High School: Jesuit
College: Sacramento State, UC Davis
* NFL Career: 11 Years (New York Jets, Green Bay, Philadelphia)
* 2 Time Pro Bowl selection (1985, 1991)
* AFC Player of the Year (1985)
* College Football Hall of Fame Inductee (1997)
* Cal Aggie Athletic Hall of Fame (1990)
Ken O’Brien was born in New York and is the oldest of 6 kids. Being in a large family can be challenging, but it can also serve as a foundation for skills to be used later in life: like leadership and confidence. When he was three years old, his dad decided to move to Sacramento in the Arden Oaks area. Ken was active in all sports growing up, and loved any opportunity for a pickup game. He went to St. Ignatius and later to Jesuit High School, where he played football, basketball and baseball. It was there Ken started to develop into one of the best quarterbacks the area has ever seen. Learning from coaches Red Smith, Dan Carmazzi, Hank Meyer and Dick Sperbeck, he began his record setting journey.
He started his college career at Sacramento State, but his time was short lived there as Head Coach, Bob Mattos, was running the run oriented veer offense that didn’t showcase the rifle arm that Ken possessed. Ken felt it was in his best interest to transfer to a more quarterback friendly environment. He chose UC Davis and played for legendary coach, Jim Socher. Ken flourished at UC Davis leading the Aggies to a perfect 10 -0 regular season record in 1982. He led them to the Division 2 National Championship game. During his senior season he was ranked number 2 in the nation in total offense and number 3 in passing efficiency. During his college career he was selected as All-Far Western Conference quarterback three times.
After suffering a broken leg prior to the championship game, Ken was questioning his draft status and knew he had to get healthy. He was mentally prepared for the next level, but needed to heal. On April 26, 1983, he got a phone call early in the morning that would change his life. Ken was on his way to take a Spanish test, as school was always a priority, when he learned The New York Jets selected him with the 24th overall of pick of the NFL Draft. The kid who was born in New York was going back to his roots, where all his relatives lived.
The 1983 Draft was one for the record books. It was the only draft that featured six quarterbacks taken in the 1st round and Sacramento had two of them: Ken and Tony Eason. The 1st round featured John Elway, Todd Blackledge, Jim Kelly, and the man who was selected three picks after Ken was none other than Dan Marino. Ken had an outstanding career with the Jets and was the franchise’s most successful quarterback since Joe Namath. “I can still remember my first practice and trying to figure out where I fit in.” “New York is a passionate place; they let you know when you’re doing great, and when you’re not.”
In 1985, he was the highest rated QB in the NFL and retired as the only Jets quarterback to hold this honor. In the 85 season he guided the Jets to an 11- 5 record and was named AFC Player of the Year. In 1986, he led the Jets to the best record in the league after 11 games as they were 10-1. Ken also held the team record for most consecutive passes in a single game completing 17 straight . He was the first NFL quarterback to pass for over 400 yards in a game and have a perfect passer rating of 158.3.
Ken had an incredible 11 year NFL career passing for over 25,000 yards and 128 touchdowns while being selected to two Pro Bowls. In 1990, the first NFL Quarterback Challenge was introduced. The made for TV event featured several top-rated QB’s competing in several events with Ken emerging as the champion. “I had the privileged of playing with so many great players and developing so many lasting friendships. Those bonds are hard to break.”
Ken will always be known as one of the most prolific quarterbacks ever to come from the Sacramento area. He played on the biggest stage in the NFL in the largest city in the United States with great success. He is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame and the Cal Aggie Athletic Hall of Fame. After his playing days he appeared on TV and also went into coaching as the quarterbacks coach at his alma mater UCD, and then USC where he developed Heisman Trophy winner and NFL Pro Bowler, Carson Palmer. Today, he is working with IWP Wealth where his clients look to him to quarterback their family wealth. Ken visits Sacramento regularly and still calls it home.
Ken O' Brien
“Fired up to represent Sacramento! It’s truly an honor to be in the same mention as so many of the great athletes and people I have met and watched perform over the years. I look forward to being a part of the Sacramento Sports Hall of Fame and continue to see all the athletes coming from home!”