Saturday, October 22, 2011

History Repeats Itself, Only Taller

The most interesting, which isn't the same thing as "likely to be a good," game on the NFL card this weekend will not be broadcast here during the Patriots' bye week. So we won't get to see Tim Tebow start for the Broncos against the Dolphins. It's a fascinating plot twist when a quarterback's coach and head of the front office are more or less openly hoping he'll fail.

Then again, for New Englanders, that show is a rerun, make that remake. We saw it all over 20 years ago. Subtract about nine inches, 60 pounds, and piety, and Tebow is Doug Flutie in the NFL of the '80s.

As quarterbacks, Flutie and Tebow share eerie similarities. Each was a college megastar at the position, an all-time great. Flutie had and Tebow has flaws in their passing techniques leading to that greatest of NFL throwing sins -- inaccuracy. Before they entered the league, it was widely stated by NFL insiders that neither man would do at the position.

But Flutie had and Tebow has the ineffable knack of generating thrilling big plays, scores and victories despite their gentlemen's Cs at their position's most vital skill. Fans adore thrills and see big plays as the quarterback's most important ability. So New England fans clamored for Flutie to start over more conventional QBs. So did Denver fans. Raymond Berry resisted this call as long as he could. So did John Fox.

One difference was the bankrupt Sullivan family was eager to have Flutie starting as a revenue stream, while John Elway, calling the shots in Denver, would pretty much like to ship Tebow out of his franchise and consciousness. I pity all Bronco QBs as long as Elway is in charge of player assessment. How can they not come up short of HIS vision of what a quarterback should be?

Eventually, Berry let Flutie start in the hopes the flaws he saw would cause Flutie to cure the fans' fever and Flutie would basically play himself out of the lineup. Unfortunately for the coach, Flutie's negatives took over a season to gain a narrow victory over his positives, and by the time the final gun went off, Berry's bosses were looking to replace HIM.

Tebow is luckier. The Broncos aren't a playoff contender as Flutie's Pats were in 1988. Any big play positives he creates are liable to be the only ones Denver turns in, given Sunday after given Sunday. Fox may shudder at the interceptions and three-and-outs that Tebow will also create, but promoting Tebow does allow him to ignore the quarterback position for a time to focus on the approximately 52 other problems on the Broncos' roster that need fixing.

There's also this. Flutie was a pro football quarterback for 20 years. Yes, much of that was in Canada, but the checks cleared in that country, too. Given a chance, Tebow might do just as well, better even. It would be nice to see the NFL chattering classes and "insiders" take one of their conventional wisdoms in the shorts.

Coaches aren't wrong to value consistency over big plays and "intangibles." The whole point of coaching is to try and make football as predictable as possible.

Fans aren't wrong to prefer the Fluties and Tebows over the Grossmans and Ortons either. Big plays win games. And the maximum possible amount of predictably in football isn't very much at all.


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