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Doug Wolter: In the NFL, it's always about the man behind center

Here’s the subject I’m thinking about today: NFL football, and what would they talk about if not for quarterbacks? Consider this: Is there another sport where one solitary position on the field generates so much interest?

Doug Wolter photo
Doug Wolter

Here’s the subject I’m thinking about today: NFL football, and what would they talk about if not for quarterbacks? Consider this: Is there another sport where one solitary position on the field generates so much interest?

Case in point (and three colons in my first three sentences): A talking head on a sports television channel asks his panelists whether there has ever been a Super Bowl played featuring two greater quarterbacks than Tom Brady and Pat Mahomes.

This is typical Super Bowl hype, of course, but the point that they are making is the idea of offering the G.O.A.T. (greatest of all-time) against his G.O.A.T. successor in the biggest game of the year.

But let’s be fair. Though Sunday’s game certainly has its special qualities from a quarterback perspective, Brady is on the tail end of his career and, though still obviously capable, is not as great as he was in his prime. Mahomes seems to be on a path that will one day cause him to be compared to Brady, but he’s still only 25.

I don’t begrudge all this talk about the Super Bowl quarterbacks, because it certainly is an intriguing matchup. I’m struck, though, at how the NFL has become so quarterback-dominated that other aspects of the game (after all, it’s still a team game) are routinely overlooked.

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The real nuts-and-bolts football fans are different. They’re anxious to talk about Tampa Bay’s outstanding defense. They’re interested in the battle in the trenches, and they want to know what each team’s game plan will be. But for the casual observer, the quarterbacks are 98 percent of what it’s all about. It’s like when you’re grabbed by a movie trailer and you see that George Clooney and Tom Hanks are starring in it, and that’s the only thing you see at all.

Baseball isn’t like that. Baseball fans don’t swoon over pitchers at the expense of outfielders, or put second basemen on a pedestal while looking at catchers as if they’re common ferns. Basketball isn’t like that, either. The forwards aren’t exalted while the guards are ignored. Name any other sport, too. The most popular player on the team could be anyone, regardless of the position he or she plays.

The NFL had better hope that there will always be a college pipeline of exciting quarterbacks coming into the league, because if it ever becomes quarterback-poor, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

When Brady decides to hang it up, there goes the G.O.A.T. As Drew Brees contemplates what some say could be his imminent retirement, there goes another future Hall of Famer. Whoever replaces them will be the subject of endless discussion because, well … it’s the quarterback position. And if the replacement shows only average skills, fans will grow restless and the owner will move heaven and earth to finagle a better one in the next draft. Sure, it’s nice that the team possesses a sack artist on the other side of the ball or a linebacker that can cover a tight end, but if the brain trust doesn’t have a quarterback who can be the featured topic of discussion on ESPN, it’s got nothing.

Every year in the NFL, there are quarterback dramas, and it’s what makes the league go all a-flutter. Green Bay Packers fans had a cow when Aaron Rodgers seemed to suggest he may be open to going somewhere else next year. The Houston Texans’ “Days of Our Lives” serial with unhappy QB, Deshaun Watson has new twists and turns daily. A few days ago, the Detroit Lions traded Matthew Stafford to the Los Angeles Rams for Jared Goff and high draft picks, and experts became giddy over the possibilities. So, too, did fans, predictably inserting unreasonable faith in their shiny new toys.

The rumor mills must go on without pause.

So … What about Kirk Cousins, and the unlikely possibility that the Vikings might want to move on? And what will happen to the Eagles’ Carson Wentz? Will he find happiness in the arms of another?

Will Derek Carr and Jimmy Garoppolo ever find love?

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And will the Jets’ Sam Darnold be thrown aside for a younger, prettier model?

Stay tuned. It’s the NFL soap opera. And there’s still a lot of soap on the shelves, waiting to be sold.

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