Updated: Oct 15, 2020
Dan Pastorini made the most of his talent in the NFL. He starred at San Jose’s Bellarmine College Prep in football and baseball. He was good enough in baseball to be drafted in the 32nd round by the New York Mets following his senior year. However, he decided to take the collegiate route and ventured over to nearby Santa Clara University. There he played well enough to be selected third overall in the 1971 NFL Draft. The year he was drafted was dubbed the “Year of the Quarterback” with quarterbacks Jim Plunkett and Archie Manning going first and second overall.
Pastorini’s career in the NFL started inconspicuously with one of the worst teams in NFL history. In the 1971 and 1972 seasons the Oilers recorded 1-13 campaigns. Only a select few teams have had that kind of futility in that time span. Pastorini appeared in all 14 games his rookie year while starting in eight and his inexperience showed. He recorded just seven touchdowns with 21 interceptions in 1971.
He settled down after that disastrous first season but he never threw more touchdowns than interceptions during his time in Houston. The closest he came was during 1974 and 1976 when he threw 10 touchdowns with 10 interceptions. He did make his first and only Pro Bowl in 1975 when he threw for 2,053 yards and 14 touchdowns. He wasn’t the most reliable quarterback but he showed potential as a game manager when the team drafted running back Earl Campbell in 1978.
Since the time he was drafted, Houston had been building a foundation on defense and on the offensive line. Campbell was the seemingly final piece they needed to become a championship contender and the city of Houston fell in love with their Oilers. However, the 1970’s was dominated by the division rival Steelers and the one dimensional Houston offense could not find a way past the Steelers in back to back conference championship games.
Pastorini’s best year was 1978 when he threw for 2,473 yards and 16 touchdowns. This was also the year when he became the first player in NFL history to wear a flak jacket for a game. He had broken his ribs against the Steelers and the team needed him to gain a spot in the playoffs. He was approached in the hospital with the idea by two men. One man put the jacket against his chest and the other man hit him with a baseball bat a few times. When it was revealed that the man was unharmed, Pastorini immediately requested one upon his return to action three weeks later. With Pastorini under center, the team beat the Miami Dolphins in the NFL’s first ever Wild Card round and the flak jacket has been a part of the NFL ever since.
Following another AFC Championship loss to the Steelers in 1979, Houston traded him to Oakland for Hall of Fame quarterback Ken Stabler. Playing near his native San Jose, Pastorini started the first five games before breaking his leg. Jim Plunkett took over the offense and led the Raiders to the Super Bowl with Pastorini looking on from the sidelines, the former first overall pick in the 1971 NFL Draft finally upstaging the third overall pick from that same draft.
Pastorini then went to the Los Angeles Rams in 1981 where he threw just two touchdowns with 14 interceptions. He finished his career in 1982 with the Philadelphia Eagles appearing in just three games and ending the season throwing just five passes. He was recognized for his accomplishments when he was inducted into the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame in 2005. He currently resides in South Carolina as an executive for a data security company.