Zeier scrambles from praise Ravens: The team's new starting quarterback is a fierce competitor, but he also has shown poise under pressure and humility in success.

October 01, 1998|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

Twelve hours had passed since he had played the game of his professional life, and in typical Eric Zeier fashion, the Ravens' new starting quarterback stubbornly refused invitations to praise himself.

Reporters asked him to address his near-flawless, 254-yard passing performance against Cincinnati. Zeier gave his offensive line and running back Priest Holmes glowing reviews. How about that 73-yard touchdown connection to Jermaine Lewis? Zeier thanked Lewis for running under a pass he thought he had overthrown.

When asked to reflect more on the 31-24 victory he engineered Sunday, Zeier mentioned a fumble he lost that helped the Bengals score three points.

"One of the cornerstones to Eric's success is he's never been stuck on himself," said Rick Zeier, Eric's father. "He always has sort of played inside the envelope. He has always gotten his team to maintain competitive composure. He uses all 11 guys on the field. He motivates the other guys around him."

Don't worry about success changing the new leader of the Ravens' offense. Zeier, 26, has seen pro football from both sides. After setting 67 school records and 18 Southeastern Conference records at the University of Georgia, Zeier swallowed the humbling life of a backup for three seasons.

He started his fourth year in that same role, until injuries and ineffectiveness put Jim Harbaugh on the bench and thrust Zeier into the spotlight. After completing 15 of 20 passes against Cincinnati, Zeier has the second-highest quarterback rating (102.4) in the AFC. Only Oakland's Jeff George and Jacksonville's Mark Brunell have thrown for more yardage than Zeier (856).

Receivers like Lewis love Zeier's ability to throw the long ball. Coach Ted Marchibroda loves his arm strength, his fiery presence and his poise in the midst of game-day pandemonium.

Have you noticed no one is talking about Zeier's so-called lack of size? At 6 feet 1, 205 pounds, he sees the field just fine, thank you.

"We saw what Eric could do last year, and he keeps getting better," Marchibroda said. "He throws a lot better and is a lot more accurate than what you would expect from a guy of his stature."

If Zeier has made one mark already during his time in the NFL, it is his knack for avoiding the bonehead play by making heady decisions. He has thrown one interception in his last 208 pass attempts dating to last year.

And he didn't just turn into a smart quarterback. As a senior, Zeier became the Georgia Player of the Year in high school by throwing for 2,484 yards, 28 touchdowns and four interceptions. Four.

"You can't allow yourself to get caught up in the emotions of the game. You don't want to try to make too much happen," Zeier said. "Taking care of the ball is such a big part of the game. Checking off [changing a play at the line] is fine, as long as you're checking out of a bad play and into a good one."

Life is good for Zeier, whom you won't find on the nightclub

scene. A round of golf is his idea of a party. An exciting evening for him is a game of cards or a rented movie. "Bull Durham" and "Braveheart" are two of his favorites.

During the off-season, it's off to the Bahamas or some other beach for a vacation before gearing up for another fall in the NFL.

Someday, Zeier will look back on 1998 as a watershed year when he became a rich man and an enriched man.

Seven months ago, the Atlanta Falcons sent Zeier into a new tax bracket by making the restricted free agent a two-year offer for $2.6 million, including a $2 million signing bonus. The Ravens are quite glad they retained his services by matching the offer.

"We almost died when [Eric's] agent told us the offer," recalled Carrie, Eric's wife.

A few weeks later, Carrie found out she was pregnant with their first child. The baby is due in 10 weeks. And as far as Eric is concerned, being a starting quarterback is nothing compared to his impending role as a father.

"Carrie and I were coming home from the game Sunday night, and we weren't talking about the game. We were talking about how big the baby is getting and how much it's kicking," he said.

"It's the only thing we talk about when I come in from work at night. This whole experience is unbelievable. Carrie is handling this better than me. I'm the one in a panic, thinking about changing diapers and everything. Taking out the trash is hard enough for me."

Zeier, who considers Marietta, Ga., his hometown, has been adjusting to new faces and situations for as long as he can remember. Six years ago, his father retired as a major after 20 years in the U.S. Army.

The military life took the Zeier family to temporary residences in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Texas and Heidelberg, Germany. Zeier lived in Germany during his first two years of high school.

You won't find too many friendlier, more level-headed people in the Ravens' locker room than their new starting quarterback. But no NFL passer can survive without a competitive streak. And Zeier's is intact. Just ask Carrie.

"There is some emotion let loose on the Monopoly table. It gets pretty intense, like a do-or-die situation," said Carrie, who met Eric during their freshman years at Georgia.

The way Rick sees it, his son has been blessed with the right physical tools since the first time he stood behind center at age 10. But he thinks it's Zeier's cool, analytical qualities that have landed him on center stage.

"Eric never threw tantrums," said Rick, who coached on his son's high school teams in Georgia. "Sometimes he would lose his focus playing golf or baseball or basketball. He seldom lost it in football, which is odd.

"I was in the Army for 20 years, and the closest thing to training recruits for combat is football. There's got to be somebody who is thinking about how to win. You can't do that if you're all ticked off. You've got to be able to find and exploit weaknesses. You've got to be the calm in the eye of the storm. That's your quarterback."

Pub Date: 10/01/98

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