Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to correct a spelling error. In a previous version, “Ottawa” was misspelled. The Collegian apologizes for this error.
As an Ottawa High School graduate from Ottawa, Kansas, Steve Grogan led the Cyclones in two state title runs and one state runner-up. The 1971 graduate did enough to earn himself a chance at something he always wanted to do — play at the Division I level.
“I mainly thought I could play at Kansas State, and the people that I met here on my recruiting visit were great,” Grogan said. “Overall, they seemed like people that I truly wanted to be around, so I made my decision to go to K-State, and I don’t regret a minute of it.”
In two starting seasons at quarterback for Kansas State (1973-74), Grogan threw for 2,214 yards and 12 touchdowns while running for 585 yards on 339 carries for six touchdowns. His phenomenal play made him part of memorable games, including a big one in 1973 against a long-time conference foe.
“We played Colorado in Boulder, and it was a close game the entire time — all the way down to the wire, but we ended up pulling it out off of a last-second field goal,” Grogan said. “That game was so memorable, and the way we won was just fun.”
The Wildcats toted a modest 19-25 record while Grogan suited up in purple and white, and his future was unclear when he got hurt late in his K-State career. Despite the injury, the New England Patriots selected him with the 116th pick in the fifth round.
“It was crazy. I didn’t really know what would happen since I sustained a neck injury in my senior year at K-State,” Grogan said. “I was told I could either go in the first round or I could go undrafted, so I really didn’t know what was happening, but the day of the draft, I took the day off, and I was student-teaching in Junction City, and when I got done, I was waiting around in my dorm room when the Patriots called and said that they were drafting me. I was excited, but I didn’t go berserk, and the first thing I did was call my folks about it.”
While Grogan still had a lot to learn about being a professional athlete, he carried an important attribute with him from college — how to persevere through adversity.
“I was grateful to have gone to K-State,” Grogan said, “I learned how to get knocked down and get back up and still compete alongside my teammates. We didn’t win a lot of games, and we weren’t particularly good, but that’s what the coaches here really instilled in me and taught me to do, and it carried to the NFL.”
Though he was drafted, Grogan wasn’t out of the woods yet. The rookie quarterback was still seeking to make a name for himself among the best in the NFL and on his own roster.
“Jim Plunkett was taken [by the Patriots] four years before me in the 1971 NFL draft, and he was the first overall pick,” Grogan said. “Not to mention that they brought two other veteran quarterbacks to play in the preseason, so it felt like I was the odd man out in that situation, but it just so happened that one of them retired and Jim Plunkett got hurt in the final preseason game, and I was the last guy that could play back-up [quarterback].”
The situation wasn’t ideal for Grogan because he had high expectations for himself, but the opportunity granted him playing time against some of the league’s highest competition — something he always dreamt about.
“I was starting all of a sudden and got thrown into it, and it was lots of ups-and-downs of me starting and then me not starting, but I did get the privilege of playing against some phenomenal players like Jack Lambert from Pittsburgh and Bruce Smith from Buffalo,” Grogan said. “Both of them are renowned as some of the best of their era, and I’m glad to have played against them.”
Grogan stuck around in New England for 16 years, throwing for 26,886 yards and 182 touchdowns in 149 games. Once he called it a career, he ventured into the business world.
“After I retired from football, I bought a sporting goods store that Rocky Marciano’s brother owned,” Grogan said. “We have owned that since we bought it, and now my oldest son runs it. … We also own a small retail business.”
The K-State football Ring of Honor inductee’s also proud of his time in Manhattan, Kansas, despite the mediocre record the Wildcats had during his career. He takes joy in how the program turned out and is rooting for the K-State 47 years after he laced his cleats up for the last time.
“I want everyone to know that I am very proud to be a Kansas State Wildcat,” Grogan said. “Ever since Snyder came back, it’s been a lot easier to be a fan and not as stressful, but regardless I will — and always will be — a Kansas State Wildcat.”