Kit Talks (At Length) About Football
A Comprehensive History Of Mediocre Quarterbacks In The Playoffs, Part The Third

Craig Morton (2), Dallas Cowboys. Poor Craig is sort of the standard bearer for these overachievers. If you were worse than Craig Morton and in the playoffs, you’re definitely making this list. Morton was absent from 1971’s role call, because after a lengthy and confusing battle for the position with Roger Staubach which at one point saw them switch after every series, Tom Landry finally gave in and went with Roger Dodger. It paid off in an immediate Super Bowl victory over the Miami Dolphins.Staubach’s attempt at a follow-up was cut down in its infancy as he suffered a separated shoulder in pres-season. Morton was pressed into duty, and while is 15:21 TD:INT ratio is not the stuff of legends, he was in the top five in completion percentage while playing in one of the most pass-happy offenses in the league, and took the Cowboys into the playoffs as the wild card, going 10-4. He wasn’t bad, but he wasn’t ever who you wanted out there. Craig Morton is like a Subway attached to a truck stop; it’s never what you would go out of your way to seek, but sometimes you’re in a rush or a pinch and he’ll hold you until you get to where you’re going. This year ends in a sickening bit of human theater for Morton. Struggling to an 8 for 21 line through the first half against a game 49ers team, Morton was subbed for a not-quite-100% Staubach, who led a stunning 4th quarter comeback, and murdered any talk of a quarterback controversy restarting. Morton never started another game for the Cowboys and was traded in mid-1974 to the New York Giants.

Mike Phipps, Cleveland Browns. For whatever reason, player trades in the NFL are not as common as they are in other sports, and when a player trade turns into a true boner, it doesn’t get the mythic dressing that a baseball equivalent would get. If there were that sort of myth making machine, Mike Phipps would be Ernie Broglio, Larry Andersen and Jim Fregosi rolled into one. Phipps was drafted by the Dolphins with the 3rd pick of the 1970 draft, and before camp started he was shipped to Cleveland for Hall of Famer Paul Warfield. Warfield would’ve had a strong Hall case with only his Browns numbers, but his time with the Dolphins is what makes the highlight reels. 1972 was Phipps’ first year starting, and he had a paper tiger of a 10-4 year, throwing for fewer picks than his predecessor Bill Nelsen, but also fewer yards and the same amount of touchdowns. Good enough to tread water and get back to the playoffs, where they fell to the Perfect Dolphins. The next year, Leroy Kelly’s production cratered and the Browns went 7-5-2. in 1974 Phipps injured his shoulder and was cast aside for Brian Sipe. The Bears took a chance on him, trading a high draft pick to the Browns for Phipps in 1978. That draft pick turned into Hall of Fame tight end Ozzie Newsome. Mike Phipps did not have a hall of fame career by any sane measure, but if you are one of the people who truly believes in the free market as a self-correcting entity, then clearly Mike Phipps should have two Hall of Fame busts.

Terry Bradshaw, Pittsburgh Steelers. That’s right, we outchea on these streets comin for ERRYBODY here at Your Man Kit’s Football Opinion Compendium,  Bradshaw did eventually of course become an excellent quarterback and a Hall of Famer, but that was still the future in 1972, and it seemed a future that would be hard to realize. Through his first two years, Bradshaw threw 46 interceptions in 21 games, as compared to 19 touchdowns. 11% of the passes he threw as a rookie ended in the other team’s hands. Does that sound like HOF material to you? Chuck Noll stuck by Bradshaw in 1972, and he did make his first step forward, cutting his interception total to 12, but he still only threw 12  touchdowns and completed fewer than half his passes. The Steelers had a rushing attack that ranked second in the league featuring Franco Harris and Frenchy Fuqua, and a rough draft of the Steel Curtain was forming; the Steel Venetian Blinds were 2nd in scoring defense and 8th in total yards, sending Dwight White, Jack Ham, and Joe Greene to the Pro Bowl. Immaculate Reception notwithstanding, looking at these Steelers is a bit like peeping at the high school yearbook of a movie star. Things haven’t quite come together yet, but things will get better.

Scott Hunter, Green Bay Packers. If this entry seems rushed or disjointed in any way, it’s because I literally just learned that this player even existed. Wikipedia asked me to specify between the musician, the football player, and the Australian soap opera star. 1972 represents Hunter’s only full year of starting, and he threw for a mind-boggling six touchdowns. But hey, only nine picks. He’s a game manager, right Skip? HE JUST WINS GAMES, PEOPLE. The Packers in 1972 were built around star running back John Brockington. The Pack attempted twice as many runs as passes in 1972, with the secondary running back, McArthur Lane, getting almost as many carries as Hunter threw passes. Welcome to 1972, when three yards and a cloud of dust is an acceptable mission statement and not just a dismissive joke.

Billy Kilmer (2), Washington <REDACTED> Bagging on Billy might actually be a bit unfair for this year. He actually led the NFL in touchdown passes for 1972, and played an absolutely terriffic game against the Cowboys in the NFC Championship, going 14 of 18 with two touchdowns as the Cowboys never got a sniff of the game. But Kilmer was benched for four games of the season for Sonny Jurgensen. Sonny was not happy about sitting on the bench for all of 1971, and he was demanding a recount. Jurgensen’s potbelly was notorious, either endearing of infuriating depending on how you already felt about Sonny in the first place. When Sonny reported to camp, his beer belly was gone, and where before he would sneak out every night to party, he made every bed check. Kilmer’s success so infuriated Sonny Jurgensen that it may have lengthened his career by at least another three years. Sonny would not have been so motivated if he accepted Kilmer as an equal.

A Comprehensive History of Mediocre Quarterbacks In The Playoffs, Part The Second:

Bill Nelson, Cleveland Browns. In 1971, the Cleveland Browns were running on the ectoplasm of the previous two decades. Paul Brown was gone, and his top lieutenant Blanton Collier, a great head coach in his own right, retired after 1970, worried that he was going deaf. His replacement was Nick Skorich, who had successfully overseen the complete destruction of the 1960 champion Philadelphia Eagles. Otto Graham gave way to the very good Frank Ryan, who gave way to the calamitous Bill Nelson. Two quarterbacks removed from Otto Graham, and two coaches removed from Paul Brown, the Browns found themselves with Bill Nelsen and Nick Skorich. Football is not like alcohol; twice distilled is not a selling point. Bill’s 1971 was something to behold.Thirteen touchdowns against 23 interceptions is already pretty distressing, but then consider his ten fumbles, the second-most in the league. Even accounting for the five he recovered himself, that’s still a two to one ratio of turnovers to scores. It seems ridiculous that this team even got to the playoffs, until you remember it was still a run-first league and the Browns still had Hall of Fame runner Leroy Kelly, who was only once distilled from Jim Brown.

Gary Cuozzo, Minnesota Vikings (2). The Vikings were openly auditioning replacements for Cuozzo at this point; he started only eight games and put up a dazzling 52.2 quarterback rating during those starts. After a three touchdown performance against Green Bay in week 5, he didn’t throw a single touchdown the rest of the campaign. His replacements were punter Bob Lee, who was a punter, and the fossilized Norm Snead, who was never all that good even in his salad days. Cuozzo got his job back just in time to lose to the Dallas Cowboys.in the divisional round. Bud Grant traded to retrieve Fran Tarkenton from the Giants the next offseason; Tarkenton had a signature year and led the Vikings to a 7-7 record and no playoff birth. If predicting football was easy, everyone would do it.

Billy Kilmer, Washington <REDACTED>. If George Allen was a scientist instead of a coach, he would have no credibility. His methods are not able to be duplicated, and therefore unverifiable. No one else could have had sustained success while intentionally eschewing all draft picks, and we know this because no one else has even tried. Billy Kilmer was what Allen got in exchange for some of his draft picks one year, and he very quickly made an impact on the DC area, managing to get himself arrested for a PI within weeks. Luckily it was the sort of endearing and charming public intoxication charge that Sonny Jurgensen had already made a trademark. At a late night coffeehouse, Kilmer kept trying to settle his four dollar bill with a one hundred, and somehow this got rather heated and he spent the night in jail. I don’t know, I guess for some stories you have to be there to capture the feeling.When Sonny tore his shoulder in pre-season, Billy took over and led the <REDACTED> to a 5-0 start. In those five games, Kilmer completed more than ten passes exactly once. This was no longer the gunslinging Sonny teams, this was a team content to grind out games behind Larry Brown. Poor Sonny, who had waited all his career to finally have a competent defense behind him, was forced to be happy with discussing playcalling on the sidelines while the town that loved him slowly turned away from him. The Jurgensen-Kilmer controversy remains something of a legend; for a while Washington fans sported campaign buttons in the stands. But George Allen never wavered, preferring Kilmer, who would play along with Allen’s odd superstitions and do all the backslapping clubhouse things that Sonny didn’t. Allen’s teams worked entirely on belief and faith, and that’s another reason he would’ve made an awful scientist.

First Impressions Of Johnathan Livingston Football

It’s very hard to be confident of anything you see in a preseason game. They are exercises in confirmation bias, an ink blot test that can be whatever you want it to be. If you care enough to watch preseason, you already know what you think about most of the players. You already have a narrative you’re pushing, and will cherry pick the scant facts available to support your version of things. Nothing is reliable in these glorified practices, other than a high probability of muffed punt returns in the third quarter.

This was an important thing to keep in mind while watching the Browns-Lions game. Brian Hoyer had a decent game, better than a 6-14 line indicates, though it was marred by a couple of drops. The Browns announcers seemed very impatient during his drives; they knew what their audience was waiting for. Every single thing Johnny Football did on that sideline was captured and dissected. One of them remarked with enthusiasm about how fast Johnny Manziel grabbed his helmet. I’m not sure what that really proved, but it was important enough to warrant a replay, apparently.
The homer Cleveland announcers did their best imitation of Badger and Skinny Pete talking about Star Trek all through Manziel’s game, but I can’t say that I was any better. So tired am I of the Johnny Football hype train that I began to look for any evidence of him looking disengaged or derpy, and seizing on little sideline tics in the same way our boys in the booth were doing. Hype backlash is a terrible thing to be caught up in; it makes you become your enemy.

So we will stick to the concrete in this brief breakdown: Manziel looked pretty decent during his time against the Detroit Lions, but I want to focus on two plays. One was a read option in the second quarter which netted one yard on a third and two, the other saw Manziel quickly give the ball away and sit there and watch a swarm of defenders tackle the running back where he stood. Neither play was successful, and on neither did Manziel make the right read; on the first play he had a tight end open for the dumpoff throw, and on the second his handoff was a matter of pure survival instinct. I’m going to focus on these plays, but not to castigate Manziel for failing on them; I want to ask why he was running the read option at all.

Johnny Manziel is a mobile quarterback, but not every mobile quarterback should be running the read option, because not every mobile quarterback is the same kind of mobile. Manziel is a scrambler. He is undersized, and reliant on his creativity rather than pure athleticism. He sees the field and runs to where they aren’t. Very few of his running yards came on designed runs. He is not an aspirational fullback like Tim Tebow, who needed the single wing to do anything. He isn’t a physical freak like Robert Griffin pre-injury. He’s not someone you want to plow into the line ten times a game.

It makes one wonder about his offensive coordinator, Kyle Shanahan, and whether or not he can handle having a quarterback that isn’t Dan Marino and Larry Csonka in one superhuman body. Kyle is the same man who brought you such classics as “Robert Griffin running off-tackle ten times in a game even though he’s pretty clearly got a gimpy knee” and “Robert Griffin begins to hate life and mistrust his coaches because of the sheer pigheadedness of their schemes.” Running the read option with Manziel twice shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the asset he has.

So we’ve managed to isolate a few plays and identify why they are a problem, but still, it’s the first game of the preseason. Maybe Kyle Shanahan has seized upon the read-option like Monet did the water lillies, or Brian Schottenheimer did the bubble screen. Or maybe it was just something to try once and never speak of again. Whichever ends up being the case, I know that Cleveland’s announcers are already excited about it.

leitch:

Today has been a lousy day. Many people whose work I absolutely adore lost their gigs at Sports On Earth today. This was a surprise to me, to say the least. I am not one of those losing my job today. This makes it difficult for me to say anything; as someone who has been laid off literally dozens of times, I know there isn’t anything someone who is staying can say to someone who is going that doesn’t sound awful and patronizing. Sports On Earth is going to continue, and I, along with the others staying, will do our best to do a great site, but it won’t be the same, obviously. All I can say is that I’m sad and that I miss them already and I will read them everywhere they go forever.

Very dreadful news for anyone who likes reading thoughtful writing about sports. SoE was a welcome reprieve from the shouting factory, and I hope it can still be something of a respite in its reduced capacity.

leitch:

Today has been a lousy day. Many people whose work I absolutely adore lost their gigs at Sports On Earth today. This was a surprise to me, to say the least.

I am not one of those losing my job today. This makes it difficult for me to say anything; as someone who has been laid off literally dozens of times, I know there isn’t anything someone who is staying can say to someone who is going that doesn’t sound awful and patronizing. Sports On Earth is going to continue, and I, along with the others staying, will do our best to do a great site, but it won’t be the same, obviously. All I can say is that I’m sad and that I miss them already and I will read them everywhere they go forever.

Very dreadful news for anyone who likes reading thoughtful writing about sports. SoE was a welcome reprieve from the shouting factory, and I hope it can still be something of a respite in its reduced capacity.

Darren Rovell and the Rise of the Post-Human

I should say up front that this is only tangentially football related. Last night was a team USA scrimmage in preparation for the FIBA World Championship. Owing to the stanchion being a full two feet closer than it would have been in an NBA game, Pacers forward Paul George suffered a gruesome looking Theismann-esque leg injury. The looks of concern on the other USA players were immediate and universal. Unless you’re Darren Rovell, in which case your first concern was immediately the implications on the Indiana salary cap. The ESPN Business Reporter tweeted out within an hour an answer to a question that no one was asking: “The Pacers are covered for Paul George’s injury. If he misses a full season, they would get back $6.3M of the $15.8M they pay him.” Well, that’s a load off everyone’s mind.

Clowning on Darren Rovell is one of the few things that unites sports fans. His clueless approach to his ill-defined beat helps to soften the blow of his obvious sociopathic tendencies. Most of his columns amount to clumsily explaining the joke behind commercials, leaning on the word “brand” to make it seem like scholarly thought has gone into these piles of gonorrheal rubbish. He seems to operate under the childish delusion that “brands” are people, evidenced by his World Cup tweet, “Adidas will get its fifth world cup winner. No other brand has more than two.”  What a ridiculous and foolish thing to even keep tabs on. It’s something you would only care about if your concerns were not human. If you were post-human.

Rovell is a clown, and normally clowns are not important, but he is a figure of concern in my mind. What if he is at the vanguard of a new mode of thinking? Perhaps the future of sports punditry consists solely of treating athletes as though they were little more than a collection of fast-twitch muscle fibers bundled loosely in a bag of skin. We already see hints of this in the statistical revolution in baseball, where players are thought of primarily as random number generators, their human qualities dismissed. Fantasy sports and management sims encourage identifying with the front office ahead of identifying with the players. You’ll never be Aaron Rodgers, but maybe you can be Ted Thompson. A front office is still an office, right?

Then again, we now live in a world where corporations are legally persons, and are also legally churches unto themselves. Maybe Rovell’s world is already here. Maybe we’re already in the world prophesied in Leslie Marmon Silko’s Almanac of the Dead:

Trigg congratulated himself on his wisdom and foresight in getting into the biomaterials industry. “Biomaterials”…were going to be the bonanza of the twenty-first century.

[…]

Frozen human organs, less reliable, sold for a fraction of freshly harvested hearts and kidneys. Of course, fetal-brain tissue and cadaver skin were not affected by freezing. Peaches said Trigg bought a great deal in Mexico where recent unrest and civil strife had killed hundreds a week. Mexican hearts were lean and strong, but Trigg had found no market for dark cadaver skin.

How close are we to seeing all humans, and not just athletes, as investment opportunities, insurance policies waiting to be cashed? As long as clowning on Darren Rovell’s clown ass is a popular option, I’ll hold out faith for the future. As long as we can still be outraged, we can still resist.

The Fair Hooker Memorial All-Silly Name Team for 2014

Some notes before we begin:

  • No 2014 rookies were included because of the limits of the Pro Football Reference Positional Search. Ha-Ha Clinton Dix will have to wait until next year.
  • Players must be on a roster as of today.
  • Offensive Lineman, Defensive Lineman, and Defensive Backs were picked without regard to individual positions.
  • Fair Hooker was a reciever for the early 70s Cleveland Browns whose name almost gave Don Meredith a fatal laughing fit on Monday Night Football.
  • The New York Jets, befitting of their misfit culture, have the most goofy names with six. No other team had more than three representatives.

QB: McLeod Bethel-Thompson, San Francisco 49ers
RBs:  Jacquizz Rodgers, Atlanta Falcons. Fozzy Whittaker, Carolina Panthers.
WRs: Juron Criner, Oakland Raiders. Kealoha Pilares, Carolina Panthers
TE:  Justice Cunningham, St. Louis Rams.
OL:  Gosder Cherilus, Indianapolis Colts. King Dunlap, San Diego Chargers. D’Brickashaw Ferguson, New York Jets. Breno Giacomini, New York Jets.  Guy Whimper, Pittsburgh Steelers.
DL: Leger Douzable, New York Jets. Tevita Finau, New York Jets. Elvis Dumervil, Baltimore Ravens.  Star Lotulelei, Carolina Panthers.
LB: Tim Fugger, New York Jets. Joplo Bartu, Atlanta Falcons.  Ja’Gared Davis, New England Patriots.
DB:Chykie Brown, Baltimore Ravens. Ras-I Dowling, New York Jets. Captain Munnerlyn, Minnesota Vikings. Mistral Raymond, Minnesota Vikings.
K: Ryan Succop, Kansas City Chiefs
P: Zoltan Mesko, New England Patriots. [note: wiki page redirects to Zoltan Mesko, Hungarian Nazi Collaborator]

AFC Roundup (again, do not add up the projected records, they probably aren’t going to make sense):

AFC North:
Bengals
Ravens
Steelers
Browns

AFC South:
Colts
Texans
Titans
Jaguars

AFC East:
Patriots
Bills
Dolphins
Jets

AFC West:
Broncos
Chargers
Chiefs
Raiders

Wild Cards: Chargers, Ravens

NFC Roundup (Don’t add up the projected records from before.)

NFC North:
Packers
Bears
Lions
Vikings

NFC South:
Saints
Falcons
Bucs
Panthers

NFC East:
Eagles
Cowboys
[REDACTED]
Giants

NFC West:
Seahawks
49ers
Rams
Cardinals

Wild card teams: 49ers, Bears

Seattle Seahawks: World Champions

There was no doubt after Sunday who the champion of the NFL was. There was no room for Denver fans to complain, no turning point they could point to. They were beaten, and well beaten. There was no question that the Seahawks were the best team that day. The only question is whether we saw a crowning, or a coronation.

I tend towards the latter. This is a young team, a great team, and a team that can throw more than one look at you. This is a team that dominates while going against accepted practices; the Seahawks were one of five teams that ran more than they passed. They’re a young team that locked up its biggest components for years. Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas both got big money extensions, and they are doubtlessly the best at corner and safety, respectively. They’re a team with flair, and with the best collection of nicknames since the 1970s Raiders. I can’t be the only person who isn’t yet sick of shouting “Legion of BOOM” every time Kam Chancellor pushes someone’s nosebone into their brain.

This is still a salary cap league, and you can’t keep everyone. Some hard decisions are going to be made; some already have been made, as Golden Tate was sent to the Lions. The moment of cap reckoning will come when Russell Wilson comes out from under his absurd rookie contract—Wilson is making 900k this year, probably the lowest of any projected starter, and with the market for quarterbacks his deal is unlikely to be a cap-friendly one. Decade spanning dynasties are a thing of the standard-definition past, but for the next two or three years, I can’t see anyone getting past this Seahawks team.

Projected Record: 14-2

Next Year’s Highlight Title: WORLDSTAR

San Francisco 49ers: Farewell Candlestick

I hate the thought of Candlestick Park not existing anymore. The gentrification of sports staidums is not even close to the most important thing about the way cities are pushing out their less photogenic residents, and isn’t even the worst thing about San Francisco’s gentrification specifically at the current moment. But now the Niners have, instead of the rowdy, weird-looking, unpredictably windy, confines of Candlestick, the pristine, safe, ergonomically designed, state of the art, free from the potentially violent underclass, Levi’s Stadium, which isn’t even in San Francisco proper, but rather Santa Clara. It is envrionmentally sustainable, and can also double as a security bunker for the Yorks and DeBartolos should the coming class wars ever come to pass.

But away from the twin downers of nostalgia and radical Marxism we must turn. The 49ers have been built by human cartoon character Jim Harbaugh into a powerful force very quickly. It’d be easy to ascribe this to sheer personality, and Harbaugh is probably the only man on Earth whose outsized personality could make such a claim plausible. Harbaugh’s mind is also a strategic one, and no one active has a broader understanding or a more chimeric approach to the game. Take the way that Harbaugh can go from staid pocket passing Alex Smith to Weapon of the Future Colin Kaepernick without the offense missing a beat. Take the way keys to the defense like Takeo Spikes and Dashon Goldson can leave and only hurt their own stock. Harbaugh might have a mstery of more concepts, both offensive and defensive, of any coach since Tom Landry.

Coaching matters in the NFL more than in any other sport. A manager’s decisions affect at most five games per year in baseball, and a good coach in basketball is mostly a masseuse of egos. Football is heirarchical and has been since the Paul Brown Coaching Classroom opened its doors in the late 1940s. As proof, I cite the 2013 Divisional playoff, and the 2013 season opener, both against the Packers. After putting the quietus on the Kaepernick read-option for four weeks, Harbaugh unleashed it with fury against the Packers with record-setting results. That offseason, Dom Capers took the Packers defense to Texas A&M over the summer, where they practiced against the Johnny Football zone read. They had it down in lock-step; every alley was patrolled perfectly, which was no help as the ball went sailing over their heads, and Kaepernick had the best passing day of his career. Harbaugh outclassed Mike McCarthy, who is no slouch himself at coaching, so thoroughly that they may as well have not played. If we follow the football-as-chess metaphor, that makes Jim Harbaugh Garry Kasparov, playing six people at once for the hell of it.

Projected Record: 12-4

Next Year’s Highlight Film: Deep Gold