Rush Limbaugh And Black Quarterbacks
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In all the brouhaha over Rush Limbaugh being prevented from buying part of an NFL team, has anybody noticed that his endlessly denounced remark — the one he actually said in 2003, not the libelous made-up ones we've been hearing lately — about the media overrating black quarterbacks for political reasons have been largely vindicated?

Six years later, 2009 is turning out to be a bust for black quarterbacks in the NFL. Not a single one is having a good season.

Seven of the 36 most active quarterbacks are black. David Garrard is probably doing best so far: on Sunday, he got Jacksonville back to .500, but he's only #20 in passer rating.

On Sunday, Jason Campbell got benched at halftime by the Redskins. Former #1 draft pick JaMarcus Russell did win a game for Oakland, by beating Donovan McNabb 13-9. Seneca Wallace is back on the bench in Seattle. In Tampa Bay, Byron Leftwich has been replaced by young Josh Johnson, who is 32nd in passer rating.

With 140 yards rushing in six games, Garrard is the only black quarterback with at least 100 yards on the ground 30% of the way into the season.

Meanwhile, white quarterbacks are having a great year, with seven with passer ratings over 100, versus only one at the end of last year, although presumably top end ratings will come down as sample sizes increase and the weather worsens.

You could argue that black quarterbacks did better 20 years ago in 1989, when Warren Moon finished 4th in passer rating and Randall Cunningham 14th.

Overall, it looks like the first half of this decade, 2000-2004, was the peak for black quarterbacks in the NFL, while 2005-2009 has marked a surprising regression.

I have to admit that I wasn't expecting that. I thought they'd gradually get better. Back in 2003, during the first Limbaugh-NFL brouhaha, I wrote in about the emergence of black quarterbacks:

It's been a slow process, however, with frustration on all sides. Football teams are like armies–it takes them a lot of trial and error to figure out how to use a new kind of weapon effectively.

Perhaps surprisingly, Hollywood has already produced a good dramatization of the complicated opportunities and difficulties posed by black quarterbacks: Oliver Stone's 1999 football movie Any Given Sunday. It's not Stone at his best (or worst), but it's a perceptive and fair depiction of the black quarterback issue by a man who gave up all hope of being politically correct years ago.

Dennis Quaid plays the white drop-back quarterback who gets too banged up to play. In desperation, old-school coach Al Pacino replaces him with a young black QB (an undersized Jamie Foxx) who has a chip on his shoulder because, throughout his career, coaches have tried to convert him to other positions.

Foxx doesn't like studying the playbook. He just makes things up as he goes along, with often wonderful (but sometimes disastrous) results. This delights the sportswriters, who declare him "the future of football." It drives Pacino crazy.

Eventually, Pacino and Foxx begin to respect each other's strengths. They reach a compromise. Foxx finally bears down and learns the playbook. Pacino gives him more freedom on the field to make things happen. Together, they win The Big Game.

This Hollywood happy ending will probably eventually come true in NFL, too. Lots of talented men are working hard to make it a reality.

Meanwhile, expect no toleration for those so rude as to point out that the emperor has no cleats.

Well, six years later, my latter prediction is certainly valid, but not my former one.

What happened?

Well, I don't watch enough football to have much of an opinion, but here's a hypothesis. When my older kid played football in a league for 9 and 10 year olds, the coach came out into the huddle and called plays and the teams usually took about two minutes between plays to get themselves organized. Football is just really complicated. The best team in the league just simplified matters by putting their best athlete, a black kid, at quarterback and letting him do whatever he wanted with the ball.

Similarly, whenever my younger kid got roped into playing Madden, a game he never paid much attention to, he'd always pick Michael Vick as his quarterback and just have him run around with the ball, because that was a lot easier than trying to have a quarterback throw to receivers running routes.

From that perspective, all this "future of football" stuff about quarterbacks who can run is backwards: having one player Do It All isn't the future of football, it's the past. You can't stop a great athlete in PeeWee Football, but you can in the NFL. They apply a lot of brainpower to the problem of stopping one man.

No, the future of football is like the present in the NFL, just more so: having all eleven players execute in tandem ever more sophisticated schemes.

Part of the problem is that getting a mobile black quarterback became a quick fix for having a lousy offense. Is your offensive line so porous that a 30 year old white guy would get killed? Put a fast young black guy in at quarterback and let him outrun the defenders. At minimum, it will excite your fans.

After a few years of this, maybe you've finally fixed your offensive line, but now your fast black quarterback is banged up and isn't quite as fast anymore, but he's been confirmed in his instinct to take off with the ball and run rather than to step up into the pocket.

This happens at lower levels, too. If you are a high school or college coach, why try to train a fast black quarterback to be an NFL pocket passer when you can win now by just letting him freelance?

In contrast, the white sideline dads of America with tall, strong sons have given up on basketball, and they don't trust their coaches to take the long view of their sons' potential. So, they are paying out of their own pockets to hire personal quarterbacking tutors. (When USC played Notre Dame this weekend, Matt Barkley of USC said he'd know Jimmy Clausen of Notre Dame for years because they have the same off-season quarterback coach, Steve Clarkson.)

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