Thursday, November 8, 2007

Buried alive in a dead past

A byproduct of the football being America's most popular sport is its never-ending need for marketable stars. I get that; I’m even a big supporter of it. You can’t create a great story unless you create great characters, and I’m a firm believer in the sport-as-narrative philosophy. So when we’re a bit hasty to hand the keys to the kingdom over to a Michael Vick (the offensive revolution), a Vince Young (the redemption of Vick’s revolution), a Brady Quinn (Cleveland’s return to prestige under center), or a Jay Cutler (the triumph and power of tradition), it’s understandable. What I’m not as ready to do is accept the willingness of NFL culture to bury potential surprises. The marketing machine having already invested itself in propping up our icons of tomorrow leaves it lacking flexibility for those emerging stars it can’t foresee. Is there any reason why we’re not talking about Derek Anderson as an elite NFL quarterback this year, but we still drool over Donovan McNabb? Why does Matt Schaub sit on the bench for three years with little to no uproar, but the crowds clamor for Eli Manning, a quarterback who has yet to pass and injured Matt Schaub’s quarterback rating with a far more talented team? Is our need for figures of greatness a need that has a mold? Does it need a certain storyline, a certain look, a certain pedigree? Why is NFL stardom a finite pie with finite pieces, and not a broad Valhalla where everyone who has the aspirations and the ability can live?

I thought about this watching the Ravens debacle on Monday night, in which the Steelers systematically destroyed the Ravens and their hopes for the year. Don’t let the 4-4 record fool you; this squad is a below average football team thanks to its abysmal offense, and the upcoming schedule includes a division rival and four high power offensive units that will need points scored against them if they’re going to lose. Why, then, is the team continuing with its current offensive formula, one that promises to leave the team on the outside looking in come January? After all, the Ravens have a potential star on the bench, complete with youth and a cannon of an arm. And no, I’m not talking about the goofy white guy that owns a basketball team.

Nobody has been a victim of the NFL star-making machinery as much as Troy Smith. Smith, in case you forgot, was the 2006 Heisman Trophy winner. He led an undefeated Ohio State squad to the national championship his senior year, where he had what can only be described as an awful night for which he, as quarterback, took an unfair share of the blame (his favorite wideout was injured on the first play of the game, and his offensive line looked bizarrely confused, but nobody ever remembers those details when they tell the story). And that is where Troy Smith, his over 4:1 TD to INT ratio, his 33 rush yards a game, and his almost 6000 passing yards fell out of favor with the NFL legend makers. Nobody ever talked about problems like his “height” or his “mechanics” before he lost that game, but afterwards it seemed as though these problems (problems that have been overcome time and time again by NFL quarterbacks) were all anyone could remember about Smith. Falling at least two draft rounds as a result of his failure in the NCAA’s big game, Smith landed with the Baltimore Ravens in the fifth round, and earned a spot as the team’s 3rd string QB, a traditional role for rookie quarterbacks.

And if the Ravens were 6-2, or 5-3, or even 3-5 with an average quarterback, his name wouldn’t need to be brought up; however, because the team is 4-4 and showing no signs of life on offense, one has to wonder why the media has been so quiet about him. Obviously, he could just be awful in practice, but that seems to take for granted just how bad his fellow Ravens quarterbacks are on game day. Instead, maybe what’s keeping Smith on the bench isn’t his performance now, but his performance on one miserable night. After all, if coach Brian Billick had Vince Young (whose stats Smith practically mimicked in college) or, say, Brady Quinn (a quarterback that Smith beat…badly…) on the bench, there’d be no question as to whom fans would be turning, and he would have already seen playing time. It would be the expected move. But Smith is a fifth round cheap pick, and fifth rounders aren’t franchise saviors (no, that’s a role reserved for sixth rounders).

My argument isn’t that Smith is such a savior, only that he has the same potential as any other quarterback with his pedigree, and I would venture to say more potential than either of the underperforming quarterbacks ahead ofhim on the depth chart. Brian Billick came to Baltimore as an offensive genius, and he’s proceeded to fail in establishing a consistent offense at every turn. If there was ever an opportunity to look like not just a competent offensive coach, but an innovator, it is with a very mobile quarterback with a cannon of an arm who has shown he can throw on the run. The fact that the only plausible reason for keeping him on the bench because he’s “not ready” is one bad night last January that stripped Smith of the “look” of a franchise quarterback is a damn shame, and one that, if the Ravens’ offensive woes go unchecked, could add Brian Billick to the list of careers swallowed by the narrow mold of for “stars” in the NFL.


Jennee said...

I love Troy Smith! I wish they would give him a chance... yeah that game really sucked but it happens!

Tebone said...

Troy Smith is a pussy and a turd burglar.

Anonymous said...

Clever insults. Judging by your name, you're a Gainesville homer. If you hadn't had you head buried so far up Tebow's ass, you'd see he sucks a fat one unless they run the I formation on 3rd and 1 and he puts his head down.

Margee said...

Interesting post. You'd think that the Legend of Tom Brady would have taught us all the value of taking a chance at QB.

Anonymous said...

Maybe the Ravens are just letting him sit so that he can go on to succeed with the Browns. That what they did with Derek Anderson. The feel bad about screwing Cleveland when the moved and are just trying to make up for it.

Matthew said...

I'm a Troy Smith fan, but:

1. Seems like unnecessary import given to draft position is the culprit here, not the NFL media machine.

2. The media may influence draft position in a few high profile cases (like Smith's), but it was certainly not the media that kept D. Anderson or M. Schaub from starting - it was the fact that their franchises had invested more important draft picks (and more $) in other QBs.

3. Anderson and Schaub aren't in the "elite quarterback" conversation yet conversation yet because at this point we're not sure if either is the next Elway, the next Brian Griese, or the next '04 Billy Volek with better receivers.

4. Besides, QBs who win the Heisman aren't exactly a lock for immediate NFL success. See White, J.; Crouch, E.; Weinke, C.; Wuerffel, D.

We won't know anything about Troy Smith's potential as an NFL QB until year three or later.