There are few things that get me more frustrated as a sports fan than ESPN. It’s true. Yes, I watch it nearly every time the television is on. It’s the first station I turn to, and aside from my weekly programs that I follow regularly, it is the only network which, for me, is appointment viewing. Around the Horn at 5PM, Pardon the Interruption at 5:30, and SportsCenter at 6. During the spring semester, that turns into college hoops at 7, and theoretically, on any given Monday my television can be on ESPN from the time I get home from school (5PM) until the time I head to bed (11:30PM). So, it’s perfectly fair to say that my frustration is self-imposed. Amongst the numerous complaints one can make about ESPN is that it internally makes a decision to promote an athlete or idea, and will not waver in that support no matter what takes place. Rather than focus on its coverage of Tiger Woods, Brett Favre, or the New York Yankees/Boston Red Sox rivalry, what has caught my attention has been a campaign begun by ESPN a little over a year ago, which has now developed into something greater than what it should have been – “The Year of the Quarterback”.
Nearly impossible to turn on ESPN’s NFL coverage without hearing about how important the quarterback position is in the league, ESPN has delivered quarterback-specific programming over the past year which is not comparable to any other programming on any other network. A documentary dedicated to the six quarterbacks selected before Tom Brady in the NFL Draft; Trent Dilfer working with some of the most talented high school quarterbacks in the country, and other half hour-to-hour programs focusing specifically on the guy under center (Auburn: The Depth Chart…are you kidding me?).
Of course the quarterback position is the most important in football – it’s the only player on the field who will almost certainly touch the ball on every snap. This isn’t news. This isn’t debatable. But what it has done is give rise to the idea of a “new guard”, a group of young quarterbacks who are to lead the NFL into a statistically powered, high-scoring offensive game which will result in more split backfields, and huge statistics and marketing opportunities for those a member of the new class of quarterback. So let me be clear in the purpose of this post:
The idea of “the new guard” is a farce. A joke. Not correct.
And rather than throw numbers at you in order to make my point, I’d like to do a completely qualitative argument for why quarterbacks like Joe Flacco, Tony Romo, and Mark Sanchez will never be half the quarterback that Tom Brady or Peyton Manning have been and continue to be.
As I don’t want to write a novel on this, I think that my argument starts and ends with this statement: Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are winners. Tony Romo, Mark Sanchez, Joe Flacco, and the rest of the “New Guard” are not winners. They aren’t. You simply can’t tell me that they are. Sure, those New York Jets fans will say “Sanchez is in his third year, he has been to two AFC Championship games, what more can he do?” That would be overlooking the clear fact that the Jets went to the 2010 and 2011 AFC Championship games in spite of Sanchez, and certainly not because of him. Too often, fans get confused into thinking that because a quarterback has a strong game, or perhaps because he doesn’t lose the game but manages it well for his team, he is the reason they get to the point they do. Instead, the truth of the matter is that the New York Jets of the past two seasons rode a tremendous defense, powerful running game, and the power of extreme confidence to get one win away from the Super Bowl over the last two years. Mark Sanchez is not a winner. He’s a poor decision maker. He’s arrogant. Flacco hasn’t won anything. He also makes poor decisions. Romo – especially after this past week – doesn’t even belong in the discussion. Rather than exhaust space with talking about the downfalls of each quarterback considered to be in the “New Guard” for the fact they aren’t winners, I’ll leave it at this: your team has the ball, up two points, on your own 25-yardline with 6 minutes left to play. If I tell you that Brady, Manning, or Aaron Rodgers is your quarterback, you would say you win that game. No questions asked, you leave that field with the W and move onto next week. If I then say that instead of those three, you have Romo, Flacco, Sanchez, or Josh Freeman under center, do you win that game? You don’t know. And, in the case of Romo or Sanchez, you may even think that you lose.
What brought on this feeling? In Week 4 of the 2011 NFL season, the Baltimore Ravens took on the New York Jets in a battle of two quarterbacks of the new guard under center – Flacco vs. Sanchez. Both quarterbacks had playoff success under their belts, though both were still sitting on the “breakout season” to thrust them into the discussion of Brady, Manning, and Rodgers. The final score at the end of the night was 34-17, and it doesn’t even matter who won. 51 points were scored, including six touchdowns. Sanchez was involved in three scores in the game, all of them Baltimore touchdowns. Flacco was involved in one touchdown – a Jet pick-6. Earlier in the day, Romo had taken a three-touchdown lead and blown it to shreds, throwing back-to-back interceptions that were both returned for touchdowns as Detroit stormed back to top Dallas. And this is the new guard? This is who the League will depend on for its success – both on the field and in the stores – over the next 5-10 years?
The point is simple. We are too quick in today’s day and age as sports fans to move onto the “next great thing”, and similarly are too quick to throw out the old in favor of the new. For all intents and purposes, Tom Brady isn’t going anywhere in the next four years. Hopefully – for the sake of the game – Peyton Manning isn’t either. Aaron Rodgers – who learned under one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time in Brett Favre for the first few years of his career, should have at least 8 more seasons left in him. Rather than obsess over finding the next great one, we should appreciate what we have been and currently are privy to now. Yes, we have great football. Yes, we have great quarterbacks. But 100 times out of 100, I’ll take the proven commodity over the exciting potential.
That is, until that potential is finally proven.