Lost among the daily transactions in every sports section are the names of wandering souls like Gino Torretta. The former University of Miami quarterback and 1992 Heisman Trophy winner has become a regular on those lists in the past five years, his name usually preceded by either "signed" or "waived." Since he was selected by the Vikings in the seventh round of the '93 draft, Torretta has been waived eight times by five teams. He has appeared in only two NFL games.
A late-summer cut of the Seahawks, Torretta got his most recent "opportunity" in mid-November. With Jim Harbaugh, Paul Justin and Kelly Holcomb either slowed or sidelined by injuries, the Colts signed Torretta as an emergency quarterback on Nov. 11. He suited up for the following Sunday's upset of the Packers and collected $11,529, but the Colts released him the following day, and he returned to his job at a Boca Raton, Fla., investment company.
"My bosses know that I want to play football, so they understand when I leave on short notice," says Torretta, who estimates that he has made about $500,000 in the game. "I keep myself in shape by running a couple of miles a day or doing sprints, or I'll go to the University of Miami and work out. As far as throwing passes, I just can't grab some guy off the street to run routes for me. Usually I'll find someone at the university who I used to play with or who is working out and ask him to throw with me."
In early fall 1995 Torretta called Bill Walsh and asked the former 49ers coach if he would critique his techniques. Walsh had Torretta throw about 75 passes, and about two months later the Niners signed the quarterback, marking the first of four times he would sign with—and be released by—the club. The latest occurred in November 1996, but a day after being waived, Torretta was picked up by the Seahawks, for whom he saw his only significant action. Replacing the injured Stan Gelbaugh in the first quarter of the season finale against the Raiders, Torretta completed five of 16 passes for 41 yards, with one touchdown and one interception. The Seahawks won 28-21.
Workouts aren't always as extensive as the one Torretta went through with Walsh. "In Indianapolis I had my quickest tryout of them all," he says. "I came in on a Monday night and met with coach Lindy Infante for three hours to learn the offense. I went back at seven the next morning, studied for three more hours. I threw about 20 passes to a couple of assistant coaches, and then I was told, 'O.K., we're going to sign you.' "
Because he has experience with so many offenses, Torretta says it isn't difficult to grasp a new system. The hard part is keeping the terminology straight. "The concept of protection and the routes are similar throughout the league," he says. "But sometimes you're given something you remember from another team, and your mind reverts to that. You think, They call this protection 60 here in Indy, but this protection was called Ram or Lion in Seattle, or in San Francisco it was named Jet Protection."
Despite the repeated rejections, Torretta won't stop pursuing a career in the NFL. "I have no timetable," he says. "I still have the skills. It's just a matter of getting the right opportunity and taking advantage of it. I'm going to keep doing it until teams say I can't do it anymore."