There's an old football saying that's been around for a few years. "The backup quarterback is the most popular guy in town." It's never specific to any one player but instead points to the psyche of the modern day average football fan. The perception of the unknown. It's easy as a fan to always want the back up, he surely can't be worse than the guy who's in there right now, right?
This is a fundamental flaw in how we look at our teams. We've gotten to the point as fans where one ill-advised pass, one errant throw has the boo birds out in force. This isn't an issue just with the Bucs, but with just about every pro team in every sport. We all try to armchair quarterback our way through this. The starter throws a 5 yard pass on 3rd and 8? Pull him, he sucks, the backup could do better. He throws an incomplete pass on 2nd and goal? Worst quarterback I've ever seen, get him out of there.
And when we bring the back up in, and he performs nicely for a few plays, we feel like we should be on the coaching staff. After all, it was our idea in the first place. But 9 times out of 10 something happens; the back up starts to regress and starts to make mistakes. At first we turn a blind eye, "He just needs to get into a rhythm" or "He's been on the bench for a few weeks, give him time." It won't be long until the proverbial honeymoon period is over and we start clamoring for the starter, who coincidentally has become the back up, thus making him the most popular guy in town and completing this bastardized circle of life.
I always look at it like a 6th man in basketball. The back up QB is the guy coming off the bench, much like the 6th man, who brings some new energy to the game. He brings a different look, a different skill set, which throws off the defense. He (they) get the team running around, performing well, closing the gap. But then a funny thing happens. There's a wall there for him to hit. He (they) can't keep it up forever. Inevitably, the starter finds their way back into the game and life goes on. The backup QB, the 6th man are just a "spark" off the bench. After all, there's generally a reason why they are the backup in the first place.
There are plenty of examples of this in the NFL. We've seen backups come in for a few plays or few games and keep things moving in the right direction. Jeff Garcia, Byron Leftwich, Charlie Batch, Kerry Collins, etc. Garcia with the Eagles would come in and start moving the ball with his dink and dunk passing game and his erratic scrambling. Philly fans loved it. He moved the chains, he was exciting, he was the most popular guy in town. The magic will wear off at some point andyou're usually left with a player with a sub-par skill set as compared to the starter. One bad play turns into ten and pretty soon, the starter is back out there.
Which brings me to the Bucs. Every year, with every quarterback, there are boos heard. We wanted Brad Johnsonout, he couldn't go deep and couldn't run. We wanted Shaun King out, too inexperienced. We wanted Griese out, we wanted Griese in. We wanted Chris Simmsto play, we wanted him out of town. We loved Garcia, then we wanted someone else to go downfield. Now here we are with Leftwich. Game 1, we were all pretty dang pleased with how he did. Game 2, not as good, but 3 TD's, 2 INT's and a boatload of yards. Please sir, I'd like some more.
Then came game 3. I'm not making any excuses for Leftwich, he was awful. But here's a newsflash, so was the rest of the team. The plays that I saw where he dumped it off, no one was open. I can't confirm that on all plays, but on the majority, he made the right read. The interception he threw? That was a terrible decision, no bones about it. The short of it is this, Leftwich struggles. We've said all along, if the OL gives him time, he will be good. If they collapse, he is toast. Well guess what, the line collapsed, he was toast. This isn't a surprise. This was a fail from top to bottom.
Then Josh Johnsoncame in and he started moving the chains. Everyone wants to talk about how good he looked and he's much better for our team. No doubt the kid is talented, but before we start patting ourselves on the back, where's the outrage? After all, we've lambasted Leftwich for throwing only rockets, and JJ did the same thing in the red zone. What about escaping the pocket? We used to hang our heads when Garcia did that? It's the honeymoon phase. The backup QB can do no wrong.
Now before you jump all over me and say I'm biased against Josh Johnson, I'm not. I thought the guy deserved a chance in pre-season. If he's the guy, I'll gladly back him and root for him. But we have to see him for what he is. He played a pretty mediocre drive towards the endof a blowout with some backups in the game. He did move the ball, but it was limited success in a short sample. Hardly anything we can derive conclusions from. The grass is always greener, am I right?
So the Buc stand here witha problem. We have a starting quarterback who has a certain skill set. The playbook supposedly falls in line with those skills. When our line blocks, this quarterback can deliver the ball andmake plays. When that doesn't happen, it's a bloodbath. We have a backup who has a different skill set. He may or may not be well suited for this offense andthis team. When he comes in, we wildly cheer his success. Any mistakes he makes are met with averted eyes. But if we're gonna call out Leftwich, Garcia, Simms, Griese, Brad Johnson, then why don't we do the same to the back up?
And thus we see the true problem. As fans we are only able to see a limited piece of the puzzle. We see the hear and now andonly the last play. A true "What have you done for me lately" We've seen in every sport fans play coach with their perfect 20/20 vision in hindsight. Should've run instead of passed, should've bunted instead of swinging away, should've shot the three, not driven to the hoop. We boo the first signs of mistakes and don't let up. The calls for the backup commence and when he's brought in, life is good. But when he makes a mistake, we don't boo him. We give him the long leash that we denied the starter, but why?
Oh yea, he's the most popular guy in town, and we're just hoping he'll remember that it was us who wanted him to play.