Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Field GeneralCustership

The one thing about Drew Bledsoe that made Patriots fans the craziest was the quarterback's leisurely indecision in the pocket. Bledsoe would drop back to pass, pat the ball, wait, and wait some more, until the play collapsed in chaos. What was Bledsoe waiting for? Who knew? Not even him, probably.

The one thing about Brett Favre that USED to drive Packers' fans the craziest was the Hall of Fame quarterback's lack of any reflection at all in the pocket. Favre threw the ball on his first impulse, whatever might actually be happening in front of him. This instinct is why Favre is the all-time career interceptions leader.

Retirement is the most difficult decision any professional athlete faces. It's a little more important than whether to hit the slant receiver on 3rd and 6. Let us compare how these two very different quarterbacks handled that decision-making process.

Like all athletes, Bledsoe stayed a season or so too long at the fair. When he realized this, Bledsoe didn't hesitate. He retired, quietly but quickly, and as far as is known, is living reasonably happily ever after up in the Northwest with his family and the grizzley bears.

Favre has stayed too long at the fair for more than one season. He has gone back and forth on retirement approximately 1000 times, and that's just this week. Favre's indecision has made him look foolish, the Packers' management look ridiculous, and is, fundamentally, embarrassing all football fans.

So the guy who couldn't make up his mind in the pocket handled the ultimate career choice with alacrity, and the fearless all-in gambler stands revealed as a ditherer. What does this tell us?

About Bledsoe and Favre, not so much. About how we view athletes, quite a lot. What it says is that when we watch games, we place entirely too much emphasis on what's going on in the minds of the people playing them. Performance in sports is learned behavior, not some expression of the soul. It doesn't tell us anything about what the athlete is really like as a person. Pro athletes leave their personalities in the care of the locker room attendant the minute they put uniforms on.

The weirdest thing is, athletes themselves are more likely to attribute their own and other athletes' performances to the "intangible" elements of mind and spirit than anyone else. You'd think they, of all people, would know better. But it's not generally a trade that attracts introspective types.


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