There's something about primetime football that elevates our focus. The extra camera coverage, the night sky blacking out everything except the stadium, no other concurrent games creating a distraction, not to mention the siren call of the Red Zone Channel tempting us to cherry pick the big plays of every game, as opposed to the ebb and flow of a single storyline.
In my case, a rambunctious two-and-a-half-year-old son has added a formidable new element of chaos during the afternoon tilts. It's hard to absorb the game whilst being constantly pelted with the eternal question; "Dadda - what doing?" To make matters worse, I traded a set-it-and-forget-it condo for the never-ending maintenance horror of an honest to God house that has also brought a medieval level of multitasking to my weekends. Anybody else have tree rats eating the wiring in your car? Show of hands? Classy problems meet the horror of nature. It is a perfect storm that has elevated the noble night game to even loftier heights.
At the risk of going all Facenda on this rapture, there is a certain glory when the sun goes down, my son is in bed, the rats are sated with a belly full of what used to be my parking sensor system, and the wife and I are sufficiently exhausted that I could tune in a test pattern on the ol' flatty and she wouldn't even notice.
I am just a man who is refreshingly humbled by the rare opportunity to do something I long took for granted: Watch a football game, and the only thing that can make this moment better is the spectacle of NFL quarterbacks in turmoil. By that measure, I'll be damned if last week's SNF and MNF games weren't chock full of the best TV you can ask for.
Monday night, we watched the alleged sexter-in-winter authoring a familiar not-quite-comeback after a miserable first half-plus of terrible play. The drama was palpable, and it was classic Brett Favre, The Later Years. Struggle, desperation, brilliance, then it all lands with a thud. As always, an entire nation is riveted, and why not? It's not every day you get to see a superlative QB with multiple MVP awards and a championship to his credit suffer the scrutiny that comes with what may be one of the most bone-headed misadventures in the young, yet life-ruining era of social networking. That he also had to go out there and play amid a sea of breast cancer awareness pink ratchets the wrongness up to a staggering level.
Legends rise, legends fall. It is the stuff of life on the big stage. In contrast, Sunday night told the story of two very different quarterbacks in crisis. A weird little one-act play about two former No. 1 overall picks experiencing the A-side and the B-side of the big deal/small results premise.
David Carr is clearly the guy living on the B-side: A guy who got paid massive amounts of money, showed some promise, got sacked into QB tartar, and is now relegated to the role of the failure-to-launch backup guy. Of course that isn't the worst thing in the world, especially when the A-side guy, Alex Smith, is the one who is currently taking home tens of millions of dollars for underwhelming us. I don't think a crowd ever chanted Carr's name when he was good, so it came as quite a shock when the Niners faithful got their holler on in the name of a QB change.
Certainly an uncomfortable moment, but how can you blame them? Sinking No. 1 money into a quarterback who doesn't pan out consigns your team to years of playoff purgatory as management refuses to eat the deal, and the player often teases with just enough talent to keep hope alive. These stories almost always end up with him regressing by the end of the deal. Hence the boos, hence the chants of "Carr!" Hence the humiliating televised tongue-lashing from Mike Singletary, which raised the viewer's discomfort level to "Snookie just puked on The Situation's nipple clamp" proportions.
Personally, I was cannon-shot back in time to brutal flashbacks of high school football practice the year our starting QB had the misfortune of playing for a mean-spirited head coach who also happened be his father. An inglorious yet earnest lineman for my entire playing days, I can still remember assuming the three-point stance to the sound of the poor kid getting his ass chewed by Pops, then trying to do one of the harder things in life -- calling out audibles at the line of scrimmage while simultaneously wearing a mouth guard and weeping. Needless to say the audibles were a tad abstract ("Red right motion three" or "Sweet Jesus, help me"?), and we did not do much rallying that season.
Smith responded a little better than that. He rose up to make it a game, flashing more of that organization-paralyzing talent, albeit in another Niners loss during this fall of their discontent. Yes, the NFC West remains anyone's to win, but let's be honest - not gonna happen.
Singletary's post-game comments were all about seeing what Smith was going to show him when challenged. He made it all about accountability, but the problem isn't Smith; it's the deal he signed as the top pick in the draft. When we're talking quarterback, we're talking a contract that can bury a young player and an entire franchise. What can I say? If money weren't the issue, what's to say Shaun Hill isn't still in the Bay Area leading the Niners to a 38-point win like he led the Lions to … while filling in for another No. 1 overall QB, the enormously promising but oft-injured Matthew Stafford?
What does it all mean? Until the day comes when there are actually 32 viable starting quarterbacks, these guys are the devil and things need to change. There just aren't enough to go around. It's why the Vikings mortgaged their future for Favre, and then sprinkled him with a little Randy Moss, only to see the whole thing crumple like a car wreck. Far worse, it's why teams mortgage their futures on completely unproven guys. Yes, we see it work beautifully. Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, Stafford all come to mind, and this rookie Sam Bradford down in St. Louis has been nothing short of amazing. That being said, it's a short list compared to the first-round flameouts. If I tried to compile that one, it's quite possible this column would never end, and believe me - nobody wants that to happen.
As the league heads into the moral twilight of a collective bargaining agreement on its last legs, there has been much talk of imposing a rookie salary cap. Believe me, I am all for it. But the reality of business says that may be too great of a sea change to ever happen. It's too big of a grab, and frankly, the other position players don't deserve it. First-round linemen on both sides of the ball often do pan out and stay entrenched for a decade. Running backs need a good first deal because they are beaten like a Tijuana donkey every time they touch the ball and often never see that second payday. DBs are worth it in today's pass-crazy league, linebackers earn it, wide receivers are dicey but the fact is none of these positions break the bank like QBs. They don't tilt a team's finances to the breaking point.
I know that football is just another industry insidiously controlled by the influence of the agents who negotiate deals, but surely the players union and ownership can do the right thing and set a smaller scale salary cap: One that only applies to rookie quarterbacks.
It makes sense and it's fair. When QBs hit, they tend to run for years, plenty of time to reward the players who prove themselves worthy. How about you take the veteran minimum for the first four years, then, if you can actually do the job, you get that $100 million on the second deal. It is for the betterment of the game, because when these clowns flame out it not only makes them Alex Smith instant-starters for purely economical reasons, it sinks a franchise for five years. That isn't fair to the fans or the game.
If that's too radical and Tom Condon just spit up in his mouth, then give these guys money on par with a fifth-round pick. Hey, they're still set for life, and in success they can still make more money than it took to build a stadium 10 years ago.
The bravest thing the Raiders ever did was cut their losses on JaMarcus Russell. Please note he isn't even playing arena football at this point, let alone the UFL or in Canada. Too many teams play out the string on a kid who just isn't all that.
The reality is, in this man's NFL, there are maybe 12 or 13 truly viable signal callers who could take your team all the way. The rest are left sucking wind. The young QB isn't to blame -- it's his deal. The one that pays him enough money annually to lure five elite veteran free agents to your given town and play lights-out football.
Tell you what, if it's too painful for the union and the agents to see all that money just disappear off the table, then take the balance and kick some cash to the legion of retired players who are struggling with their health and their bills. I'm sure there's a way to figure out how to get them to pay commission and union dues on it - wouldn't want anyone in a suit to miss a car payment on that Range Rover.