- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 10, 2002

OWINGS MILLS, Md. Like many athletes, the career of Miami Dolphins quarterback Jay Fiedler can be defined by the numbers. Five, the years it took until he took an NFL snap after coming out of Dartmouth as an undrafted free agent in 1993. Six, the years it took until he started an NFL game. And seven, the years before he became a regular.
"My first two years in the league [with Philadelphia in 1994 and 1995], I was third-string and never got a chance to see the field," said the 30-year-old Fiedler, who'll lead the 11-5 Dolphins against the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens in Sunday's first-round playoff game in Miami. "When I got released [by the Eagles and Cincinnati in 1996], there weren't a whole lot of teams out there that really knew me. I had to start my way back up from scratch, work my way through the World League [Amsterdam] and pretty much just lobby teams just to get a look."
Fiedler didn't even get invited to an NFL camp in 1997, but he couldn't quite give up on his football dream and put his Ivy League engineering degree to use.
"I was pretty close [to quitting] before I made it back in '98," Fiedler said. "I had been out of the league for two years and certainly another year sitting out wouldn't have been optimal for me to make a comeback. All it took was one team to give me a look and give me that shot and Minnesota provided it. I've moved up ever since."
Fiedler only threw seven passes as the Vikings' third-stringer behind Randall Cunningham and Brad Johnson, but Cunningham, an All-Pro that year in his eighth season as an NFL starter, said he learned more from Fiedler than vice-versa.
"Jay taught me how to be diligent, how to prepare myself," said Cunningham, also Fiedler's teammate with the Eagles and now the Ravens' backup. "Seeing how quickly Jay got things, it pushed me to be a better player."
Ravens coach Brian Billick, the Vikings' offensive coordinator in 1998, said Fiedler should have been in the NFL all along.
"Jay was smart and a really good athlete with a nice, clean [passing] delivery," Billick said. "He had all the elements, but like a lot of guys, he needed to be in the right place at the right time."
Fiedler's experience in the record-setting Minnesota offense drew a contract offer from Jacksonville and his solid play in seven games (one start) with the Jaguars in 1999 prompted Miami to give him a three-year contract on Feb.17, 2000. Damon Huard, who had been solid in five starts in 1999 and had the blessing of departing starter Dan Marino, was supposed to be Miami's No.1 passer in 2000, but Fiedler beat him out in training camp.
"The only two free agents that we had talked about at the time were Jay and [Chicagos] Jim Miller," Dolphins coach Dave Wannstedt said. "They were pretty similar throwing the ball and experience-wise. We went with Jay because we thought he was a little better athlete. He has done a great job."
The Dolphins' 22 victories the past two years are also their most since 1984-1985, the first two of the immortal Marino's 16 seasons as Miami's quarterback. This season, Fiedler led the Dolphins to five fourth-quarter comeback victories (including a 24-point rally to win 34-27 in Buffalo), the second-most in team history after Marino's six in 1992. Although Miami is on its third offensive left tackle and its running game has ground to a halt, Fiedler raised his passer rating from 74.5 last season to 80.3 this year. He also rushed for 321 yards, most ever by a Dolphins quarterback.
"The only guy who felt more pressure in my opening game than I did was Jay because he wasn't just replacing a great quarterback, but a legend and not just a football legend, but a legend in this town," Wannstedt said. "Jay has handled it extremely well."
Fiedler, like a typical native New Yorker, said he doesn't let much get to him.
"I've had to fight through a lot in order to get where I'm at," said Fielder, already the most productive passer produced by the Ivy League since Hall of Famer Sid Luckman left Columbia for Chicago in 1939. "Certainly not a whole lot is going to shake me up mentally. I've been through just about everything. It's always been part of my character to stay resilient, never give up and fight right to the end."

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