Ware, Andre 1968–
Andre Ware 1968–
Former professional football player, broadcaster
It is an indication of the differences between college and professional football that many winners of the college game’s highest honor, the He-isman Trophy, have struggled after ascending to the pros. The career of Andre Ware, whose fearsome aerial attack with the Houston Cougars brought him the Heisman in 1989, offers an example; Ware experienced more frustration than playing time over four seasons with the Detroit Lions after being selected by the Lions in the pro draft at the end of his junior year of college. His exploits on the field in Houston, however, remained one of college football’s spectacular success stories, and Ware remained a well-loved figure in the Houston area.
It was near Houston, in Galveston, Texas, that Ware was born on July 31, 1968; he grew up in the small nearby city of Dickinson in the coastal lowlands of Texas. Ware’s father, Robert, a schoolteacher and trumpet player, divorced his mother when Ware was three, but he continued to spend time with his son on weekends and to take an interest in his education. Four years later, however, he died of viral pneumonia, and Ware was largely raised by his mother, Joyce, and her mother and grandmother. “I missed having a father,…” Ware told Sports Illustrated. “I used to sit in class in second grade and just cry. There will always be an emptiness there.”
Ware’s mother was reluctant to see her only child enter the rough-and-tumble world of football, and she twice intentionally let him miss the sign-up deadline for a local youth football league. She devoted herself completely to his upbringing, however, working as a maid and restaurant table busser and later as a postal clerk. As Ware grew up, she supported the energy he was channeling into football. “I knew from the age of 11 that football would be the ticket for me to earn a college degree,” Ware told the New York Times. Later she promised him unconditional support as he navigated the pressure cooker of fame and pro football recruitment; after signing with the Lions, he rewarded her one day with a new Lexus automobile in her driveway.
The six-foot-one, 200-pound Ware showed promise as a quarterback from the start, and he excelled in that position at Dickinson High School. Ironically in view of his later renown as a passer, the Dickinson squad specialized in a running offense, and Ware threw only a few passes per game in his senior year. Several majorcollege
At a Glance…
Born on July 31, 1968, in Galveston, TX; son of Robert (a schoolteacher) and Joyce Ware. Education: Attended Alvin Community College, Houston and the University of Houston.
Career: Began college playing career with Houston Cougars, 1987; record-setting performance as Houston quarterback, 1988-89; picked in first round of 1990 NFL draft by Detroit Lions; signed with Lions, 1990; released by Lions as free agent, 1994; signed with Minnesota Vikings, 1994, and Jacksonville Jaguars, 1995, but did not play; played in Canadian Football League; signed with Ottawa Rough Riders, 1995; signed with Toronto Argonauts, 1997; played in European NFL for Berlin Thunder, 1999; signed as commentator by CBS broadcasting network, 2001.
Selected awards: Won Heisman Trophy as top collegiate football player, 1989; set 26 NCAA records that year.
Addresses: Office—CBS Sports, 51 W. 52nd St., New York, NY 10019.
scouts were intrigued by Ware’s combination of size and speed, but he faced a subtle form of discrimination that continues to plague African-American quarterbacks; several Texas coaches attempted to deflect him to other positions when he came to training camp for a visit. Ware, convinced of where his skills lay, was encouraged by his mother to stick with the recruiting process until he found what he was looking for. He matriculated at the University of Houston in 1986.
As a result of a clerical error (Ware did not take the SAT college-preparation exam on a date approved by the National Collegiate Athletic Association [NCAA]), Ware sat out his freshman year at Houston. Rather than lose a year of college eligibility he put the time to use by taking classes at a local community college, working two jobs to pay his way. When he finally joined the Houston squad in 1987, Ware was tentative at first—a pattern that would recur with frustrating results in Detroit. Helming Houston’s high-pressure “run-and-shoot” offense, he was nervous. “He would aim the ball, and you could tell he was afraid to make a mistake,” Houston running back Chuck Weatherspoon told Sports Illustrated.
Worse yet, Ware fractured a forearm and missed much of the 1987 season. His passing in the season-ending Aloha Bowl was tepid, with eight completions out of 28 passes thrown. In 1988, however, Ware hit his stride, passing for 25 touchdowns to set a Southwest Conference record and yielding only eight intercepted passes—a mark of startling accuracy in view of Houston’s heavily pass-based offense. Houston athletic officials, mindful that earlier NCAA infractions had resulted in a ban on national television appearances by the Cougars in 1989, set out to spread the word about their hot property to sports journalists—potential Heisman voters—nationwide.
After Ware threw for 24 touchdowns in his first four games of the 1989 season, those writers and broadcasters began to sit up and take notice. Against Baylor, touted preseason for its strong pass defense, Ware threw for 514 yards. The Houston athletic office began to distribute weekly “Air Ware” pamphlets to the press, and Ware hardly slowed down. Against Texas Tech he completed 37 passes for 475 yards gained, and against hapless Southern Methodist he threw for 517 yards in a mere 12 minutes of what became a 95-21 walkover.
By the season’s end, Ware had set 26 NCAA records; one of those was for his 4,699 yards passing. He ended with 46 touchdown passes—one short of the all-time mark. Many commentators observed that Ware could have notched even higher totals had he not so often been pulled from the lineup in lopsided games. In December of 1989, Ware won the Heisman Trophy—becoming the first black quarterback to do so. The night he won, Ware fulfilled a previously scheduled engagement to speak at Dickinson’s Little League football banquet.
Ware considered returning for his senior year at Houston—even during his pro career he continued taking college classes during the off-season—but the excitement of becoming the Lions’ first-round draft pick, and of national television interviews and a meeting with President George H. W. Bush, proved too much for him. After some reflective late-night solo drives on Houston’s freeways Ware signed with Detroit, which at the time was employing the same kind of run-and-shoot offense that Ware was familiar with at Houston.
But Ware’s pro career was as frustrating as his college years had been triumphant. Competing for the top spot with fellow Lions quarterbacks Rodney Peete and Bob Gagliano, Ware antagonized his teammates with what they saw as an aloof attitude. “He hasn’t really opened himself up to all the guys and come to us for advice and asked questions,” Peete told New York Newsday. “That’s where I see the difference between him and myself.” Ware was unspectacular in the few starts he did receive, and by 1992 he was complaining openly to the press about his lack of playing time.
It didn’t help that Ware was an expensive property who had joined the National Football League at the end of a period of sharp salary inflation; other teams such as the Houston Oilers, where Ware maintained a strong cadre of fans, were leery of obtaining him in a trade. Ware played in only one game in the 1991 season, and over four years with the Lions he completed only 83 passes for 1112 yards—totals he would have surpassed in two or three games in college. He was made a free agent in 1994 and was signed but cut by the Minnesota Vikings. Nor did Ware make the expansion Jacksonville Jaguars squad the following year.
The rest of Ware’s playing career was anticlimactic. He played for the Ottawa Rough Riders and the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League, and in Toronto he had to compete for the top spot with former New England Patriots star Doug Flutie. Ware was briefly signed to the Oakland Raiders in 1998, but spent the spring of 1999 playing for the Berlin Thunder of the European National Football League. He retired from playing in 1999 and returned home to Houston. Always articulate in the hundreds of interviews that followed his Heisman award, Ware received offers of on-air television football commentary slots from the CBS and ESPN sports television networks. He signed with CBS in 2001, and in 2002 was keeping busy with both television and radio appearances.
Puro, George, and Kyle Veltrop, eds., The Sporting News Pro Football Register, Sporting News Publishing Co., 1995.
Atlanta Journal and Constitution, April 18, 1999, p. E19; October 5, 2001, p. D2.
Houston Chronicle, May 4, 1994, p. Sports-1; December 4, 1994, p. Sports2-21; August 2, 1995, p. Sports-3; August 13, 1995, p. Sports 2-15; February 23, 1999, p. Sports-7; September 20, 2002, p. Sport-15.
Jet, February 20, 1995, p. 50.
Los Angeles Times, December 25, 1988, p. Sports-11.
New York Times, October 13,1989, p. A31; December 3, 1989, Section 8, p. 1; May 17,1992, Section 8, p. 2.
Newsday (New York, New York), November 14,1990, p. Sports-106.
Sports Illustrated, October 23,1989, p. 56; April 30, 1990, p. 60.
St. Petersburg Times, May 18, 1994, p. C5.
Toronto Sun, September 6, 1995, p. Sports-96; May 15, 1997, p. Sports-14.
—James M. Manheim