September 12 – Volume 13, #9
“The Myth of the Savior QB”
To be sure, there is no channel that gets more air time in my home than ESPN. They have revolutionized sport in how accessible they have made it for the common fan.
One of the unfortunate consequences of this 24/365 availability of sport for the crazed junkie like myself is that some elements of it have been watered down. Nowhere is this more explicit than the actual sports reporting that goes on these days. For all of our entertainment, it can be argued that the common fan has never been less informed about sport.
In recent years, ESPN has placed more emphasis on entertainment in covering athletics. This has made it where they have kept in lock-step with other media sources, whether they be music, or political, in making the primary criteria for their analysts and on-air talent being their ability to entertain more than actually provide any real analysis of the events they’re supposed to be covering.
This is hard to stomach as a sports fan, but even more so as a journalist who believes in the media’s duty to inform the public. Back in the day, I loved listening to Peter Gammons because I actually learned something new when he spoke. Something I wouldn’t have known watching the game on my own. To be fair, for all the hacks who cover the NFL on all the major networks, Ron Jaworski still illuminates the new national pastime with the way he breaks down play calling. But this type of enlightenment is too far in between.
Since so many fans rely on ESPN for their information to the point where there are millions of morons who actually believe that Tim Tebow can play pro football, (and even more who believe that Jesus has a hand in it) there will be many nonsensical things taken as the gospel during the upcoming football season. So allow me just a few moments to provide some sense of clarity before all the noise starts.
The most important thing I’d like you to consider when enjoying this season – or not enjoying if you’re a Cowboy fan like me- is that there are many more positions on the football field other than quarterback. This fact can easily get lost if you get too much of your football knowledge from the idiot box.
Don’t get me wrong. NFL QB is the most important position in all of sport. Once your team gets a quality one that you can rely on for 5-10 years, it makes building a Super Bowl contender much, much easier.
But word to Dan Marino and Andrew Luck, a franchise’s work is far from done once they draft a prized QB in spite of this bizarre notion that a QB alone a championship team makes.
In fact, if you want to know about the success of a football team, watch ONLY the line of scrimmage for like 5-10 plays. If the game is between two teams you don’t have a vested interest in, do it longer than 10 plays. Most people only watch where the ball is, and that’s understandable as ultimately advancing the ball is the key to victory. But how much it’s advanced – or not- is mostly reliant on the battle waged between the offensive and defensive line. You show me a team with a good o-line and I’ll generally show you a very good football team. This was most true of my Cowboys in the 90s. More recently; for all of Tom Brady’s brilliance, the real key to his success has been that no one usually touches him. It’s sickening how much time dude has in the pocket. He sits back there, all cocky and patient. Sizing up your defense, almost like getting hit is the furthest thing from his mind.
However, in the last two Super Bowls that the Golden Boy has played in he was touched early and often and (surprise-surprise), looked far more mortal. The Giants have the best defensive line in football and merit at least as much credit as Eli in delivering two titles to their despicable fan base.
Eli Manning was clutch all year last season as much as I am loathe to admit that. Still, in spite of Eli’s brilliance last fall no one believes for one minute that the Patriots didn’t suit up the better QB that day. They did. But even the Golden Boy wasn’t man enough to beat a whole team by himself. Tom Brady could have made a more accurate throw to Wes Welker late, but what he couldn’t do is cover (now former) Giant receiver Mario Manningham on the previous game-winning drive. Or play left tackle. Even the throw that had his wife Gisele so upset after the game was the throw of someone who was more than a little worried that he was about to be hit and should rid himself of the ball as soon as possible. The pretty boys like Brady get the big contracts, the super models and the Fat Heads on kids’ bedroom walls. But it’s the big uglies in the trenches who really win you ball games. More often than not, they win you Super Bowls too.
This irrational overvaluation of the QB should have been more clear than ever after this past season where third string quarterbacks “lead” teams to the playoffs in Houston and Denver. Drew Brees of New Orleans broke the single-season passing record last year with 5,476 yards and lead his team to a 13-3 regular season record. AND THIS STILL WASN’T A GOOD ENOUGH SEASON FOR HIM TO WIN THE MVP. That’s because Aaron Rodgers of Green Bay was arguably playing the position better than anyone ever had while almost leading his team to a 16-0 record. And yet they won one playoff game between them last year. Brees went out fighting, throwing for an insane 462 yards in leading his team to 32 points, including a touchdown with 1 minute and 37 seconds left in the game. But unfortunately for Brees his defense couldn’t stop Alex Smith. And yes you did just read that accurately. They couldn’t stop Alex Smith. A week before Brees was sent fishing, two-time Super Bowl winner Ben Roethlisberger watched helplessly while QB prototype (rolling my eyes) Tim Tebow lead the Broncos over the Steelers. The play earned Tebow the ESPY for the play of the year in spite of the fact that the pass itself only went 17 yards and the run after the catch was 63. Cam Newton was one phenom that was actually worth the hype but his record-setting numbers didn’t get his Panthers within even a sniff of the playoffs.
We have all this quantifiable evidence that speaks to how it’s far more important to have a balanced team rather than merely a top-level QB and a lot of holes in your roster. And yet millions of otherwise intelligent people will be seduced by the pundits into carrying on the myth of the savior-QB.
What’s even dumber than putting so much stock into the QB position at the expense of the rest of the game is to compare QB’s with one another by the rings they’ve accrued. This summer, for example, I feared that I would be hauled off to prison after one of the barbers where I get faded up at said that Eli was better all-time than his brother, Peyton Manning. What was worse than any individual letting something so crazy come out of their mouth was the fact that his point was taken pretty much as a foregone conclusion in the minds of the barber shop patrons who I debated. Why? Because Eli now had two rings compared to Peyton’s one. By most any accounts Peyton Manning is one of the top five guys to ever play the position, in the conversation with the likes of Unitas, Montana, Brady and Elway. This is true even if Peyton somehow manages to perform worse than the last dude to play QB for the Broncos. Eli, conversely, isn’t even the best QB in Giants history as he couldn’t hold a candle to fellow two time champion, Phil Simms on his best day. Nor is he the best in his family.
Eli has played on a team that actually values defense. A team with a running game that takes pressure off of him. A team with a solid offensive line that gives him time to stay upright. A team that doesn’t require the QB to have to put up nearly 40 points each week as Peyton has been asked to throughout the balance of his career.
As a Cowboy fan I have dealt with the inconsistent metrics by which QB’s are valued for years. I’m a fan of the most maligned QB in all of football, maybe ever in the history of the sport (and I’m not exaggerating), Tony Romo. To be sure, Romo has given his critics ammunition with the fumbled snap in Seattle, the bizarre late game pick thrown to Darelle Revis in last year’s Jets game, the multiple pick-sixes against Detroit a few weeks later. Romo needs to perform better in the big moments, though he is not the consummate choker that he is portrayed as on TV. Where the critiques go too far, however, (perhaps most vociferously by Cowboy fans) is the notion that if the Cowboys somehow got rid of last year’s 4th highest rated QB -behind Rodgers, Brady and Brees- they’d be swimming in Super Bowls. This is asinine. Even if Tony Romo plays perfect – something that no other QB is asked to do. Even if this happens, there are many problems with a Cowboy team that has lost games in the past five years by missing an extra point , freezing their own kicker, having a punt blocked in overtime, having a field goal blocked that would have sent a game into overtime, having a last-second game-winning TD overturned due to a holding penalty, and countless blown leads on behalf of the defense.
On the other end of the spectrum, there is probably no great QB who receives less aplomb than Troy Aikman, who is penalized for playing on the most complete team in the history of the sport. In spite of his trinity of bling, Troy is not given acclaim on par with John Elway, Dan Marino, Steve Young or Brett Favre because Troy didn’t throw the ball around like a buffoon and try and win the game by himself. The fact that Aikman has one more Super Bowl MVP than Favre and personally ended his season three times doesn’t even seem to tip the scales in Troy’s direction in the court of public opinion.
But the reality is that Troy Aikman had a lot of stars literally align for him. Had he gotten drafted by another team, Troy Aikman may well have had a great career putting up big numbers and never have gotten a ring had he been selected by Detroit, Atlanta or some ridiculous franchise like the Washington Redskins or Cincinnati Bengals. Instead he was drafted by a team that had an amazing array of young talent that grew into their primes together in an era where the absence of a salary cap allowed teams to stockpile elite players in a way that they never could now. Troy was good, Troy was great. But he was also lucky to be in the right situation. There’s nothing wrong with that. He took advantage of his luck when time presented itself like Eli Manning did with nerves of steel last year, like a young Tom Brady did when he had the good fortune of Drew Bledsoe getting hurt, like Tim Tebow did when Lovie Smith decided to play a prevent defense for some strange reason.
And Tim Tebow is where this idolization of the QB has proven to be at its most infuriating. And that is probably at the core of the inspiration behind this rant. Some Visigoths love to say that all Tim Tebow does is win as if he’s out there playing golf, participating by himself. Never in the history of the NFL, perhaps in the history of sport has there been a more glaring example of a team winning in spite of one single player. The Denver Broncos won games last year in which their QB threw for 124, 104 and 69 yards. Tebow should be given credit for making plays late, but the proportion of credit that he receives for the outcome of any individual game is beyond looney.
We’ve seen all types of teams through the years win in spite of their QB, not because of him. Jim McMahon, Jay Hosteller, Mark Rypien, Brad Johnson, Jim Plunkett and Trent Dilfer are all Super Bowl winning QB’s. Boomer Esiason, Dave Kreig, Frank Tarketon, Archie Manning, Warren Moon, Jim Kelly, Dan Fouts and Dan Marino are not. Which group would you rather have?
This mythology of the QB is part of the larger tendency in America to seek out a messiah. One lone person beating the odds to save the day whether this is Jesus Christ, Batman or Ronald Reagan ending the Cold War.
But that hero shit is for little kids and weirdos. And there’s no QB alive who would tell you anything different.
Yet on the Sunday talk shows and around the water cooler in ciphers from coast to coast over the next few months that will be the conventional wisdom.
Well, there’s nothing that I despise more than conventional wisdom. Especially conventional wisdom that is rooted in such little fact.
Peace and God bless the Cowboys, (fuck the rest of y’all, sorry it’s football season)