Boy, Brett Favre looked shitty last night. Not only physically, where he was severely outmatched, but his spirit looked weak, his grasp of the defensive scheme looked weak, and his beard looked a touch grayer. He looked like he didn’t want to be there. I think the success of last year’s “show up for Week 1” approach was an anomaly—problem is, Brett won’t admit it. So now you have an unprepared, underperforming quarterback who cannot be benched but will probably deserve to ride the pine by Week 5. I know this may be a hasty assessment, but the Vikings are done.
To answer your question, Stefan: The quarterback/receiver relationship is more about the quarterback than it is about the receiver. Each receiver is different: different speed, size, route-running precision, tendencies, physicality, mental prowess. A receiver does not change what he does based on what quarterback is in the game. He is trying to get open and hoping the ball comes his way. If it does, he goes and gets it. I was a receiver in college and for my first two years in the NFL, and my tight-end duties often split me out wide. When people would ask me how a certain quarterback was doing during training camp, I would say, “I don’t know.” Because I didn’t. I never paid attention to who was under center. I was focused on reading the defense and getting open. The burden of keeping the passing game clicking falls almost entirely on the quarterbacks. Yes, the receivers must run their routes at the correct depth, which times up with the three-, five-, or seven-step drop the quarterback is taking. But it’s up to the quarterback to learn the idiosyncrasies of all of his targets. This happens only through repetition, which Favre and the Vikings seem to have forgotten.
It was interesting to watch Garrett Hartley shank those two field goals last night. I know Garrett personally—he was one of several kickers on the Broncos’ training camp roster several years ago. I always got along well with kickers. Their personalities are usually much different than that of the average player, because their experiences are so much different. They’re always alone with time to kill: no meetings, no physical contact, nothing strenuous. This dichotomy messes with the kicker’s mind, isolating him in a chamber of self-doubt. The psyche of the kicker, well-documented in Stefan’s book, is the most delicate on the team, eternally swaying back and forth between supreme confidence to hopelessness and despair. Anyway, Hartley had a poor camp with the Broncos and was cut without much thought. It was nice to watch him gain his confidence as he rode the Who Dat? train to glory. I hope he keeps his seat.
When I watch a game these days, I no longer see it through the 49ers-crazed lens of my youth. All of my friends back home are still 49ers fans, and they can’t understand why I don’t just go back to being a ‘Niners fan too. I try to explain it to them, but I can never quite articulate why it has all changed for me, why it doesn’t matter who wins. Last night’s pregame display of player solidarity in the face of the upcoming labor dispute shows who is really at war in the NFL: It’s not the Vikings and the Saints; it’s the players and the owners. Teams are made up of a mishmash of players, shuffled around the league like trading cards, and players’ loyalty to their teams goes only as far as the team’s loyalty to them. Given that reality, I don’t see how I’ll ever be able to root for the 49ers like I did as a kid.
All of this being said, I still love the game. My spirit is not broken, my body has healed, and my dreams are still alive. I am a football purist, confounded by what the NFL has become on the inside. Yet my love for the game endures, and will endure, because of the movement, the aggression, the choreography, and the ability this game has to sweep us all up and take us somewhere else for a brief moment. We all experience that moment together, and keep it forever. For me, that moment is John Taylor in the end zone in Super Bowl XXIII. It is my senior homecoming game against Westmont High School. It is my entire career at Division III Menlo College. It is my first-ever regular season game at Lambeau Field. It is catching my first NFL touchdown in Denver in front of my proud parents. Those moments are what keep me devoted, and they are why I will defend the sport until no one will listen anymore, until it’s all drowned out by announcers and analysts and tweets and beer commercials and fantasy leagues and labor disputes.
Gentlemen, and Stefan, the conversation has been excellent. We are all smarter now. The football season can begin.