Zo Knows: Football Storylines – NFL Week 1
How many times have you read that?
Hell, if you haven’t read it, you have definitely seen and heard it. Even the NFL is excited about football being back. For the first time in a long time, they have run a season opening marketing campaign that has some semblance of creativity to it—albeit, not much. If the commercial doesn’t do it for you, how about the opening week games we have to start the season?
The NFL schedule for this weekend’s slate of games includes the Atlanta Falcons and Chicago Bears, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens, the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Jets, and of course, the New Orleans Saints and the Super Bowl winning Green Bay Packers.
Sports would not be sports if it were just about the games though. The opening week of football marks the point when interns become full-timers, the inexperienced become experienced, the experienced hit a crossroads, and where crossroads spit out legends and busts.
So what storylines are we exploring in Week 1 and throughout the 2011 NFL schedule? That’s what we will cover in each and every edition of “Zo Knows Football Storylines.”
Is the being a black quarterback a moot point yet?
Cam Newton, starter. Michael Vick, starter. Josh Freeman, starter. Tarvaris Jackson, starter. Donovan McNabb, starter. Jason Campbell, starter. David Garrard was a starter a few hours before I started writing this article. If Vince Young hadn’t shown some troublesome signs, he would be a starter. And if JaMarcus Russell gave two, flying you-know-whats, perhaps he would have a home somewhere in the NFL.
I ran down that list of starting, black quarterbacks not to say that we have achieved some type of quota by having a little more than a handful of brothas calling the plays, but because it really hasn’t been a big deal–at least not to the general public. From what I can tell, the average black person isn’t talking about it either. Then again, generalization is a funny thing, because having more than a handful of starting black quarterbacks in the NFL is a big deal to me, and I think people should be talking about it.
Remember when everyone made a big deal out of how Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith were facing off in the Super Bowl, marking the first time that a black head coach had reached the final game and won it? Tons of analysts expressed (ironically, with little thought) that they would know we are in a good place in America when having two black coaches in the Super Bowl is no longer a big deal.
The problem with that is that it will always be a big deal. Barack Obama winning the Presidency in 2008 was a big deal, because he was the first guy to do it. And while the second guy who wins it in 2060 (and it will probably be that long before that happens again!) may garner less coverage, it will still be a big deal.
Because we, black people, are the minority—the underdog of the real world. And the underdog is always sexy. Has been that way in the NCAA Tournament for years, and it will be that way in the tournament, and in life, for years to come.
This, in a roundabout, stream of consciousness kind of way, brings me back to the black quarterback. As nice as it is that having all these black quarterbacks is not a big deal, I really wish it were. The black quarterback is the underdog of the NFL. Say what you will, but being a black quarterback is not a moot point. Nowadays, no one wants to hear that Warren Moon was forced to play in Canada back in 1979, because racism in the NFL was preventing him from playing his natural position, but that stuff still matters today. A white kid and a black kid can walk down the street holding hands now (in most cities that is), but that doesn’t mean we stop listening to the “I have a dream speech” or talking about race in America.
I would love to believe that time will make being a black quarterback an issue of the past, but that type of thinking is what has plagued this country for the last couple of decades. We see a problem eradicating itself, and we say “Okay, it’s fixed.” We saw controlled use of drugs in the 70’s, so we let it go, and then we got an onslaught of drugs in the 80’s. We saw man reach the moon in the previous generation, and now we’re essentially not in space anymore. We saw credit default swaps making people money, and then let them ruin our country. And we saw affirmative action put minorities in some powerful positions, and now the black population has been the hardest hit by the recession in terms of unemployment.
Again, I would love to see the issue of being a black quarterback become a moot point, but it won’t, and it probably shouldn’t. Just five or so years ago, McNabb’s race was used against him by a prominent voice in society. And as a fervent lover of Texas high school football, I know for a fact that young quarterbacks are being pushed away from the position. So let the black quarterback issue lie there if you want to, but it is far away from dying.
Is Kevin Kolb the great white hype?
God bless Andy Reid’s heart. If my real remarks wouldn’t come across as kiss-ass homerism, I would write an entire article about the genius of Andy Reid. The entire league is scouring high schools, alley ways, backyards and shooting ranges for a decent quarterback, and Reid has a quarterback tree in his office. Yet again, Reid has taken an undervalued commodity and turned it into first-rate trade bait.
It started with Donovan McNabb, a pick that some people in Philly thought was inspired by a bad eating on the part of Andy Reid.
There was A.J. Feeley, who Reid got a few good games out of then benched for the playoffs. Reid wounding getting a second round pick for him from Miami.
Then there was Jeff Garcia. He too benefited from Reid’s system, and he got a nice paycheck when he landed in Tampa Bay.
And now recently, Reid has taken both Vick and Kevin Kolb, on the cheap, and made one a top five salary earner, and the other got a $65 million contract with only a handful of games under his belt, while leaving the Eagles with a pick and player via trade.
However, neither Garcia nor Feeley worked out all that well in their next stops. And McNabb was not a success in Washington.
But why?Each of those quarterbacks was good enough to help the Eagles win games the season before he left. Was it the Eagles system? Has Andy Reid developed the Texas Tech offense of the NFL? Or is it the talent the Eagles surrounded the quarterbacks with? After all, the Eagles have always had solid offensive players either on the line or at the skill positions, if not both.
When you consider the fact that none of Reid’s castaways have faired that well, one would have to think that Kolb is being over hyped in Arizona.
But I ask again…why?
Slow down, you will be glad to know this has nothing to do with race, but it does have everything to do with expectations. Fact of the matter is that all of Andy Reid’s quarterbacks have excelled out of a foundation of low expectations. Even McNabb was booed on draft day, and nobody thought he would be the guy to lead the team for the next 10 years. So when Reid’s quarterbacks leave Philly and go on to teams that expect them to bring some legitimacy and stability to the quarterback position, every one, from McNabb to Garcia, has failed to live up to the expectations.
So what should I really expect of Kolb in Arizona? Ironically, the evidence suggests that if I want him to succeed, I sure as hell shouldn’t expect him to.
Does Michael Vick deserve redemption?
If you haven’t copped yourself a copy of ESPN the Magazine’s Michael Vick issue (and why would you have? Nobody reads magazines anymore), then you need to at least check it out on the web (like a normal person). In that issue, was an article detailing Vick’s stint in jail, and while I was reading it, I was overwhelmed by the question, “Does the rest of America think Michael Vick deserves redemption after experiencing all of this?”
And as we have seen with many a topic in society, black people, as with any historically oppressed culture in this country, do have a tendency to stick with each other, even on the most controversial of issues. We are king of like the Tea Party, only without the propensity to discriminate. For example, I was but a mere 10 years old when O.J. Simpson was accused of murder in 1994. Even then, barely aware of the fact that there was a reason there had never been a black president, I was rooted in the black culture enough to know that I was supposed to be on O.J. Simpson’s side. Why? Because everyone I knew—correction, every black person I knew (not that there is much of a difference between those two statements for a black kid growing up in a glorified ghetto)—didn’t think O.J. did it.
Now, almost 20 years and a decent education later, I know better than to go to the place where I am essentially rooting for a murderer. But even I, or at least some part of me, voted for Barack Obama because he was black, and didn’t think twice about it. (That doesn’t mean I don’t have some discretion, as Chris Rock infamously said, black people would not have elected Flavor Flav.)
I say all this, because as with O.J. Simpson, as with Kobe Bryant, as with Barry Bonds and as with Michael Vick, black people initially took the sides of their cultural brethren. It is what it is. And so when you go back to my original question, “Does the rest of America think that Vick deserves redemption?” all you have to do is look at poll after poll when Vick came out of jail to see that most black people approved of Vick and almost half of white people thought he should have been banned from the NFL.
That shit is crazy, right?
Same person, different voters, disparate results.
People always want to say that sports are beyond race, but not always. Poll results like the ones I generalized (and the major one in the Rasmussen Poll), tell us that your race correlates with a specific answer to the Vick question, “do you like him or not?” So what sports actually are is a meritocracy on the field, with a business and political system that creeps into the arena of play from time to time, if not everyday. Sports business and politics are sometimes why some people start and others don’t, and they are why some guys get paid and others are left for broke.
But in most cases, merit does win out in sports. It’s why despite nearly 50% of the dominant race in this country suggesting Vick should be banned from the NFL, Vick became just the third player in sports history to sign two $100 million contracts. As to whether the country at large thinks Vick deserves redemption after killing dogs, I’m not sure—I know the Eagles do though.
Should Hollywood have based “Moneyball” on Bill Belichick’s life?
It’s funny that some studio head decided to run a bunch of “Moneyball” commercials during the NFL season opener. Not because he won’t see the ROI he expects on that, but because of the irony. Here I am, watching the return of America’s greatest past time, as touchdowns are being thrown all over the place, bodies are being crushed and the play ends on a goal line stand at the 1-yard line after a pass interference call, and in between this sports spectacular, are commercials about a sport where in the infamous words of George Carlin, their game is “played on a diamond, in a park—the baseball park.”
Sorry, Hollywood,” but Billy Beane isn’t the quintessential sports leader. Yes, among elite sports circles, his work with the Oakland Athletics is all the rage. But in the real world, football rules and championships trump all. Beane is the general manager of a clubhouse that hasn’t won anything under his watch. Bill Belichick is the three-time Super Bowl winning head coach of a football squad. He’s the really “moneyballer,” not Billy Beane.
You all know, I am as geeky as the next guy when it comes to sports statistics, but I know when a guy deserves a movie and when a guy doesn’t, and Hollywood got it wrong here. Not that I’m saying that the all-knowing, say-nothing personality of Bill Belichick would make for a summer blockbuster, but at least his success on the field worth a movie—Billy Beane on the other hand; his success resides on “going home.” Not exactly the stuff legends, movies or legendary movies are made of.