What Roger Goodell wants, Roger Goodell gets. Or more appropriately, what Goodell says he wants is what the owners really want.
With the NFL commissioner’s publicly expressed desire to lengthen the 16-game regular season to 17 or 18 contests, you can bet it’s pretty much a done deal. And I’m all for it.
Yes, there are negatives, most particularly the additional damages to the bodies of athletes whose careers on average already last less than the lifespan of a guinea pig.
That’s why I hope the expanded season finally rids us of one of the most inane strategies, traditions, beliefs (whatever you may want to call it) in sports: that quarterbacks should never be pulled from a game unless they’re a) injured or b) really suck.
Why is it that players at every other position on the field can be taken out for a sub – for whatever reason – then later return without it being a “controversy”?
What if other sports held to such a practice – then Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and other NBA stars would play 48 minutes; NHL stars like Sidney Crosby and Jerome Iginla would never leave the ice. Sounds stupid, doesn’t it? Those sports don’t adhere to such insanity because their stars would never last a month, let alone an entire season.
An NFL QB’s season is already about attrition. Coaches, owners, teammates and fans cringe each time one is sacked or tackled after a run. Yet most starting quarterbacks are surprisingly durable. Among the 18 quarterbacks who threw for more than 3,000 yards last season, only Matt Schaub (5 missed games) and Tony Romo (3) failed to play all 16 games last season.
And yet, the loss of a QB, even for a few games, can flush an entire season (see: Dallas). With up to an additional two games destined for 2010 or 2011, the survival of the QB will be atop every coach’s list of concerns.
The solution: a true two-quarterback system. Backups should play every game, sometimes for a series, maybe an entire quarter. They could be used to simply give the starter a breather, without creating a buzz in the press box.
Better yet, the No. 2 QB should become a key strategic weapon, not merely an EMS worker with a helmet. They can be used to change the pace of play, to give the defense “another look” at a critical juncture, maybe during the final two minutes of the half.
Teams would actually have to prepare for two QBs rather than one, just as teams would have to prepare two QBs to play each week.
With the two-QB system, we might have actually known who Matt Cassell was before Tom Brady got injured; Vince Young (pictured) would not have become Casper last season; and the Jets might acutally have a clue whether Kellen Clemens, their default ’09 starter so far who’s been in the league for three years (!), can play.
Andy Reid could have “benched” Donovan McNabb last season without “benching” him in the traditional sense, i.e. public humiliation. Playing the backup more could have been positioned as more strategic than punitive.
Maybe the Cowboys would not have folded when Romo went down with an injury. (On second thought, scratch that.)
Most fans probably don’t even know who’s their team’s backup. Partly due to denial, hoping they never have to know. With the two-QB system, fans won’t have to go into apoplectic convulsions when the starter gets hit.
Bring on more games. But also, bring on the backups. Let them play. Let them play. Let them play …
Photos by Baltimore Sun, Getty