With teams getting ready to report to training camp, the heat of summer will soon give way to the lively leaves of autumn and America’s true national pastime will push streaming English mysteries off our television sets for the next six months.
Let’s get down to basics. The most important players on any team are the quarterbacks and the safeties. The quarterbacks because they get points quickly and the safeties because they prevent points from being gotten quickly.
More games are won or lost at those two positions than any other combination on the field. Sure, you hear the old adage that the running game sets up the passing game. It doesn’t. The opposite is true. Seldom is there a drive longer than forty yards. Fumbles, penalties, sacks, missed blocking assignments and dropped passes all negate long scoring drives with predictable accuracy.
The skill positions make the most money because they thrill the fans more. That wasn’t always the case but 1978 changed all that. Rule changes favoring the offense turned the NFL into a Barnum and Bailey circus and put a premium of throwing the ball towards and into the end zone. Fans loved it and the networks now are able to charge forty times more for a Super Bowl commercial than they did back in the day.
Joe Namath was a quarterback who was fearless standing in the pocket. I was at Shea Stadium at a Jets-Oakland game back in the late 1960s when he got sacked mercilessly by two huge tackles who broke straight at him because of poor protection. The sack wasn’t the kind where a rusher gets a piece of the jersey and turns the quarterback around and down. They don’t hurt. The two guys who got Broadway Joe must have stretched ten-foot high, totally blocking his downfield vision.
He got clobbered, clawed, chewed up and spit out with five-hundred pounds of Oakland smothering him.
The very next play, same formation, higher down and longer distance, Namath once again took a snap under center, faded back into the same pocket and held the ball perhaps just a nano-second less than before. He released the ball a fraction of an inch higher and threw a sixty-yard touchdown pass to a streaking receiver. As soon as the ball cleared the rushers’ fingers, they clobbered him with the same ferocity as the last play. As the crowd cheered, such was the respect the Oakland players had for Namath, they helped him up and shook his hand.
The Jets went on from there to win the Super Bowl.
When Brett Favre retired, nobody had thrown more touchdown passes and had more interceptions than he. That’s why he was called “The Gunslinger.” A three time NFL MVP and Super Bowl winner, he played with a gusto and fervor seldom seen in a quarterback. Teammates and opponents loved playing with and against him. He would’ve switched positions and played pulling guard to lead the famed Green Bay sweep if it would have helped his team. Lombardi would’ve loved coaching him.
In 2001, the Giants were playing the Packers in a season ending game with New York defensive end Michael Strahan, a team player if ever there was one, needing one sack to break an NFL record held by a show boat named Mark Gastineau, who danced and pranced after every sack.
In the game’s final series, with Green Bay comfortably ahead and assured of a playoff spot, Farve rolled out and fell down at the feet of Strahan, giving the end the record. Only Favre could have gotten away with that. In the celebration, the veteran Strahan walked over to Favre leaving the field and shook his hand.
Purists may find fault with that scenario. Players clearly understand the respect shown to worthy opponents.