Sports Connections Jeff Hostetler

When Jeff Hostetler left Penn State to play football for West Virginia University in 1981, Mountaineers head coach Don Nehlen made statement that proved prophetic.

"The opportunity is super for Jeff and West Virginia," Nehlen told The Tribune-Democrat.

Hostetler, a Hollsopple native and former Conemaugh Township High School multi-sport standout, found his dream of playing quarterback at West Virginia. He also found a home, his wife and the road to something else super.

The Super Bowl.

Hostetler was drafted by the NFL's New York Giants and was part of two Super Bowl-winning teams. He was the starter in Super Bowl XXV and guided the Giants to a 20-19 victory over the Buffalo Bills.

His pro career included three seasons with the Los Angeles Raiders and one with the Washington Redskins. Hostetler had two 3,000-yard passing seasons with the Raiders and guided L.A. to the 1993 AFC playoffs.

At Conemaugh Township, Hostetler was a Parade All-American linebacker in 1978, when the magazine's team included quarterback John Elway (California), running backs Eric Dickerson (Texas) and Curt Warner (West Virginia) and wide receiver Julius Dawkins (Monessen, Pa.)

Like his older brothers Ron and Doug, Hostetler headed to Penn State to play college football.

But his comments during the recruiting process foreshadowed Hostetler finding his dream with a team other than the Nittany Lions.

"I've got my mind made up to play quarterback," Hostetler said in a Feb. 14, 1979, article in The Tribune-Democrat.

"I would probably have a better chance of playing if I went as a linebacker, but playing quarterback has always been a goal of mine. Most of my recognition has come as a linebacker, but I think I can cut it as a quarterback."

With Todd Blackledge ascending to the starting quarterback role at Penn State, Hostetler spurned a move to defense and left State College for Morgantown in 1981.

He led West Virginia to consecutive 9-3 seasons, passing for more than 4,000 yards and 24 touchdowns. He was an all-American, and Academic All-American and a Rhodes Scholar nominee.

Hostetler is still among the Mountaineers' all-time leaders for TD passes in a game (4 against Oklahoma in 1982) and passing yards in a season (2,345 in 1983).

Once in the NFL, "Hoss" was behind Phil Simms at quarterback for the Giants’ 39-20 victory over the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXI.

Simms was injured four years later, when Hostetler guided the Giants to NFC playoff wins over the Chicago Bears and San Francisco 49ers before edging Buffalo for the championship. The victory landed him on "The Tonight Show" with Johnny Carson.

Hostetler married his college coach's daughter – Vickie Sue Nehlen. They have three sons.

His Raiders jersey hangs in the gymnasium at Conemaugh Township, where his former coach, Joe Badaczewski, had called Hostetler "the best high school football player I've ever seen."

Nehlen's "super" opportunity played out for Hostetler, who made his home region proud. 

“When you hear those numbers – 3,000 players who have played in the Super Bowl – it’s pretty cool that your high school has produced one of those,” Conemaugh Township football coach Sam Zambanini said in 2015. “Hoss was a Super Bowl-winning quarterback. That makes it even more special. I had the opportunity to play on the same team as Hoss in high school. He’s meant a lot to our school."

Chip Minemyer is the editor of The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at (814) 532-5091. Follow him on Twitter @MinemyerChip.