For Black quarterbacks across the NFL, October 10 is a day that many of them (based on their previous recorded statements) will view as just another Sunday. But, for observers of the game and others aware of the way that questions of race color perceptions of performance, yesterday was a historic day. For the first time that I can remember, more than one or two Black quarterbacks faced off against elite non-Black quarterbacks on the same Sunday. I’m sure it’s happened before, but my memory is not coming up with another such Sunday. I might have to go all the way back to the heyday of Daunte Culpepper and Aaron Brooks to find such a week. I’ll take a look and see what I come up. But for now…yesterday was one interesting day.
Game 1. Donovan McNabb of the Washington Redskins hosted Aaron Rodgers and the hot choice for the 2010 Super Bowl, the Green Bay Packers. McNabb threw for 357 yards and the Redskins won 16-13 in overtime.
Game 2. Josh Freeman and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers visited Carson Palmer and the Cincinnati Bengals. Freeman made some great throws to seal the deal. Carson Palmer fired three interceptions, including two late in the 4th quarter to allow Tampa to steal this game.
Game 3. Vince Young and the Tennessee Titans took their power ground game on the road to face the rested (bye week) Dallas Cowboys and Tony Romo. Romo threw for 400 yards. The Cowboys ran for over 100 yards. The Cowboys still lost. In part, the loss was due to the number of interceptions thrown by Romo. Young didn’t light up the Cowboys secondary, but he did find Kenny Britt and Nate Washington when it mattered and he didn’t throw any interceptions.
Game 4. Jason Campbell rode the pine as the Raiders prepared to host Philip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers. Campbell entered the game Bruce Gradkowski went down with an injury. Campbell was benched a few weeks ago, but the Raiders haven’t won since his benching. Campbell may not be the first choice of the coach, but he does allow the Raiders to stretch the field in ways Gradkowski does not. San Diego is playing a brand of football that is somewhere between high school J.V. and Division III. San Diego is much better than that, but yesterday they were not.
Now, what’s the significance of all this?
Football is a team game, so the reality is that teams win as teams. However, there is some mythology about the importance of quarterbacks to overall team success in this league. If Rivers, Romo, Rodgers and Palmer all won, the mass media portrayal of those victories would dovetail with the myth that QBs are the beginning and ending of all things on the football. Since they all lost, another narrative must be constructed because, at this day and time, American mass media is not prepared to say that Rivers, Romo, Rodgers and Palmer were all outplayed by Campbell, Young, McNabb and Freeman.
I’m not in anyway suggesting that “race” or “racism” had something to do with the outcomes of yesterday’s game. I’m suggesting that it has something to do with the narratives and perceptions surrounding those games. That these games can even be clustered as a topic of conversation is an interesting subject.
So, what does the media have to say? I’m going to hazard a guess that yesterday was all about “team” and not about the “irrelevance of race.”
Race must be irrelevant today because the national media has yet to unpack their collective miss on Josh Freeman. He was deemed to have been drafted on the basis of some sort of “racial nepotism.” It was widely assumed that Raheem Morris was “in over his head” and this notion gained circulation when the Bucs fired former offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinsky last season. Since then, Freeman has authored big wins over Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers, Carson Palmer and the Bengals, and Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints.
Race must also be irrelevant because the national media has yet to resolve the enigma that is Jeff Fisher. If every head coach whose quarterback struggled against the Pittsburgh Steelers defense benched that quarterback, can you imagine the list? It would include just about every quarterback that has ever played the game. Vince Young’s benching due to his struggles against the Steelers must be juxtaposed against the Steelers own assertions that Chris Johnson quit in the game and showed no will to run. Johnson ran all of 4 times in the second half and went nowhere. To be fair, he was absolutely crunched by Bryant McFadden. I’m still not sure he’s seen the hit. The Titans, without Johnson, are not much of a threat to a healthy Steelers defense. For Fisher to bench Young, and escape widespread media scrutiny or criticism suggests other dynamics are at work. Think of Vince Young as a Jim McMahon with wheels. McMahon wasn’t much of a passer (arguably less of one than Young), but he won games by keeping the ball secure and handing off to Walter Payton. McMahon was crazy as hell. Vince might be, too. He may not be, but McMahon was a party to a media love-fest that’s never going to come Vince’s way. Nor should it, necessarily. The bottom line, however, is that football analysts, commentators, and others need to be able to see how Young contributes to the capacity of the Titans to win games — without spending money to build an elite offense. For goodness sake, Justin Gage is still on the roster!
McNabb and Campbell merit a much longer conversation. Time does not permit that discussion here, but Campbell has a rock solid place in the record books of the Washington Redskins (take a look). Still, people thing HE was a colossal failure. Criticism of the systems around him has “paled in comparison” to the tirades launched against Campbell. Eventually, the historical record will demonstrate that Campbell made lemonade out of lemons. He was not great, but he never had the tenure in a single system that honed the skills of comparably equipped QBs like Peyton Manning. Campbell needs to be allowed to fail — in a single system — just like Tony Romo or Aaron Rodgers or Philip Rivers or Carson Palmer or Joe Flacco.
Race is irrelevant — if only for today. How could it be any other way?? Confirming links will follow.
First up — “The World Wide Leader” — Pat Yansinkas’ wrap up goes as far as an author can go to avoid mentioning a winning QB without actually excluding the name. Yansinkas who began his career in Tampa only mentions Bucs QB Josh Freeman in the context of setting up the game-winning field goal. There is no mention of Freeman’s grace under fire, his accuracy down the stretch, or his emergence as a quarterback. There were no premature coronations as have been done for players like Joe Flacco, Carson Palmer, Philip Rivers and so many others. No, Freeman gets a quiet mention between the Bucs kicker and their free safety. That’s all. No more, no less. Yansinkas couldn’t have been more dismissive if he’d skipped the game entirely.
Next — The Associated Press. No surprises here. In the AP recap, they don’t get around to mentioning McNabb as something other than a sack target until the article is almost complete. McNabb actually played in the game and managed to throw for 357 yards and a touchdown. That’s a significant achievement against the team the mass media prematurely anointed as the best in the conference back in August. Yesterday, it was barely worth a mention.
Did Vince Young fare any better? (Chad Ochocinco voice: “Child, please!) Of course not. According to the writers who only arrived at the Titans-Cowboys game AFTER Vince Young had already thrown his two touchdown passes, his performance didn’t merit a mention until this article was almost completed as well. All Young did was play efficient, turnover-free football on the road against a talented Cowboys defense coming off a bye week. Is that the narrative created by the Associated Press? Not at all. In fact, the AP went where George Bush went on his trip to Africa — he went dancing. So did AP. The article centered on the celebration of Jason Witten and one of his linemen. Rather than call this a self-centered, stupid, reflection of a culture bereft of collective values, AP generously suggested that Witten simply get a new choreographer.
And last, but not least…what of bench warmer, cum ace reliever Jason Campbell. He, too, was merely along for the ride. How far do you have to scroll down to see Campbell’s name? Did he actually play? Did he actually lead two long drives against the Chargers? Did he stretch the field and open up running lanes for Michael Bush?
The American mass media has a deep affliction of which it is patently aware. The consistency of these reviews demonstrates a deeper, underlying cultural bond. Black quarterbacks who believe yesterday was just another Sunday will be mistaken — and if they ever go back to look at the historical record of what they achieved, there not be one single mass media archive to recognize their success. It will be as if they never existed.