The National Football League kicks-off its 94th campaign on Thursday night in The Mile High City as the defending Super Bowl XLVII champion Baltimore Ravens face the Denver Broncos. As always, all eyes will be on the punters.
That was a joke, you see, because informal surveys conducted in my mind suggest that less than a quarter of the sports-viewing public (22.786 percent, to be precise) could even name the punters for these two teams, and even less people actually care who they are. No, as always with the NFL, come Thursday night all eyes will be on the quarterbacks. Which is why this opener is naturally being billed by TV types and the league as Joe Flacco (Ravens) versus Peyton Manning (Broncos). QB versus QB.
There's no arguing that the quarterback position is one of the most challenging in all athletics. And there isn't a whole lot of arguing that quarterback is the most important position in all of sports (perhaps the only comparable being the goalie in hockey -- try winning a Stanley Cup without an acrobat between the pipes); rare is the team that finds ultimate success in the NFL without a top-flight QB. That said, Super Bowl rings have gone to Trent Dilfer (Ravens, 2000) and Jeff Hostetler (Giants, 1990). Not exactly Hall of Famers.
Inarguably, the quarterback position is the most glamorous in all of sports, certainly in all of football. QBs tend to be GBs (Glamour Boys), regardless of whether their personalities fit the profile (by his own admission, Flacco's personality/lifestyle could put insomniacs to sleep). Uncertain of whether the glamour claim is 100 per cent true? Ah, when was the last time you saw an offensive guard on the cover of a fashion magazine? Never, that's when. Conversely, in recent memory, QBs Colin Kaepernick, Robert Griffin III, Tom Brady, and even now-unemployed Tim Tebow have gone glossy on GQ.
Oh, and when was the last time a supermodel married, dated, or even considered lining up for a night behind an offensive center? Never, that's when. In today's celebrity hierarchy, QBs are King. Patriots' Tom Brady has supermodel Gisele, while the league's other poor pivots have to settle for starlets, swimsuit models, reality stars, and such. Hell, even crappy quarterbacks get the girl.
Here's something for you to ponder: Christian Ponder. Thus far in his career, the Vikings QB has been average at best. And yet, last December he married Samantha Steele, the ESPN reporter/host who snide websites agreed would have been way out of his league, if not for the fact that Ponder is an NFL quarterback. Oh, who are they kidding? She's still way out of his league.
Given the importance of quarterbacks, it's no surprise that off-season headlines were dominated by QB news. When Tom Brady went down in a preseason game -- caught in pileup, clutching his knee -- all New England collectively held its breath. Brady escaped serious injury and quickly bounced back. The denizens of New England breathed a sigh of relief and the Patriots hopes of succeeding sans Aaron Hernandez (in The Big House, charged with murder), Wes Welker (now a Bronco), and Tim Tebow (released) remained intact.
Then there's the ongoing mess in New York where the Jets quarterback quandary gets murkier by the minute. Jets coach Rex Ryan -- when he's not seemingly trying to get incumbent Mark Sanchez idiotically injured (shoulder) in the fourth quarter of a preseason game -- seems bent on A) starting rookie Geno Smith or B) being the first coach of the season to get canned.
For the entire off-season, Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins QB, was breathlessly shadowed by the media as he went about rehabbing his injured knee. Would he be ready to play (he is)? And would he be back to his previous stellar form?
"I would say I'm 100 per cent," he said recently, "But you can't put a number on it." And then he proceeded to, well, put a number on it. "No one ever knows when they are 100 per cent or what percentage they're playing at. The biggest thing is, I'm not below 100." Which, if I learned anything in those mind-numbing high school math classes, means he therefore must be 100 per cent. And, to my recollection,100 is about as high as this percentage thing goes.
As good as the RGIII quote is, the best preseason quote goes to the aforementioned Flacco, who stole media thunder when he signed a six-year, $120.6-million contract that prompted The Onion to swiftly suggest the Green Bay Packers would have to pony up $989-trillion to Aaron Rodgers to reflect their QB's comparable worth.
Anyway, in an interview with ESPN The Magazine, Flacco -- the most overrated (or underrated, depending on your point of view) quarterback of his generation -- spoke of his recently retired teammate, Ravens defensive leader and longtime spark plug Ray Lewis.
"I love Ray," Flacco said, "And I love how he always spoke from the heart. But if you listen to those speeches (he was always making), a lot of them didn't even make sense. He meant everything he was saying, but I didn't know what he was saying about 90 per cent of the time." Classic.
Finally, it's time to start the season. All eyes off the punters and onto the quarterbacks. And rightly so. Because in the National Football League you're only one efficient quarterback away from contention. Only one QB injury away from being the Buffalo Bills. And only one panicked General Manager shy of selling your soul to the running game and signing... Tim Tebow.
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