“Suck for Luck” was a popular theme last season. While Andrew Luck is enjoying a pretty good rookie season, his accomplishments have thus far been eclipsed by the quarterback taken one spot after him. Robert Griffin III has won the exact same number of games as Luck yet he’s quickly become one of the most hyped players in the league. The Four Letter, always at the forefront of insanity, is already asking if he’s a viable MVP candidate.
As if there weren’t already enough reasons to avoid ESPN.
This Sunday, RGIII will be facing the Pittsburgh Steelers. We here in the Burgh know a little something about dual threat quarterbacks. We had arguably the best one ever. His name was Kordell Stewart.
Every couple years, the NFL finds a new “ultimate weapon” that will “redefine the QB position.” And usually they have a few great seasons, win some games while piling up the fantasy stats, then the league catches up to them and they plummet back to earth. And they never ever win the big one.
People like to argue over what constitutes a dual threat QB. Some people like to list old timers like Fran Tarkenton or even our own Terry Bradshaw (seriously, look up some of TB’s old rushing totals). That’s patently ridiculous as they were classic drop back QBs who used their feet as a last resort, not as a featured part of their offensive repertoire. Others point to guys like John Elway and Steve Young, who at some point led their respective teams in rushing and did manage to win Super Bowls. Again, that’s revisionist history. Both Elway and Young could run but it was never a part of their game plan. They were both prototypical passers who used their legs as a complement and safety valve.
Kordell Stewart was the first real hybrid threat. By hybrid I mean a QB whose offensive game plan was expressly tailored to utilize his running ability as much as his passing. For those too young to remember the Steelers of the mid 90s, Slash was the kind of weapon which gave D-coordinators absolute fits. There were games where it literally seemed like the other team had no idea how to stop him. Nobody had ever seen a guy do the things which Kordell did. The dude rushed for an 80 yard TD, caught a 71 yard TD and threw a 90 yard TD over a five year period.
And that’s why I’m an unapologetic Stewart fanboy and always will be.
Slash represented the first real attempt by the NFL to change the perception of what a QB can be. The standard thinking, which exists to this day, is a college offense won’t work in the pros. Way way back in the day, pro teams ran things like the wishbone or Wing-T and in the 90s there was a brief flirtation with the run and shoot. Still, no team runs the option (because the belief is your QB will eventually get killed) nor do they run the run and shoot’s less insane cousin, the pistol/spread (exclusively that is).
What invariably happens is the NFL takes a great athletic QBs and eventually tries to shoehorn them into a pro set offense. Slash had great success as a multi-faceted weapon but eventually Bill Cowher and the Steelers decided they could only win with a classic pocket passer so they tried to rein him in. And without the running dimension, Slash quickly became just an ordinary average NFL QB.
And this happens over and over every few years. When Michael Vick entered the league, he soon became the new ultimate weapon. His passing skills were never near as good as Stewart’s but the dual threat led him to some early success. Since getting out of the clink, the Eagles have made him more and more of a pocket passer and, just like Slash, his sudden plummet to mediocrity is due to the fact that’s not his strength.
Vince Young was supposed to be the next Vick, Slash 3.0 if you will. A combination of Jeff Fisher trying to rein him in almost from the start and his own stupidity when it came to reading defenses led to a totally unmemorable NFL career. Jeanette’s own Terrelle Pryor is currently languishing on the Raiders despite Carson Palmer clearly being on the downhill slide because I don’t think they know what to do with him. His passing skills were rudimentary by college standards. And as I said, teams aren’t willing to try something new like going to a full-time spread.
Which brings us to last season. In 2011, the Broncos made the playoffs with a hybrid QB because they ditched conventional thinking and played to his strengths. Tim Tebow led his team to the second round by basically running the option. Of course Elway couldn’t wait to go back to a pro set with Peyton Manning because the NFL doesn’t believe you can win any other way.
Which brings us back to RGIII. He’s putting up some monster numbers this season. His rushing yardage alone is more than all the Steelers running backs COMBINED. He’s also completing a whopping 70% of his passes. But the whispers are already starting. When he was concussed a few weeks back, the talking heads couldn’t wait to say “he needs to learn” which was code for “You can’t keep running, you’re a QB.”
Now maybe RGIII will have a career similar to a Randall Cunningham or Donavan McNabb, athletic QBs who successfully transitioned to pocket passers. More likely, he’s having a huge season because the Redskins are letting him be himself. They’re turning him loose and nobody knows what to do. But as soon as something happens, be it a bad season or a serious injury, NFLThink will kick in and they’ll try to make him into a regular QB. When that happens, he’ll be just another quarterback and everybody will wonder what happened to RGIII?
We’ll know here in Pittsburgh. Just ask Kordell Stewart.
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Kordell Stewart retired yesterday as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers. I’m sure many of you are thinking, “Wait, what? I thought he retired a long time ago in order to take a job as back-up dancer at It’s Raining Men.” Actually, the artist formerly known as Slash has been a B-team (actually more like D-team) NFL analyst over at ESPN since 2008. Considering barely literate jackasses like Keyshawn Johnson are given prominent air time at the four letter, that should tell you how highly they value Kordell’s broadcasting skills. Which is too bad because the few times I watched their nigh unwatchable First Take program (mainly to catch of glimpse of foxy Dana Jacobson), I thought Stewart offered some decent insights.
Then again, I’m an unapologetic Slash fanboy. I’ve always found the level of vitriol directed at him by Steeler Nation to be absolutely ridiculous. Leaving aside the rednecks who hated him because he was black and the bigots who couldn’t stand that he was gay, the vast majority of Steeler fans disliked him simply because he committed the mortal sin of never winning a Super Bowl. I never understood that being some magical bar Yinzers hold up as the only worthwhile proof of football skill.
Unfortunately, I hear this line of thinking from Steeler Nation all too often and it drives me crazy. It’s the same reason you can’t have a rational discussion about coaches because all too often you’ll hear some nonsense like, “Mike Tomlin won two Super Bowls. Bill Cowher won one. Therefore Tomlin is the greatest coach since Paul Brown!” That’s like saying Kim Kardashian must be way more beautiful and talented than Mila Kunis because more people watch Keeping Up With The Kardashians than watched That 70s Show. The reason fans clamor for Cowher to come rescue their team at the end of every season is because Cowher’s level of success is unparallelled in modern football. The only other coach who comes close is Bill Parcells. Tomlin? Well, he did a good job of not killing the golden goose he was handed but we have yet to see if he can win consistently with teams of his own.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand focusing on the Super Bowl. When all is said and done, hoisting the Lombardi should be the ultimate barometer of your season. However, football being a team game, I don’t see that as the sole measure of a player’s worth. After all, if you only allowed Super Bowl winning quarterbacks into the Hall of Fame, there’d only be about 30 of them in Canton. I don’t think anybody is going to argue the greatness of guys like Warren Moon (who also fell victim to being an African American QB), Jim Kelly, or Pittsburgh’s own Dan Marino, even if they never won the big one.
Kordell Stewart made Pro Bowls. Kordell Stewart took the Steelers to playoffs. Kordell Stewart appeared in multiple AFC Championship games. In 30 other NFL cities, those accomplishments would make him a beloved figure by the loyal fanbase. In Pittsburgh, all it’s earned him are shrugs and withering comments.
For two seasons, Slash was the most fearsome offensive weapon in football. Fantasy footballers go nuts over Michael Vick or Cam Newton but look at some of the stats Stewart put up during his time in Pittsburgh. In 1997 alone he accounted for 32 touchdowns (21 passing, 11 rushing). THIRTY-TWO TOUCHDOWNS. He also passed for 3,000 yards in an era not quite as wide open as it was today and throwing to some truly horrible wide receivers. Andre Hastings? Charles Johnson? Big Ben wouldn’t throw for 2,500 yards let alone 4,000 if he had those guys as his targets. When Slash had Plax and Hines in 2001, he went back to being a 3,000 yard passer. Besides, anybody that watched Kordell during the late 90s remembers how terrified defenses were of him. He could throw the ball 45 yards or tuck it down and outrun the entire defense all by himself. He was undoubtedly the best hybrid pass-throw QB ever even though he never gets the credit that overrated dog rapist in Philly seems to get.
Anyway, I’m glad Stewart got to retire a Steeler. It’s a silly custom, signing a one day contract so you can file your official retirement papers as a member of a certain team, but I applaud the Steelers for going along with it. By doing so, they’re at least acknowledging what a great player he was for them and the vital role he played in some really memorable seasons. Hopefully, some day Steeler fans will also give the third best QB in Black and Gold history the credit he deserves.