Monday, January 31, 2011

Quarterback: NFL's most divisive position

Last weekend when a group of us gathered around the TVs at our favourite bar to watch the NFL Playoffs, someone asked who we would cheer for - New England or New York. There were a few seconds of debate before someone stopped all conversation and made the decision for us: New York. His reasoning? "The thing is about Tom Brady" he said about the New England quarterback "The thing is about Tom Brady is that he's a c**k". Decision made - we would be supporting the New York Jets because one guy didn't like Tom Brady. It seemed to work too, as Brady then had a stinker and the wildcard Jets defeated the no. 1 seeded Pats.

There's no other position in sport which generates the same levels of intense scrutiny as an NFL quarterback. Neither is there another position in any sport which polarises popular opinion so much. Were you ask your Average Joe's opinion of any QB and Joe will say he really likes a guy, or really dislikes him. There's very little middle ground: when constantly in the public eye, the path to popularity is thin and takes sudden twists.

It's probably this visibility which inspires us to make judgements about these Offense directors. These value judgements can be based on anything and can be conscious or unwitting. With the level of interest surrounding NFL in America and the amount of exposure we have as a public to the most sacrosanct position in football, it's nearly impossible not to osmose a certain level of familiarity with these most worshipped - or criticised - athletes. And to follow the cliche, familiarity breeds things other than shared bathroom habits.

The parallel is easily drawn with Reality Television stars - we know about them because they are there. If you have an interest in any sport, it's hard to miss news about an ailing quarterback. We know more about Kim Kardashian than anyone would ever want to and likely as not this inspires people, consciously or subconsciously, to form an opinion on her. It's the same with quarterbacks, much more than for Linemen or Safeties: Quarterbacks are the celebrities of the sporting world. They are the talismans for their respective teams, to borrow a soccer term, and emblematic of all things good or bad about their franchise.

The best example of this visibility is to think who's interviewed after every match: the Quarterback. Every single NFL quarterback has been "The Man" in High School, the Big Man on Campus at College and is paid in the millions of dollars per year to throw a ball. With football teams from High School up carrying rosters numbering above a hundred and the quarterback is almost always the key player, any normal person would find it hard for this attention not to reflect in their own personality.

Good QBs by nature are confident to a fault. It's part of their job description as they are appointed to be on-field leaders for dozens of men - it hardly does for a leader to be either pessimistic or sullen. These guys are for the most part so competitive it dominates their entire lives, another factor which divides opinion: you either respect this single-mindedness or value a more well-rounded character. Every quarterback past Primary School age has to lead his team and with that responsibility comes and inflated sense of importance. This pride - on display or not - yet another source of Average Joe liking or disliking a QB: where Average Joe may dislike the perceived arrogance of a Jay Cutler, his best mate Average Pete dislikes what he sees as Aaron Rodgers' false humility. The line between self-belief and arrogance is hard to see without the benefit of objectivity.

Personal preference of course plays an enormous role in this Like/Dislike dichotomy, where one person may value confidence and straight-talking, humility and actions resonate more with another. It may come down to whose face is more agreeable: Tom Brady's supermodel-slaying good looks, or Jay Cutler's perpetual impression of a redneck Droopy, flannelette shirt and all. It could be their streak of killing your team from the other side of the field. Or their habit of killing your team from within. But like it or not, quarterbacks inspire black and white, like-or-dislike reactions more than any other athletes in the world.

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