Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana is known as the “Cradle of Quarterbacks” for a reason. Plenty of top notch signal callers have come from the Indiana college, including Hall of Famer Bob Griese and New Orleans Saints MVP Drew Brees. Among these vaunted gridiron warriors is another athlete from Shelbyville, Indiana: Mike Phipps. Playing during Purdue’s glory days of the 1960’s, Mike Phipps was the focal point of the offense of the Boilermakers, one of the top teams in the country during Phipps’ college career. Now a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, Mike Phipps has earned his spot as one of the top quarterbacks to come from the Cradle of Quarterbacks.
Born in January of 1947 in Shelbyville, Indiana, Mike Phipps grew up in nearby Columbus, Indiana, where he played football for Columbus High School. In 1966, Phipps enrolled in Purdue University, where much adored quarterback Bob Griese was just finishing his tenure as local legend. 1967 saw Phipps’ first year as the starting quarterback for the Boilermakers, and it didn’t take long for the budding rookie quarterback to prove his worth. His first game was a victory over Texas A&M, a tough team that would later make the Cotton Bowl. Then he defeated the number one team in the country, Notre Dame, a victory that earned Phipps a spot on the cover of Sports Illustrated. By the end of the 1967 season, Phipps brought the Boilermakers to a three way tie for the Big Ten Championship and established a school single season record for total offense.
|Video of the 1968 matchup between the No. 1 ranked Purdue University Boilermakers (quarterbacked by Shelbyville, Indiana native Mike Phipps) and the No. 2 Notre Dame Fighting Irish|
Mike Phipps’ junior year at Purdue was a little less successful than his first season. There were a few highlights; Phipps again defeated Notre Dame (this time ranked number 2) and Purdue was ranked number 1 until October, but Phipps suffered an ankle injury that would sideline him for two games. But Phipps’ final year at Purdue would make up for his lackluster second season and then some. His senior year, he earned school season records by racking up 2,527 passing yards and 23 touchdowns, helped by a monumental game against TCU in which Phipps ran for 104 yards and passed for 286 yards, the first player in Purdue history to break 100 rushing yards and 200 passing yards in a single game. For his efforts, Mike Phipps was awarded team MVP honors, was a unanimous choice for the All-American team, and was a runner up for the lauded Heisman Trophy. In the Heisman race, Phipps lost to winner Steve Owens by only 154 votes.
|Video of Shelbyville, Indiana native Mike Phipps playing quarterback for Purdue University during a game against Ohio State University|
Unfortunately for Mike Phipps, his star began to fade after his time at Purdue, and his professional achievements never quite matched up to his college days. Phipps was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in 1970, but the Browns had to trade away their all-pro wide receiver Paul Warfield to get Phipps. Naturally, Phipps’ debut with the Browns was watched closely; fans wanted to make sure the investment paid off. His first two seasons would be disappointing. Phipps played two games his rookie season; the first was a 15-7 come from behind victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the second (his first as a starter) was a 14-10 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. In 1971, Phipps threw for a total of 179 yards the entire season, starting a single game against the Kansas City Chiefs.
1972 would prove to be a far better year for Mike Phipps’ professional career. He became the team’s starter after a season opener loss to the Green Bay Packers, and the Browns made it to the NFL playoffs under the leadership of Phipps. Unfortunately, Phipps threw five interceptions during the Browns’ playoff game against the undefeated Miami Dolphins, ending the team’s Super Bowl hopes. But things would go downhill for Phipps and the Browns after the 1972 season. The team missed the playoffs in 1973 and earned a terrible 4-10 record in 1974. 1975 saw Phipps and the Browns lose their first nine games, and the once great quarterback was injured in the 1976 season opener against the New York Jets. He was traded to the Chicago Bears in 1978, but never saw the same amount of playing time he had with the Browns and the Boilers. By 1982, Mike Phipps was cut from the Bears and the NFL.
|Video highlights of a 1972 NFL game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Cleveland Browns, helmed by Shelbyville, Indiana native Mike Phipps|
Despite seeing only limited success in the NFL, this famous Shelbyville resident was one of the greatest quarterbacks Hoosiers had ever seen, reinforcing the school’s reputation as the Cradle of Quarterbacks. His offensive records earned him spots in the Purdue Intercollegiate Athletics Hall of Fame (inducted in 1995) and the College Football Hall of Fame (inducted in 2006). A team MVP, All-American, and Heisman Trophy runner up, Mike Phipps continued the great quarterbacking tradition of Purdue football teams and launched the Boilermakers to top spots in the college football rankings.
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