GRIDIRON: One-on-One with Sage Rosenfels, former ISU quarterback


Sage Rosenfels led Iowa State to its first bowl victory when he helped the team win the 2000 Insight Bowl against Pittsburgh. Rosenfels was selected in the fourth round of the 2001 NFL Draft by the Washington Redskins and spent more than a decade in the league. 

Alex Halsted

When Sage Rosenfels led Iowa State to a victory in the Bowl in 2000, the ISU football program picked up its first bowl win. Rosenfels, a native of Maquoketa, Iowa, started his junior and senior seasons at quarterback for the Cyclones, capping his career with a 9-3 record and the bowl victory against Pittsburgh.

Rosenfels was drafted in the fourth round of the 2001 NFL Draft by the Washington Redskins and remained in the league for more than a decade, playing for the Miami Dolphins, Minnesota Vikings, Houston Texans and New York Giants before announcing his retirement this summer.

You’re from Iowa, so what was the recruiting process like? What was it about Iowa State that drew you here instead of somewhere else?

Well, I never really thought I was going to play college football up until my senior year of high school. I always thought I was going to play basketball or baseball in college and ended up getting one scholarship offer, and it was from Iowa State and Dan McCarney.

It worked out great for me not only on the athletics side, but academically as well. I guess there was a bit of serendipity in coach McCarney giving me that one offer.

One of the big things that stands out is that you led the team to a bowl victory against Pittsburgh, and that’s the first bowl win in ISU history. Is that your greatest moment?

I think that was my greatest team moment at Iowa State. I guess it was a final ovation of a long process. It was a six-year process to get to that moment with coach McCarney. For me it was four-and-a-half years to get there with my fellow teammates; these guys that were recruited like me and came in and it was a long road for those first four years.

For everything to work out our senior year to get to 9-3, it really was just an exclamation point and made it all worth it. It’s tough to do anything when you’re not having success and that was a real challenge the first four years, but the senior year made the whole thing worth it.

You said that’s what stood out as a team. Is there something that stands out on a personal level?

No. I think for me, I was the luckiest guy in the world to be around a great coaching staff and around great players that were all on the same page and on the same mission to do great things and to do something that had never been done at Iowa State and hasn’t been done since.

For me, my greatest memory is that I was so fortunate to be around a group of guys that wanted to put their stamp on ISU football.

What does it mean for you to be in a group of people that others think of when they think about ISU football?

Well, it’s a great feeling to be a part of, I guess, the great history. For me, as I said, I was very lucky to be part of a team. The team, that everyone remembers. I didn’t throw up fancy records or huge passing yards or anything like that. But I got to be the leader of a great group of people that did great things there at Iowa State.

What do you remember about the NFL Draft day, and how did everything kind of come together on that day?

Going into the draft, I had a pretty good feeling that I was going to be drafted probably somewhere between the third and fifth round it seemed like. There were a half-dozen teams or so that sort of put me in that category — not the high draft pick, but definitely better than the late-round or undrafted guys.

I had a good feeling that enough teams telling me, “We’d like to pick you in the middle rounds.” The hard part was back then it was the first three rounds on Saturday and four through seven on Sunday. So not being picked on Saturday was disappointing. I didn’t sleep a second [on] Saturday night and then as I was going to my parent’s house on Sunday morning I got a phone call from the Washington Redskins ensuring it was my number.

That gave me a little bit of insight that they were definitely one of the teams that was going to maybe draft me or try to draft me early in that day. Sure enough, later I was off the board and headed to Washington.

How would you sum up your NFL experience of spending a decade in the NFL?

Well, it was quite the ride. I learned a lot about myself … since I’ve been done playing than when I was playing. It was a great experience. I got to be around hundreds of amazing people — coaches, players, front office people. It was sort of a wild ride, I guess, but I did the best I could.

I made mistakes along the way like everyone does in life. I got very lucky at times and had some bad luck at other times. I tried to maximize being in the league as long as I could and have as much success as I could possibly have. I didn’t play a lot, but thought when I played I was pretty proud of the way I played and the way my team performed when I was out there.

As far as the NFL goes, is there a specific moment that stands out to you?

I wrote that thing with [Sports Illustrated’s] Peter King about the Saints game [with the Vikings in the NFC Championship]. It’s probably a game that’s etched most in my mind. Though I didn’t play in that game.

When I was in Miami, we had a game where I got put in at the beginning of the fourth quarter where we came from being down 23-3 against the Bills. I threw a fade to Chris Chambers with five seconds left on the clock, I think, and we came back and won that game. That might have been the highlight of my career. I was proud of that game.

What are you up to now?

Right now I’m sort of weighing my options. I’m trying to start an Internet company, a sort-of social network company. That’s been a learning experience. 

Other than that, I’m enjoying my post-football career and watching football on Saturdays and Sundays. Raising my three kids, chasing them around and being “dad.”

I’m sort of seeing the different side of life that isn’t all about football and all about the next game and enjoying that before I really dive into something else.

I know you mentioned the article with Peter King, you’ve done a few of those. Is writing something you want to try a little bit?

I enjoy writing; I enjoy doing it on occasion. I don’t know if I could spit out something every week or every day like sportswriters probably do. 

I enjoy when something catches my mind and I have a really good opinion about it and I enjoy writing that. That’s more of a once-a-month thing right now, not once a week.

As you know, it pays really well. I’m being sarcastic. It is something I enjoy, but it’s more of a hobby.

Finally, what’s your current connection with the ISU program?

Right now I don’t have much going on with Iowa State football. I’ll occasionally stop in the office and have a conversation with coach Rhoads about sort of what’s going on and talk to people within the organization — the video guy and the equipment guy are old friends of mine. I’m not consulting anybody or really involved from the football aspect. 

But it’s nice for me as a former player to get to go back and walk into that building and just chew the fat a little bit with the people that are in there.