring in the early 1990s.
Regrettably, they have to live with the distinction of drafting the tallest quarterback who never panned out in the pro ranks.
Daniel Scott McGwire was born to parents John and Ginger in Pomona, CA on December 18, 1967.
His father John worked as a dentist in Claremont, CA. He and his wife raised their five sons Mike, Bob, Mark, Dan, and J.J. in this Los Angeles suburb.
All five McGwire brothers played golf as a hobby when they became grown men.
Dan’s mother Ginger has known him as a happy kind of individual since childhood.
“Dan has always been a real happy and upbeat type,” she told The Seattle Times’ Craig Smith in August 1992. “He’s not real moody. Even as a baby and growing up, everything was easy for him.”
He was also a stickler for neatness. According to Smith, he took at least three showers daily and always makes sure his clothes are clean and immaculate.
John McGwire credited his son’s attitude to his upbringing: neither he nor his brothers could go to the breakfast table without making their beds in the morning.
The boys also regularly brought their dirty clothes downstairs to the washing machine. Their dad’s dental profession required him to practice impeccable hygiene.
It was a trait that rubbed off on his five boys.
Dan McGwire is the younger brother of future St. Louis Cardinals baseball great Mark McGwire. Mark is older than Dan by four years.
When Dan was growing up, he played Little League baseball as a pitcher. However, it was a short-lived endeavor.
The lure of playing on the gridiron was stronger than pitching on the mound for Dan McGwire.
While Dan gravitated toward football, his older brother Mark was thriving in American Legion baseball.
Their parents never pushed them to do something they weren’t comfortable with.
For their part, Dan and Mark gravitated toward sports naturally. John and Ginger McGwire gave them leeway and allowed them to blaze their own trails in life.
Mark McGwire, the Cardinals slugger who belted 70 home runs during the memorable 1998 MLB season, put it best.
“If we had wanted to take singing lessons, which none of us did, our parents would have said, ‘Sure, that’s great!'” he told The Seattle Times during his fourth pro season with the Oakland Athletics.
Dan McGwire told the Deseret News in the fall of 1989 – his first year as the starting quarterback of the San Diego State Aztecs – he chose football because playing quarterback was more fun than pitching.
He felt being a signal-caller on the gridiron meant he was in the middle of the action. The pitcher’s lack of mobility didn’t sit well with McGwire.
Dan McGwire attended Claremont High School.
He excelled in football and basketball for the Claremont Wolfpack.
He had 6,559 yards and 65 touchdowns for the Wolfpack during his three-year high school football tenure.
With McGwire under center, the Wolfpack finished with a gaudy 36-3-1 record during that stretch.
To nobody’s surprise, Dan McGwire earned state MVP honors during his senior season at Claremont High.
McGwire also averaged a double-double (double figures in scoring and rebounding) for the Wolfpack.
McGwire had always wanted to play for a Big Ten football team in the collegiate ranks.
“I wanted to play big-time football, and the Big Ten caught my eye,” McGwire told The Los Angeles Times’ Curt Holbreich on September 14, 1989. “To come back with a Big Ten team and play in the Rose Bowl, that was a dream of mine.”
He received that chance with the Iowa Hawkeyes when he began his college football career.
However, a significant turn of events would lead McGwire away from his Big Ten football dream.
Instead, he made a name for himself and raised his NFL Draft stock with the San Diego State Aztecs in the next phase of his gridiron journey.
College Days With The San Diego State Aztecs
Dan McGwire started his college football career with the Iowa Hawkeyes from 1986 to 1987.
He suited up in 24 games for Hawkeyes head football coach Hayden Fry during that stretch.
McGwire completed 47 of 84 passes for six touchdowns and four interceptions for Iowa.
As a true freshman in 1986, McGwire showed flashes of his incredible arm strength.
He took a half-step back and heaved a 67-yard pass to Hawkeyes teammate and future San Diego Chargers wide receiver Quinn Early in one spring game.
Early swore McGwire’s throw covered a greater distance.
Unfortunately, Early didn’t catch McGwire’s pass. Instead, the ball hit Early square on his face mask.
The intense sunlight made Early’s eyes squint so he didn’t see the ball’s trajectory properly.
Nonetheless, the beast known as Dan McGuire had been unleashed.
He beat junior Chuck Hartlieb and redshirt freshman Tom Poholsky for the Hawkeyes’ starting quarterback job prior to the 1987 NCAA campaign.
For some strange reason, the Hawkeyes informed McGwire the starting job was up for grabs again when he reported for training camp that year, per Holbreich.
McGwire started two of Iowa’s first five games during his sophomore campaign.
He left both games early. He departed early the first time around so the other quarterbacks can have more playing time.
McGwire left the second one early because of a leg injury, per The Los Angeles Times.
Before the Hawkeyes played their sixth game in 1987, McGwire learned Fry named Hartileb Iowa’s starting quarterback.
Then-Iowa offensive coordinator Bill Snyder, who became a coaching legend with the Kansas State Panthers, felt McGwire was the most refined quarterback on the Hawkeyes’ roster.
However, Hartileb had the edge in terms of experience so he got the starting nod.
McGwire took the news hard. He didn’t want to redshirt his junior season.
The Hawkeyes averaged ten wins per season during McGwire’s two-year tenure. They won the Holiday Bowl in 1986 and 1987.
McGwire had played his final down in Hawkeyes Black and Gold at the end of the 1987 NCAA campaign.
Classic QB for our gals at San Diego State. Dan McGwire brother of Mark. Hit me with a classic player from yesteryear pic.twitter.com/pjvpWwuRFK
— Colby Dant (@TheColbyD) March 18, 2020
He eventually transferred to San Diego State University where he majored in public administration in 1988.
He sat out that year in compliance with NCAA transfer rules.
McGwire chose San Diego State because the school’s football program made a profound impression on him in Iowa’s 39-38 victory in the 1986 Holiday Bowl.
He also told Holbreich that he wanted to stay closer to home. The San Diego State University campus was less than a two-hour drive from his hometown of Claremont, CA.
Almost two years after McGwire left Iowa, he remained bitter at Hawkeyes head football coach Hayden Fry.
“Coach Fry touted me the whole summer,” McGwire told The Los Angeles Times in 1989. “He built me up to be this great player, this great god, this savior, and he never really gave me a fair chance.”
McGwire’s new team, the San Diego Aztecs, was a moribund football program during his era.
Before McGwire played his first down for the Aztecs, they hadn’t received a bowl invite in eighteen of their past nineteen seasons.
Consequently, San Diego State fired head football coach Dennis Stolz after a disastrous 3-8 1988 NCAA campaign.
The Aztecs hired former Arizona State Sun Devils defensive coordinator Al Luginbill to replace him.
Luginbill’s arrival was like a breath of fresh air for the demoralized McGwire. When Luginbill came on board, he told the Aztecs they would thrive in the passing game.
That was music to Dan McGwire’s ears.
When McGwire took the field for the Aztecs in the 1989 NCAA season, expectations were sky-high for Oakland Athletics first baseman Mark McGwire’s younger brother.
Coincidentally, Mark McGwire had 33 home runs and 95 RBIs the same year Dan suited up for the Aztecs.
Mark McGwire’s Oakland Athletics swept the San Francisco Giants 4-0 in the 1989 World Series. It was the Athletics’ ninth World Series pennant.
“People expect a lot out of me because they see what Mark has done,” Dan McGwire told Holbreich prior to that year’s World Series. “Mark was a nobody and became a superstar.”
At that point, Dan McGwire was used to people peppering him with questions about exceeding his brother’s greatness.
McGwire told The Los Angeles Times they play two different sports. He didn’t feel any pressure following in his more famous brothers’ footsteps.
Dan McGwire aka Mark's little brother, San Diego State. That facemask/dark visor combo was the best. pic.twitter.com/mqdnFdU4ni
— David McKinney (@MMAMcKinney) September 18, 2020
Dan McGwire responded to people’s expectations in impressive fashion.
Despite losing to the Air Force Falcons 52-36 on September 2, 1989, McGwire went 30-of-46 for 361 yards, two touchdowns, and two picks.
McGwire admitted to Holbreich he was nervous when he took the field for the first time as an Aztec.
However, the nerves eventually went down and McGwire got into a nice rhythm during the game. He felt his arm strength was as good as it’s ever been.
McGwire finished his first year at SDSU with 3,651 passing yards, 16 touchdowns, and 19 interceptions.
It was evident he had the arm strength to excel at quarterback. However, he needed to work on his accuracy.
Enter Dave Ohton.
Ohton, the Aztecs’ strength training coach, worked McGwire relentlessly in the summer of 1990.
“He put me through hell, but that’s what I needed to get to where I am now,” McGwire told The Seattle Times two years later.
Their hard work paid huge dividends: not only did Dan McGwire rack up a lot of yardage in the air, but he also improved his accuracy dramatically.
McGwire had 3,833 passing yards, 27 touchdown passes, and just seven interceptions in his senior campaign.
McGwire led a high-octane Aztecs offense that averaged a gaudy 41.7 points per game.
Unfortunately, San Diego State’s defense allowed 35.1 points an outing.
The Aztecs won six games for the second straight year. They also failed to receive a bowl invite for the fourth consecutive season.
Dan McGwire concluded his college football career with 8,164 passing yards, 49 touchdowns, and 30 interceptions.
McGwire maintained his B average at San Diego State dating back to his high school days at Claremont.
He went full throttle in the classroom in his senior year in 1990. He made the honor roll at San Diego State that year, per The Seattle Times.
While things went smoothly for Dan McGwire on the college gridiron and the classroom, it was an entirely different story when he entered the National Football League in 1991.
Pro Football Career
The Seattle Seahawks made Dan McGwire the 16th overall selection of the 1991 NFL Draft.
McGwire’s name is forever linked to the great Brett Favre.
Although Seattle won nine games in 1990, the team missed the postseason for the fourth time in the past six years.
The Seahawks’ quarterback situation also became more unsettling.
Starting signal caller Dave Krieg was thirty-two years old. He had 15 touchdown passes and 20 interceptions in 1990.
Backup quarterback Kelly Stouffer had underachieved since he arrived in Seattle in 1988.
Seahawks head coach Chuck Knox was infatuated with Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles gunslinger Brett Favre.
However, Seahawks owner Ken Behring was keen on drafting San Diego State Aztecs quarterback Dan McGwire.
Behring eventually overruled Knox.
Seattle drafted McGwire, the younger brother of Oakland Athletics first baseman Mark McGwire.
According to ESPN’s Mike Sando, Knox grew so incensed at McGwire’s selection that he refused to speak with the media in the aftermath of the 1991 NFL Draft.
Knox still seethed during McGwire’s introductory press conference. Photos showed the Seahawks head coach crossing his arms and glowering while he stood on the side of the press table.
Dan McGwire is still the record holder for the tallest QB ever drafted at 6'8". Unfortunately for Seattle, they drafted him over a kid named Brett Favre. pic.twitter.com/Q4jEQSeG6I
— Erkki Corpuz (@ewcorpuz) February 28, 2019
McGwire signed a three-year, $3.35 million deal with Seattle on July 20, 1991, perThe Associated Press‘ Jim Cour (via The Kitsap Sun).
McGwire received a signing bonus worth $1.15 million. His salaries for the next three years were $400,000, $800,000, and $1 million.
He told his agent Leigh Steinberg it was imperative that he wanted his contract ironed out before training camp kicked off in the summer.
Experts thought McGwire’s arrival put backup quarterback Kelly Stouffer on the bubble.
Prior to McGwire signing with the Seahawks, Stouffer, the sixth overall pick of the 1987 NFL Draft, had three disappointing seasons in the Emerald City.
McGwire stood out because of his mullet and his imposing height. He was 6’8″ – the tallest quarterback in league history at the time – when the Seahawks drafted him. He was a full seven inches taller than Krieg.
Seattle quarterback coach Ken Meyer told Cour that McGwire’s height gave him confidence because his field vision gave him a unique advantage over other quarterbacks.
McGwire could easily see open receivers running their routes and pass rushers coming in for a sack.
Despite McGwire’s tremendous upside, Meyer and the rest of the Seahawks coaching staff thought his release needed some work, per Cour.
Knox’s disdain for McGwire was evident: he played the rookie signal caller in just one game during the 1991 NFL season.
McGwire played behind Krieg, who had 2,080 passing yards for the Seahawks in 1991.
With Dan McGwire languishing on Seattle’s bench, the Seahawks finished with a sub-par 7-9 win-loss record that year.
Knox eventually left Seattle after the 1991 NFL campaign. Former Oakland Raiders head coach Tom Flores replaced him as his Seahawks mentor.
While Dan McGwire’s rookie season was something he’d rather forget, his life off the gridiron fared much better.
McGwire married his girlfriend Dana Orlich in March 1992. Dave Ohton, his strength coach at San Diego State, was his best man.
Poor preseason play relegated McGwire to third-string quarterback status as he entered his second NFL season.
Flores tapped veteran 30-year-old quarterback Stan Gelbaugh to lead the charge for the Seahawks in 1992.
Gelbaugh had just 1,307 passing yards as Seattle hit rock bottom with an atrocious 2-14 win-loss record.
It was the Seahawks’ worst record since their inaugural season in the National Football League in 1976.
As for Dan McGwire, he had yet to throw for a touchdown pass.
He already had thrown for four interceptions in three total appearances for the Seahawks at that point in his NFL career.
The Seahawks’ quarterback conundrum prompted team brass to draft Notre Dame Fighting Irish signal caller Rick Mirer in 1993.
Flores made Mirer his starting quarterback for the next two seasons. Consequently, McGwire continued riding the Seattle bench.
Nonetheless, he finally threw his first touchdown pass in his third pro football season.
Mirer’s injury in 1994 gave McGwire his long-awaited opportunity.
McGwire had 578 passing yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions in seven games for the Seahawks in the 1994 NFL season.
Seattle did not re-sign Dan McGwire after the 1994 NFL campaign.
He signed with the Miami Dolphins in the offseason.
McGwire saw action in just one game for the Dolphins in 1995, throwing for a solitary incompletion.
McGwire had officially played his final down in the National Football League after playing out his contract with the Dolphins.
He finished his pro football career with 745 passing yards, two touchdowns, and six interceptions in 13 games.
Dan McGwire and his ex-wife Dana have three children.
Their daughter Mallory inherited her father’s height. She stood 6’4″ when she was proclaimed state player of the year as a member of the Nevada Wolf Pack women’s basketball team.
Dana McGwire told the Reno Gazette Journal’s Jim Krajewski in January 2015 that Mallory also inherited her passion for golf from her father’s side of the family.
Dan McGwire took his daughter to a driving range in San Diego when she was a preschooler. To his astonishment, Mallory promptly hit a line drive without a tee.
According to McGwire’s LinkedIn page, he worked for Vita H20 and Polumaire Menschen after he retired from the National Football League.
Dan McGwire is currently the executive director of Team McGwire, an executive search firm based in Reno, NV that serves the solid state lighting, automotive, healthcare, information technology, gaming, and energy industries.