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QB Hammel is a league staple

He tops three career lists, is fourth on another. But after 10 seasons, his name recognition is almost zero.

By JOHN C. COTEY

© St. Petersburg Times,
published July 7, 2001


You know of Kurt Warner. The names Andy Kelly, Jay Gruden and maybe Ben Bennett ring a bell for even those with just a passing interest in Arena football.

Stars Sherdrick Bonner, Mike Pawlawski and Mike Perez have familiar names.

And then there is Todd Hammel, the Houston Thunderbears quarterback whose team visits Tampa tonight for a game against the Storm.

The name sounds familiar, doesn't it? He has played against the Storm, was a Bucs draft choice, and it seems like he has been around since Mouse Davis started teaching the indoor offense to the first group of unsuspecting quarterbacks.

But putting a finger on Hammel's career is difficult. Robert Gaddy, a Nashville Kats lineman, perhaps put it best this year, saying, "Hammel is a pretty good quarterback. ... When he's good, he's as good as they get. But when he's cold, he's one of the worst quarterbacks in the league."

Interesting praise for Arena football's most prolific passer.

"Sure, it surprises me a little bit," said Hammel, laughing. "I guess that kind of makes me the Dan Marino of Arena football."

Except no one ever said that when Marino was bad, he was the worst in the league.

Hammel, 34, has passed for 23,184 yards on 1,872 completions in 3,347 attempts -- all No. 1 on the league's career lists -- in 10 seasons. His 354 touchdowns are fourth.

Hammel's career has been unspectacular -- his all-time quarterback ranking is 29th -- but consistent and reliable. Drafted in the 12th round by the Bucs after playing at Stephen F. Austin, Hammel failed to earn the job as Vinny Testaverde's backup and landed indoors with the Dallas Texans. That began a string of eight consecutive years with 25 or more touchdown passes, ended last year by injury.

Hammel has quarterbacked only two teams that finished with winning records, however. His playoff record is 1-4.

Hammel is not quite ready to give up the quest for an Arena championship. He won't play tonight -- sore ribs -- but hopes to get his starting job back from former Storm backup John Fitzgerald in a few weeks. Then it's back to the chase. "It feels great to have that milestone, but I really would like to get to an ArenaBowl," Hammel said. "Hopefully I can get one the next two years before I retire."

It has been a common refrain from Hammel since entering the league. But he hasn't had championship material with which to work.

"Maybe next year some of the new teams take a shot and make a move for it," Hammel said. "And maybe they'll need a veteran quarterback. I still feel good. Hopefully someone will give me a shot."

Hammel said this year has been unique. Before the season started, owner Les Alexander sold the team back to the league. Without a home, the traveling Thunderbears have played every game on the road, from the cities of opponents or locations the league is targeting for expansion (Fresno, Calif., Charleston, S.C., Bismarck, N.D.).

If that's not enough to drive a 10-year vet struggling to hang on out of the league. . .

"I love the game; what can I say?" said Hammel, who has been offered coaching jobs in the league. "It's been an interesting season. It's also been fun.

"I don't know how much longer I'm going to do this. But I figure I'll play a few more years and pad (the records) for a little while and sit back and wait until someone breaks it."

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