My dear friend Paul:
I miss you. Aside from what you meant to your family and friends, aside from our friendship, the selfish good friend in me sometimes wishes your leaving hadn’t left me without anyone to talk with on Sundays. Nobody seems to understand what I go through, week in and week out, all culminating and releasing on Sunday afternoon. Nobody is interested in my worship, nor the anguish it brings me, each and every week. Nobody understands the teasing, the name-calling, the civil strife between common components, the pain. And it’s all your fault.
I used to be a life-long Redskins fan, and I was happy with that. Until you needed to suck someone into your abyss of misery, someone to share in your weekly heartbreaks. And then you played the “Hope” card: you looked to the future, and it became the present. You said, ” You wait and see. This kid is going to be special.” And he was. He rushed into the scene of a 1-4 season, only because Vinny got hurt. He was smart, and accurate, and he drove his team from a hopeless season into a playoff berth. He was a savior. And it wasn’t just a one-time deal: he’s led his team to three playoff berths in the past six years.
But people think he’s a wimp, Paul. They say he’s not tough, that he’s made of glass, that he cracks under pressure. But I don’t know that that’s the truth. Two years ago, he came back early from rehabbing his throwing shoulder from surgery, because his team needed him. They were floundering, and he wanted to step in and help. So he came in, and he promptly re-injured the same shoulder: too much pressure in the backfield, and he got hit. You could tell that it really hurt. So he sat out a few plays, but his replacement wasn’t doing well, and they still had a chance to win the game. So he talked his way back into the game. And then he got hurt again. Maybe he was just trying too hard, or was too stubborn or too proud to know when to quit. But he ended up needing surgery on that same shoulder, again, twice in the same year. That’s not good for a quarterback. He got hurt again this year: he was sacked early in the year, and someone fell on his foot and sprained his ankle. Do you think he’d learned his lesson? He had a supportive boot put on that foot, and he came back out and played in the same game. He even ran a quarterback sneak when it was called, without complaining, even though he couldn’t run. And that was after his home crowd cheered when he got hurt.
They say he has a weak throwing arm, too. You might think that perception comes form the two shoulder surgeries, but they’ve been saying that for years now. They just don’t think he has the arm strength to strike fear in an opposing secondary’s hearts, or to stretch the field with that deep threat. This never came up in the beginning, when he took bad teams much farther into the New Year then they had any right to go. It doesn’t come up when they’re doing well. But it’s coming up now. His accuracy, his smart throwing, those perfect spirals are never even mentioned. The fact that he remains in the top 10 of all-time rated passers isn’t either, and that’s something that Dan Marino, Bret Favre, and John Elway can’t claim. On a team with no great wide receivers, no offensive line, no defensive line, a running back who got his first 100-yard game of the season in Week Six, no stars anywhere on the field, accuracy just isn’t enough to excite anyone.
So, Paul, now they want him gone. They’ve had their fill of the guy who’s done things for them that I don’t think a lot of professional athletes would do: when he came back from those surgeries, and the coach told him he’d have to fight with the three other quarterbacks on the roster for the starting spot, he didn’t cry or complain to the media or bash the coach. He had no problem with it; he said it was the right decision, and he would do his best to win that job. In fact, he agreed to have his salary restructured so that the team had more room under the cap to sign some talent (which is interesting, since their team salary is so low that it’s hard to imagine the cap ever being a problem). He fought for his job and he won it, fair and square. He had a good year, and nobody complained that he wasn’t the best quarterback on the team, because he was.
And he did the same thing this year, only this time, he had the backing of his coach. Maybe that was the mistake: maybe the coach should have let everyone battle it out again, or at least let everyone believe the job was wide open, even if it weren’t. But that wouldn’t be the only mistake this coach has made this year. In fact, some might argue that this team wouldn’t have a 1-5 record this season if their coaching staff hadn’t made at least one questionable, critical call each game, like calling a quarterback sneak on third-and-one inside the opponent’s 10 yard line, with just minutes to go, down by seven, and a running back who had already rushed for over 100 yards standing in the backfield. Or calling a pass play on the ensuing fourth-and-one. Or many, many other, similar play calls week in, week out, every single game.
But someone has to take the blame, Paul. Someone has to be the goat when the team is losing. See, people think that a quarterback change will turn this season around. It’s not the poor play by the offensive line, or the defensive line, or the terrible coaching job; it’s the quarterback. He has to go.
I remember when we talked about this as if it were yesterday: “I’ll be a Jets’ fan the day they start him at quarterback.” But you didn’t say anything: you didn’t agree or show enthusiasm; it was almost as if you were glad to have someone to share it all with, but saddened at the same time. As if you realized that you had passed a life-long curse onto your good friend. And now, as you suffered, so I do suffer too.
But maybe there’s a way: you promised me you’d buy me a #10 jersey, and you never did. Maybe the deal was never sealed. Maybe that grants me immunity?
Or maybe, when the head-hunters come and demand a new quarterback, since he won’t be starting anymore … is that a way out?
No: I think this is a life-long commitment, much like a friendship … only without the sharing, the good times, the joy. Just a lifetime of suffering, with a little hope, each and every Sunday.
Keep watching over us, Paul: keep an eye out for your family, your friends, the people who miss you. But don’t watch the Jets, Paul; no good can come from this. Unless you can convince someone up there to pull out some sort of “Angels in the Outfield”-esque ending: then, by all means, do watch! But until then, save yourself the agony.