On the eve of the biggest, most-anticipated football production in the universe (that we know of), the audience knows the recent story of our two lead actors by now. One will start his 10th pro game in a Super Bowl, the other is a calm playoff warrior hoping to etch his face on the Mount Rushmore of active quarterbacks. A true breakthrough performance is kid stuff at this juncture. Colin Kaepernick and Joe Flacco are already here and nothing will change that. Sporting immortality, rather, is written in the stars for one of these formerly overlooked signal callers.
Perhaps more than any other position in sports, a quarterback succeeds on the basis of non-physical characteristics; intelligence matters more than strength, awareness over ability, intangibles above all else. Another factor, it seems, resides in the makeup of not only Kaepernick and Flacco, but in the career DNA of other elite quarterbacks – doubt.
Most football fans are familiar with The Brady 6, the ESPN film on the six quarterbacks taken ahead of Tom Brady in the 2000 NFL Draft. When discussing that day, the pain in Brady’s face and the cracking of his voice are hard to watch on film, and that experience scarred him – all the way to five Super Bowl appearances.
Another eventual champion who felt the same pain, the same embarrassment, the same doubt, was Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers. He experienced a freefall on national television during the 2005 draft before being mercifully selected by the Packers hours into the selection process. He was the last prospect left in the green room. Soon enough he was the last man standing, leading the Cheeseheads to a title in only his 3rd year as a starter.
Of course, draft day wasn’t the first time Rodgers and Brady were overlooked. Brady, despite his production, had to re-earn his starting spot in college every game in order to stave off highly-touted flamethrower Drew Henson. Rodgers, scrawny and raw, had to attend junior college in anonymity before starring at Cal.
Drew Brees – booted out of San Diego after a shoulder injury to clear the path for Phillip Rivers. Ask Chargers fans how that worked out. Russell Wilson – yanked as a starter at N.C. State before his senior season so Mike Glennon could start. Wow. That one really needs to sink in for a bit. The list goes on and on…nobody had even heard of Ben Roethlisberger until his senior campaign at Miami (Ohio). Robert Griffin III? After an ACL tear his sophomore year, scouts didn’t even have him listed as an early round pick until 2 years later – his final season at Baylor.
In no way is it an absolute requirement to have been written off at some point in order to succeed at the most vital position for an NFL team – Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck, Matthew Stafford and more have had success almost wire-to-wire as highly rated teens who eventually went #1 on draft day before starring in the league. But without those disappointments and heartaches, the formerly mentioned players would not be where they are today.
Draft day wasn’t nearly the nadir for either Flacco or Kaepernick as it was for, say, Brady. The seed of doubt was planted in them much earlier – Flacco when he couldn’t start for a mediocre Pitt team quarterbacked by the legendary Tyler Palko, Kaepernick when he had more baseball scouts evaluating him than football scouts during his college career.
Reno, Nevada and Newark, Delaware. These are the unassuming college towns where Joe and Colin starred. While they were rock stars in those charming pockets of America, hardly anyone outside of friends, family or college football enthusiasts had even heard of either player, much less predicted future stardom. It appears that was for the best.
Photo courtesy of LA Times