- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 31, 2001

Trent Dilfer, corporate icon?

Before Sunday's win over the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXXV, the question would have sounded foreign for a journeyman quarterback best known for throwing ill-timed interceptions.

But thanks to Baltimore's lopsided victory on the biggest stage in American sports, the once-anonymous Dilfer is now in demand with corporate America. While Dilfer is traveling this week to Hawaii to relax with his family, his McLean, Va.-based agents with Octagon are feverishly preparing to take advantage of his newfound national fame.

Dilfer quickly landed two high-profile endorsement spots following Sunday's game. The first was the annual "I'm going to Disney World" TV ad for Walt Disney Co. usually reserved the game's MVP. But Disney eschewed this year's honoree, Ray Lewis, because of his much-publicized legal troubles, and gave Dilfer the nod and a check for more than $75,000.

Dilfer also sports a milk mustache for a new print ad in the long-running series by the National Fluid Milk Processor Promotion Board.

Several more endorsement deals are expected this spring. It is unlikely Dilfer will reach the $1 million St. Louis' Kurt Warner reaped in endorsements after his Super Bowl triumph last year, but the seven-year pro could at least become a household name.

"The way this season has played out, it's been almost scripted, right down to winning back where he started," said Jeff Sperbeck, co-director of football representation for Octagon. Dilfer started his career with Tampa Bay, which played its games at Raymond James Stadium, site of Super Bowl XXXV.

"Obviously, we're extremely pleased with the results. Now the goal is to align Trent with the right companies, as opposed to just rushing out and doing a bunch of deals," Sperbeck said.

There is some question about Dilfer's long-term commercial viability.

On one hand, Dilfer quarterbacked a Super Bowl champion a select group of 22 that includes legends Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana and Bart Starr and excludes greats like Dan Marino, Fran Tarkenton and Jim Kelly. Dilfer, a down-to-earth father of three, also can boast an NFL career devoid of criminal problems or high-profile rifts with teammates or coaches.

On the other hand, Dilfer's career passing rating of 70.1 ranks 19th among the 22 Super Bowl winning quarterbacks according to Elias Sports Bureau, besting only Joe Namath, Jim Plunkett and Doug Williams. His line Sunday 12-for-25 for 135 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions typified the basic, no-frills passing attack Dilfer and Ravens used all season.

By most accounts, Dilfer lacks the natural on-camera charisma of Bradshaw, Montana and other still-popular signal callers.

"Trent is certainly not ready to compete for major endorsements against the likes of Brett Favre or Kurt Warner. But he can say something even Dan Marino can't: that he won a Super Bowl," said Bob Williams, president of Chicago-based Burns Sports, which matches athletes and companies for endorsements. "Advertisers love to associate themselves with winners, and as such there is a foundation of future success for Trent."

Among Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks, Dilfer's closest comparison likely would be Chicago's Jim McMahon, who led the Bears to a title in 1985. Like Dilfer, McMahon was not the team's marquee player. He often posted anemic passing numbers and relied heavily on the Bears' punishing defense.

McMahon, out of football since 1997, still commands more than $20,000 for every endorsement.

"Jim is a guy that no one would ever accuse of being a Hall of Famer. But he's identified as a winner, he's in demand and is doing very well for himself," Williams said. "Most quarterbacks from his era don't earn what he does now, and that's in large part because of the Super Bowl."

Dilfer stands to reap a major corporate payday, but sports industry executives say the opportunity could vanish quickly. Dilfer, who signed a one-year deal last March, again is a free agent facing an uncertain future. It is believed that the Ravens are interested in acquiring Washington quarterback Brad Johnson, also a free agent. Baltimore coach Brian Billick worked with Johnson in Minnesota.

Dilfer's preference is to stay with Baltimore, but Sperbeck said contract discussions with the Ravens will not begin until later this winter. A move elsewhere would hurt Dilfer commercially; the chances are small that he would be surrounded by a similar caliber of talent.

"It's looks rather important that Trent stay where he is. Already, his situation is in flux," said Sean Brenner, managing editor of IEG Sponsorship Report, which tracks sports sponsorship. "If I'm a marketer interested in working with him, I'm certainly going to be very interested in knowing where he's going to be and what kind of program I can still build around him."

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