The arrival in Seattle this weekend of a 21st century version of the Magic Bus full of Merry Pranksters, a k a the New York Jets, evokes a sentimental yearning (no, not an acid flashback) for a special time in Seahawks history.
Like, four weeks ago, when there was a quarterback controversy.
Many in the Seattle of yore thought that veteran Matt Flynn should be the starting quarterback, not rookie Russell Wilson. In New York these days, many think that Mark Sanchez/Tim Tebow/Alex Rodriguez/Donald Trump should/should not be the Jets starting quarterback, if any of them currently occupy/do not occupy the position for Sunday’s 1 p.m. game against the Seahawks at the Clink.
That’s what makes football fun, right? Arguing over something about which little is known, like Federal Reserve policy, only it’s way more important.
Alas, in Seattle, the QB teeth-gnashing is done, maybe for the next decade. Wilson continues to make coach Pete Carroll’s decision to start him seem a little smarter each week.
Doesn’t mean the upward tick will continue steadily, but the long-term successor to Matt Hasselbeck appears to have been anointed to drive Seattle’s hybrid minibus. Charlie Whitehurst and Tarvaris Jackson are mere specks in the rear view mirror, and Flynn, through no fault of his own, sits in the back, just in case.
So what is left in town to talk about? Legalizing pot? Um, no. That’s over. Gay marriage? Another check-off. The next new cool tablet or app? Yawn. So . . . October. There’s always Chris Hansen’s proposed arena, because there’s nothing like a good environmental impact study to electrify us, for the umpteenth time, that the earth under SoDo will liquefy in the next industrial-strength earthquake. Zzzzz.
So let’s admit it. Seattle sports followers are jealous of the Jets’ fans. They have Sanchez, a once-hot QB in rapid decline, backed up by the ineffective Tebow, who may be the most controversial non-controversial figure in recent sports history (e.g., has chosen not to shoot himself in his own leg with his own gun in a nightclub). And the Jets are 3-5, meaning their fans have plugged in back-up generators to their adrenal glands.
Jets’ lather reached flood stage recently when si.com polled 180 NFL players anonymously on the most overrated of their brethren. Sanchez and Tebow finished 1-2. Sanchez had a huge lead, 34 percent to eight percent, but Tebow has played relatively little — only 55 scrimmage snaps so far this season, at a variety of positions, including sous chef. Still, for one team to claim the top two positions is a more impressive sweep than the Giants over the Tigers in the World Series.
Tebow, however, is rallying, based on a Sporting News poll of NFL players this week that said he is the most overrated. As far as QB controversies, it doesn’t get any better — not merely an argument about who should start, but which of the two is doing the worst in the NFL in fulfilling expectations.
Despite the fact that he helped push the Jets, with Sanchez at QB, to the AFC title games in 2009 and 2010, Rex Ryan, in another a Sporting News survey, was also voted the most overrated coach. But this week in a conference call with reporters, Ryan at least had a decent answer to a question of how he deals with home-stadium chants for Tebow after every Sanchez incompletion.
“You know what?” he said. “I don’t hear very well, so it doesn’t bother me at all.”
Naturally, Ryan would not indulge in laments over what appears to be a talent shortage behind center.
“We’re fortunate to have Mark as our quarterback,” he said. “He’s a young, athletic, talented young man . . . when given time to throw the football, he can make all the throws.
“We also have Tim Tebow, who is an outstanding football player. When you have a guy with the ability to run back there, with that kind of skill set, it is difficult to prepare for.”
Yeah, we know, Rex. Sorta like Wilson.
The ascendance of Wilson drives yet another stake into the battered heart of the notion that there is science involved in the calculations of what will make a quality, long-term NFL quarterback. Sunday’s game will have three hands on that stake: Wilson, Sanchez and Tebow.
The Jets’ QBs had stellar resumes coming out of powerhouse colleges at USC (Sanchez) and Florida (Tebow, 2009 national champions), and both were first-round draft picks who dazzled in their rookie seasons. But many things happened, mostly to the teams around them, to begin their erosions.
It would be flattering to Carroll to suggest he knows the QB alchemy better than most. But that isn’t necessarily true. He thought Whitehurst was a good competitor to push Hasselbeck, and begged Sanchez to stay at USC for his senior year, telling him he wasn’t ready for pro ball. All Sanchez did his rookie year was get the Jets to the threshold of the Super Bowl.
“I just told him what was the truth,” said Carroll of the episode three years ago when he criticized Sanchez for going against his advice to stay one more year with the Trojans, for which Carroll was then criticized. “He could have been better prepared if we would have had him for another year. That doesn’t mean he agreed with that. But he did a marvelous job and I love what he’s doing. Mark and I get along great.”
As it turns out, Carroll also decided to leave early — at least, earlier than anyone in the Trojans camp thought, when he took the Seahawks job just ahead of severe NCAA sanctions against USC football.
As for Tebow, his unorthodox success in Denver a year ago is still baffling to football archaeologists, who will be examining the scrolls and pottery shards of that season for many years. But now he is a utility tool for a team stuck in neutral, better known for its antics on HBO’s “Hard Knocks” than football achievement.
Wilson? Well, you know his story by now. A lot of draft insiders can be heard chirping these days how they saw in Wilson’s college performances the seeds of his current success. But every team had at least a couple of shots at taking him until Seattle called his name in the third round. That was a risk requiring magnum guts, especially after presumably locking up the QB spot with an expensive free-agent commitment to Flynn.
Wilson didn’t fit the QB physical stereotype as did Sanchez, and he didn’t win as big as Tebow in college. But Carroll managed the risk by altering the offense to accommodate what Wilson could do in his first season.
Same as Ryan did with Sanchez in 2009.
“I don’t know how many times we ran it, but I promise you it was more than any team in the league that first year,” Ryan said. “We wanted to be a physical football team that can run the football, and also wanted to make his reads easier for him, especially as a rook. A lot of times rookies (can) learn a new system, but they’re not familiar with pro coverages. So you try to make it simpler for him.”
Carroll made it simple enough for Wilson that in the course of half a season, the Seahawks offense is to the point where it is carrying its once-heralded defense. Even more impressive, Wilson has ended the debate on his worthiness.
Good for him and the Seahawks. But I do miss the old days. Nice of the Jets to come to town to rekindle the memories of civic turmoil.