Danny Kanell has been one of the most vocal media members today decrying Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey foregoing participation in their final bowl game. The former Florida State and NFL quarterback (with the Giants, Falcons, and Broncos) has also been notable in recent years for decrying the war on football, and the demonization of the sport for health reasons in some quarters. About this time last year, he talked about the war on football after a New York Times article about kids not playing before age 18.
When I saw this one, I had to fire up the archive search for articles on Danny Kanell and being underpaid back with the Giants.
It’s interesting, because Kanell does have some experience that many do not here. Back in 1997, after Kanell took over as the Giants’ starting quarterback, he was the lowest paid starter in the league, playing on the rookie minimum. The Giants went 7-2-1 in games he started and made the playoffs.
The next offseason, the topic of his contract was an issue, with the team ultimately signing him to a better deal on the eve of the season, rather than have him go into the year making far less than his backup.
In a May 1998 New York Daily News piece, he said: “[i]t would be different. You don’t see many starting quarterbacks making that (little). But that’s what my contract is, so I’ll go out and play. I think it will take care of itself.”
In August, he said this while the deal was impending: “[m]y agent flew in today to start working on this .. the one thing I really don’t want is for it to become a distraction for the rest of the team.”
So you can say that Kanell has been a team guy going way back. But while searching for those, I came across another story that I found more interesting. Pardon me if this is more well-known, but I did not know Kanell’s backstory when it came to football.
When he signed with the Giants in 1996, the New York Daily News did a feature on Kanell, entitled “Giant Steps Danny Kanell, Son of a Yankee Doctor, Grew Up With Baseball in His Blood, but His Heart Belongs to Football.”
Kanell’s father, Dr. Daniel Kanell, was the New York Yankees’ spring training orthopedist from 1972 to 1995, the year before Kanell reached the NFL. The piece talks about the younger Kanell’s baseball talents, and how his family did not necessarily want him playing football at a young age.
Kanell’s 6’8″ father had reason to be leery: he had broken his leg playing football in high school, hurting a promising basketball career.
Not until Danny was born on Nov. 21, 1973, did they even have to consider not letting a child play such a violent sport. “I didn’t have him involved in any football because as an orthopedic surgeon, I felt that the potential for injury was greater until their growth plates had closed,” Dan said. “So I really didn’t want him to play when he was 11, 12, 13. When he excelled in baseball and basketball, I felt he had enough things to do.
Kanell still starred mainly in baseball in high school, and still did not play football until he was 17, just one year off from that age in dispute in the New York Times article that involved a war on football. That’s when Mike Phipps, former Cleveland Browns quarterback from the 1970’s and by then a part-time quarterback coach at the small Christian school Kanell attended, needed a new QB for the high school team.
“Danny was known. He was a great baseball player with a great arm. He had athletic skills. I knew he had been held back from the sport because of Dr. Kanell’s experience. Before I had gotten there, they had asked him about his son, and he had graciously declined. I happened to catch him at the right time, I guess.”
Spring football was approaching. Phipps promised Dr. Kanell that he would take Danny under his wing, tutor him on the proper way to throw a football and lead a team. “I felt he was going to be getting good coaching, and it was a decision he had to make,” said the father. “I wasn’t going to say no, you can’t play football. I had encouraged him in the other sports. Having these personal feelings after I started working with the Dolphins, I realized the character-building kids have in football I felt that was a positive. “I’ll always remember the scouts I knew in baseball who used to tell me that if they had two kids of equal ability in baseball, and one was a pure baseball player and one was a kid who also played football or basketball, they’d take the kid that played football or basketball, being a more competitive kid. And so I figured, I’ll let him play football and it’ll help him in baseball.
We are all shaped by our experiences and past, and different people can have different motivations. I think the same is true of the current debate over whether these college players should play in a bowl game. The right answer for one–based on teammates, relationships, future earnings, injury risks, and accomplishments–may not be the same for another.
I just found it interesting that Kanell’s family was such that he did not play football at an early age, even before there was a war on football, and in fact he fell in love with the sport at a much later age than almost everyone who played the position. No doubt these experiences play some role in how he views these issues.