"The backup quarterback is the most popular player on a (losing) team” (or “the backup quarterback is the most popular guy in town") is a popular football saying. When a team is losing, the backup quarterback (who hasn’t played extensively) looks better than the starting quarterback (who has played extensively and has proven to be a failure). Fans call for the backup quarterback to take over the starting quarterback’s job, contacting radio sports shows, writing in newspapers and blogging on the Internet.
“The second team quarterback is always the most popular guy on the team” was said by quarterback Archie Manning in 1982. “The second-team quarterback is always the most popular guy in town” was said by quarterback Oliver Luck in 1983.
Google News Archive
23 November 1982, Victoria (TX) Advocate, “Nielsen Feeling Wrath” by Steve Sax (AP), pg. 3B, col. 6:
“It’s a common thing, if Captain Kangaroo came out there as the second team quarterback they would cheer him,” Manning said. “The second team quarterback is always the most popular guy on the team. Just a few weeks ago I was in the same situation as Gifford is in now.”
(Houston Oilers backup quarterback Archie Manning on starting quarterback Gifford Nielsen—ed.)
20 October 1983, The Times-Picayune (New Orleans, LA), “Luck may start soon if Oilers continue skid,” sec. 5, pg. 5, col. 4:
“The second-team quarterback is always the most popular guy in town,” Luck said Tuesday. “You’re safe as long as you don’t play. When a team wins, the quarterback gets most of the criticism, whether it’s justified or not.”
(Houston Oilers backup quarterback Oliver Luck—ed.)
11 October 1988, San Jose (CA) Mercury News, “Popularity aside, Young may start against the Rams; Montana’s status still uncertain,” pg. 2D:
As he stood on the sideline during a timeout, one of the principal figures in a harried brainstorming session, strange sounds reached Steve Young’s ear. ‘’We want Joe,” the Candlestick Park crowd chanted in the fourth quarter of the 49ers’ 16-13 overtime loss to Denver on Sunday. So much for the old line that the backup quarterback can be the most popular player on a football team.
26 September 1991, The Advocate (Baton Rouge, LA), “Glimmers of hope for LSU”:
The backup quarterback is always the most popular man on a campus whose football team is losing.
23 September 1992, York (PA) Daily Record, “Backup quarterbacks getting plenty of playing time”:
If it’s true that the most popular player among NFL fans is the backup quarterback, there are some confused folks in the stands these days.
New York (NY) Times
PRO FOOTBALL; Esiason Is Out As Trudeau Takes Over
By GERALD ESKENAZI
Published: September 27, 1994
“The most popular guy in any city is the backup quarterback because he can do it better,” said Esiason, ruefully.
Google News Archive
22 August 1997, The Telegraph-Herald (Dubuque, IA), “Bears’ decision will help Mirer,” pg. 1B, col. 1:
Look at it like this: The most popular player on a struggling team usually is the backup quarterback.
3 November 1997, Buffalo (NY) News, “Hall’s foot helps Jets soar in stormy weather” by Richard Oliver:
“The backup quarterback is always the most popular guy on the team,” said Foley, who was 6 for 13 for 72 yards.
4 September 1999, Press of Atlantic City (Atlantic City, NJ), “Reid passing on QB debate” by David Weinberg:
There’s a theory in the National Football League that the most popular player on a team is almost always the backup quarterback.
Google News Archive
5 October 2000, Boca Raton (FL) News, “Pro Player prepared for Sunday” (AP), pg. 4B, col. 1:
If any evidence is needed to support the theory that the backup quarterback almost always is the most popular player on a losing-record team, consider this: ...
30 July 2000, Lexington (KY) Herald-Leader, “Defensive tackles worry Mumme heading to fall,” pg. C8:
The most popular player on any team is always the backup quarterback, because most fans assume that he’d be in there playing better than your starter.
19 November 2003, The Pantagraph (Bloomington, IL), “QBs persevere at Michigan, Ohio State” by Craig Krenzel:
It has been said the most popular player on a football team is the backup quarterback. Fans call for him from the stands, on radio talk shows, in Internet chat rooms.
St. Petersburg (FL) Times
Flags have Raiders at half-mast
By ROGER MILLS
Published November 30, 2003
STANDING BY HIS MAN: The most popular guy on the roster is always the backup quarterback and Vikings fans are falling into the trap.
OSU-LSU would make an exciting BCS Championship
By Keith Whitmire
December 2, 2011
There’s an old saying that the most popular guy on any football team is the backup quarterback.
London (Ontario) Free Press
Union blind to hit-to-hurt program
By Bill Lankhof, QMI AGENCY
Last Updated: April 16, 2012 7:16pm
Normally the backup quarterback is the most popular guy in any town — mostly because he hasn’t had a chance to do anything wrong yet.
Real Clear Sports
Top 10 Best Seasons By A Backup Quarterback
05.18.12, 09:46 AM CDT
The backup quarterback is often the most popular guy in town. When a team is struggling, fans think anything is better than the status quo - thus the thinking that the backup QB can certainly do a better job than the bum currently starting.