Some pundits argue that Jim Druckenmiller was the worst player in San Francisco 49ers franchise history.
Druckenmiller, who played behind the great Steve Young, had a total of 239 passing yards, one touchdown pass, and four interceptions in six career games for the 49ers from 1997 to 1998.
However, Druckenmiller’s career in San Francisco was seemingly over before it began.
When Peyton Manning decided to remain with the Tennessee Volunteers for his senior season in 1997, Druckenmiller emerged as the number one quarterback on some scouts’ radars.
However, legendary 49ers head coach and executive Bill Walsh thought Druckenmiller was a below-average signal caller who couldn’t read defenses.
Plus, Druckenmiller was more of a pocket passer who never thrived in San Francisco’s vaunted West Coast offense—a scheme that required a scrambling quarterback.
Druckenmiller spent his final NFL season backing up Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino in 1999 before fading into oblivion.
It was unfortunate considering Jim Druckenmiller was one of the reasons behind the Virginia Tech Hokies’ resurgence in the mid-1990s.
James David “Jim” Druckenmiller, Jr. was born to parents James Sr. and Susan in Allentown, PA on September 19, 1972.
Jim Druckenmiller attended Northampton Area High School in Northampton, PA. He excelled in football, baseball, and basketball for the Northampton Konkrete Kids.
Jim was already a gym rat who loved getting his lifts in during his high school days. He could bench press 250 pounds and squat 300 pounds back in the day, per BiggerFasterStronger.com’s Dr. Greg Shepard.
6’1″, 180-lb. Druckenmiller’s dedication in the weight room paid massive dividends. He completed 86 of 192 pass attempts for 1,040 passing yards and 11 touchdowns as a senior.
Druckenmiller finished his high school football career in style. He threw a game-winning touchdown in the final 15 seconds of his last game for the Konkrete Kids.
Despite finishing his stint on the high school gridiron with a bang, Jim Druckenmiller was an under-the-radar prospect who needed to work harder so he could make a big splash in the college football ranks.
That’s precisely what he did in the next phase of his gridiron journey.
College Days With the Virginia Tech Hokies
After graduating high school in 1989, Jim Druckenmiller attended Fork Union Military Academy. The opportunity allowed him to become a better football player and student without sacrificing a year of eligibility on the college gridiron.
Druckenmiller put in the work and before he knew it, the Virginia Tech Hokies reached out to him. He eventually committed to their football program.
Druckenmiller, who majored in physical education, began taking classes at Virginia Tech in the second semester of the 1991 academic year. He redshirted the 1992 NCAA season—a year where the Hokies finished with a disastrous 2-8-1 record.
They promptly extended their bowl drought to six years since the Frank Beamer era began in 1987.
At the time, Druckenmiller remembered fans and alumni calling for Beamer’s head. Fortunately, the school never fired him during Druckenmiller’s tenure in Blacksburg, VA.
Druckenmiller played behind starter Maurice DeShazo from 1993 to 1994. With DeShazo under center, the Hokies turned their fortunes around.
Virginia Tech averaged nine wins during that two-year time frame. They ended their bowl drought with a resounding 45-20 victory over the 21st-ranked Indiana Hoosiers in the 1993 Independence Bowl.
Druckenmiller worked quietly behind the scenes when he played with DeShazo. According to Dr. Shepard, he lifted 320 pounds on the bench press, could squat 450 pounds, could hang clean 371 pounds, and could push jerk 321 pounds.
Druckenmiller also won the Hokie Super Iron Man before the 1995 NCAA season kicked off.
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The former 180-lb. Northampton Konkrete Kids high school quarterback became a chiseled 6’5″, 223-lb. signal caller at the peak of his college football career.
“After sitting out my first two years at Tech, I became frustrated and took aggression out in the weight room by working hard to get to this level,” Druckenmiller told Dr. Shepard in the winter of 1996.
Druckenmiller also broke down his weekly gameday preparation for Dr. Shepard:
- Monday: He would watch and break down film at 7 a.m.
- Monday to Friday: Druckenmiller would attend team meetings at 2 p.m. before discussing the game plan and film with coaches for 30 minutes.
- Wednesday: Depending on Saturday’s opponent, Druckenmiller watched game film from midnight until 2 a.m.
- Monday to Friday: Druckenmiller practiced visualization techniques at various times of the day to improve his mental preparation.
After DeShazo graduated following the 1994 NCAA campaign, Jim Druckenmiller took over starting quarterback duties for the Virginia Tech Hokies.
Druckenmiller didn’t disappoint.
He had 296 passing yards—the most in a Hokies quarterback’s first start at the time—in a 20-14 loss to the Boston College Eagles on September 7, 1995.
Druckenmiller finished the season with 2,103 passing yards, 14 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions. He led Virginia Tech to a 10-2 win-loss record and a Big East title in 1995.
Behind Druckenmiller’s 266 passing yards and one touchdown pass, the 13th-ranked Virginia Tech Hokies beat the ninth-ranked Texas Longhorns in the December 1995 Sugar Bowl, 28-10.
It was arguably the most memorable game of Jim Druckenmiller’s college football career.
Druckenmiller did even better in the 1996 NCAA season. He had 2,071 passing yards, 17 touchdown passes, and five interceptions as he led the 10-2 Hokies to back-to-back Big East titles.
Unfortunately, the 10th-ranked Virginia Tech Hokies lost to the sixth-ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers in the 1996 Orange Bowl, 41-21.
Nevertheless, Jim Druckenmiller earned All-Big East honors following the 1996 NCAA campaign.
Without hesitation, Druckenmiller considered his four-year tenure in Blacksburg, VA the best of his gridiron career.
“Best days of my football life happened right there,” Druckenmiller told The Roanoke Times’ Randy King in September 2005. “They were probably the most joyous, most exciting, and, at times, most nerve-wracking, but I wouldn’t trade them for the world. I miss Blacksburg to this day.”
Although Jim Druckenmiller finished his tenure with the Virginia Tech Hokies on a high note, he never would’ve known his NFL career was over before it even began.
Pro Football Career
The San Francisco 49ers made Jim Druckenmiller the 26th overall selection of the 1997 NFL Draft.
It was the first time the 49ers had selected a quarterback in the first round in 30 years. They had previously made Heisman Trophy-winning Florida Gators quarterback Steve Spurrier the third overall pick of the 1967 NFL Draft.
Tennesse Volunteers signal caller Peyton Manning returning for his senior season jumbled the NFL rookie quarterback pecking order in 1997.
In some NFL executives’ eyes, Jim Druckenmiller emerged as the top choice under center.
New Orleans Saints general manager Bill Kuharich told The Athletic’s Bob McGinn in September 2020 that Druckenmiller became his top-rated quarterback in 1997. Druckenmiller reminded Kuharich of Carolina Panthers quarterback Kerry Collins.
Chicago Bears regional scout Bobby Riggle even told McGinn that Druckenmiller was better than Collins.
Druckenmiller did not complete the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine because of a pulled groin. He finished the 20-yard shuttle in 4.28 seconds and the three-cone drill in 7.92 seconds.
On the other hand, his vertical jump measured 29 inches while his broad jump measured nine feet, per The Athletic.
Druckenmiller fared badly in the 50-question Wonderlic test, an exam that measured a player’s mental aptitude. His score of 20 was in the bottom rung of NFL rookies in 1997, per McGinn.
The 49ers’ selection was a massive shock to Druckenmiller. He thought he’d wind up with the Miami Dolphins all along.
According to The Morning Call’s Nick Fierro, Dolphins head coach Jimmy Johnson called Druckenmiller on draft day.
Johnson got straight to the point—he asked Druckenmiller point-blank if he wanted to wear Miami Dolphins aqua, orange, blue, and white.
Druckenmiller didn’t hesitate. He replied in the affirmative.
For some reason, Johnson and his team drafted former Miami Hurricanes wideout Yatil Green 15th overall instead.
Steve Mariucci’s San Francisco 49ers then plucked Druckenmiller from the draft pool eleven selections later.
Druckenmiller’s selection didn’t sit well with former 49ers head coach and general manager Bill Walsh. He would eventually jettison Druckenmiller to South Florida a little over two years later.
Prior to the 1997 NFL Draft, Walsh was keen on the 49ers selecting Arizona State Sun Devils quarterback Jake Plummer, who he compared to the great Joe Montana, per the San Francisco Chronicle (via The Athletic).
However, 49ers director of player personnel Vinny Cerrato refused to let Walsh, who wasn’t working for the 49ers at the time, dictate the outcome of San Francisco’s draft.
Cerrato had his way and the 49ers selected Jim Druckenmiller instead.
Druckenmiller played behind quarterbacks Steve Young, Jeff Brohm, and Ty Detmer in his two seasons with the 49ers from 1997 to 1998.
Druckenmiller’s best game was the Week 2 showdown against the St. Louis Rams on September 7, 1997. He started in lieu of Young, who had a concussion.
Druckenmiller had 102 passing yards, one touchdown pass, and three picks in San Francisco’s 15-12 win. He completed 10 of his 28 pass attempts.
It turned out Jim Druckenmiller’s lone touchdown pass against the Rams was the first and last of his underwhelming NFL career.
He took the field just three more times during the 1997 NFL campaign. Mariucci sent Druckenmiller in for Young in garbage time in those three games, two of which the 49ers won in blowout fashion. Druckenmiller didn’t pass for more than 64 yards in each game.
Druckenmiller was never a good fit for San Francisco’s vaunted West Coast offense that required quarterback mobility. He was more of a pocket passer because of his tremendous arm strength.
Plus, Walsh was critical of Druckenmiller’s ineptitude in reading defenses, per King.
The 49ers won 13 games during Druckenmiller’s rookie season. They lost in the 1997 NFC Championship Game to Brett Favre’s Green Bay Packers, 23-10.
Druckenmiller saw action in just two games for San Francisco in the 1998 NFL season. Incredibly, he never produced a single passing yard in his limited playing time.
The 49ers won 12 games in 1998. They made it to the 1998 NFC Divisional Round against the Atlanta Falcons.
Unfortunately, the 49ers couldn’t contain Falcons running back Jamal Anderson. He had 113 rushing yards and two touchdowns in Atlanta’s 20-18 victory over San Francisco.
That was the last time Jim Druckenmiller wore San Francisco 49ers scarlet red and metallic gold.
Several months after Druckenmiller concluded his second season in San Francisco, a 22-year-old Virginia Tech coed accused him of raping her on campus grounds.
According to The Associated Press, Druckenmiller, the woman, and several friends partied at two bars in early March of 1999.
The group went to the Blacksburg, VA house Druckenmiller was staying in during his visit. Three of his friends later testified in court that the coed had told the 49ers quarterback that she wanted to be intimate with him.
In sharp contrast, the woman testified in court that she never remembered telling Druckenmiller that. However, she did testify that she lost consciousness and discovered he had been intimate with her, per The Associated Press.
Druckenmiller then asked her if she was all right after their encounter. Although she was still intoxicated, she seemed to be aware of what was going on.
#49ers QB Jim Druckenmiller (1997-98) was a first-round pick and won his only start. He only threw one TD pass and his career never blossomed.
— #Random49ers (@Random49ers) June 28, 2022
When the coed discovered her friends had left, she broke down and cried. She refused Druckenmiller’s offer for a ride and called one of her friends instead.
A jury acquitted Jim Druckenmiller on July 23, 1999. It took just one hour for the three-man jury to reach a verdict citing lack of evidence against the 49ers signal caller.
Druckenmiller sighed in relief after the jury read the verdict. He winked at a courtroom spectator before hugging his parents and defense attorneys.
Had the jury convicted him, he would have served five years to life in prison, per The Associated Press.
While Druckenmiller put his off-field issue behind him, he encountered another issue on the gridiron.
When San Francisco re-hired Bill Walsh to become its president and general manager in 1999, he promptly sent Druckenmiller to the Dolphins—the team he originally thought would draft him 2 1/2 years earlier—for a conditional draft selection.
Fierro confirmed Druckenmiller’s rape trial was not the reason why the 49ers traded him to the Dolphins.
Druckenmiller recalled getting traded the first day after training camp in 1999, per The Morning Call.
At that point in his pro football career, Druckenmiller thought he had evolved into a serviceable signal caller. He told Fierro he thought he was doing a better job of scanning downfield and finding the open receiver.
Several quarterback coaches also told him signal callers typically have a better feel for the pro game in their third year.
Unfortunately, Jim Druckenmiller never got that chance with the 49ers as his third NFL season kicked off. He had to start over 3,000 miles away instead.
When reminded of Bill Walsh six years after the trade to Miami, Druckenmiller wasn’t vindictive at all.
“I just want to grit my teeth,” Druckenmiller told The Roanoke Times in the spring of 2005. “I don’t have any bad words. It wasn’t a match made in heaven.”
He also told King he understood the nature of the business—there’s a fine line that exists between those who make it and those who don’t.
Playing behind Steve Young in San Francisco made Jim Druckenmiller a fixture on the 49ers bench. The trend continued when he became Dan Marino’s backup with the Miami Dolphins in 1999.
Druckenmiller never took the field in the 1999 NFL season. He watched Marino lead the Dolphins to nine wins and an AFC Divisional Round appearance against the Jacksonville Jaguars that year. The latter prevailed in blowout fashion, 62-7.
It was Dan Marino’s final game in his legendary 17-year pro football career. He retired following the 1999 NFL campaign.
Dolphins head coach Jimmy Johnson also parted ways with the squad. He resigned in January 1999 due to burnout and fatigue.
To add insult to injury, incoming Dolphins offensive coordinator Chan Gailey had no interest in giving Jim Druckenmiller a more active role in 2000.
“(Behind) Steve Young, you’re not going to get on the field right away,” Druckenmiller told Pierro some 18 years later. “Dan Marino, you’re not going to get on the field right away. And I wasn’t Chan’s guy.”
The Miami Dolphins eventually released Druckenmiller in the summer of 2000.
— XFLmemories (@XFLmemories) March 5, 2017
Druckenmiller split the 2001 football season between the AFL’s Los Angeles Avengers and the XFL’s Memphis Maniax.
He showed some flashes of his potential in the XFL in 2001. He was second in touchdown passes and third in passing yardage among XFL quarterbacks that year.
Once the 2001 XFL season wrapped up, Jim Druckenmiller thought his days on the gridiron were finished.
Druckenmiller was about to begin his career as a sales manager for a cargo trailer manufacturing firm in Little Rock, AR when he received another lease on his NFL life in the summer of 2003, per The Roanoke Times.
The Indianapolis Colts called him and told him they were interested in his services. Had Druckenmiller made Indy’s roster, he would have been the Colts’ number three quarterback behind Peyton Manning and Brock Huard.
Alas, that scenario never played out. The Colts signed another Jim—Jim Kubiak, to be exact—to become their third signal caller for the 2003 NFL season. They cited his prior stints with the team in 1998 and 1999 as his main advantage over Druckenmiller.
Jim Druckenmiller’s final shot at redemption in the National Football League went up in smoke. He admitted to King in 2005 that all NFL clubs stopped calling him that year.
He finished his underwhelming three-year NFL career with 239 passing yards, one touchdown, and four interceptions in six career games with the San Francisco 49ers.
Although his time on the NFL gridiron was short, Jim Druckenmiller cherished it. However, he sometimes wished it lasted longer than it did.
“I enjoyed the opportunity, but at the same time I would have liked to have definitely had a longer career and actually gotten to play more than one game (his only NFL start),” Druckenmiller told The Roanoke Times in 2005.
Jim Druckenmiller and his second wife Lisa currently reside in the Memphis, TN area. He settled in Tennessee after playing for the XFL’s Memphis Maniax in 2001.
Druckenmiller divorced his first wife in 2005, per The Roanoake Times.
Two years after the Indianapolis Colts released Druckenmiller, he worked for Choicepoint, a human resources company. Druckenmiller collaborated with the Red Cross in screening the company’s volunteers on a nationwide scale, per The Roanoke Times.
Druckenmiller told The Morning Call in the spring of 2017 that he has had some health issues since playing his last down in the National Football League in 1998. He has had two knee surgeries and bulging back discs over the years.
A shin splint in his left leg ultimately resulted in his inability to run anymore—though he is still able to walk.
— Quarterback Club (@TheNewQBClub) March 17, 2016
Druckenmiller, who played behind Steve Young in San Francisco and Dan Marino in Miami, felt he never got the opportunity to take the field during his disappointing three-year pro football career.
The thought of making a difference on the gridiron still tugs at his conscience to this day.
“The only thing that bugs me is whether I could have done it,” Druckenmiller told The Morning Call in 2017. “I never got to prove that. I wish I would have gotten a year to play, or even half a season.”
Druckenmiller follows college and pro football on television every weekend. He is an avid supporter of his college football team, the Virginia Tech Hokies, per King.
Jim Druckenmiller became a member of the Lehigh Valley Sports Hall of Fame in 2016.
Druckenmiller is currently working as an area sales manager for the Memphis-based beverage distributor company A.S. Barboro.