Thursday, August 07, 2008

Where Old Quarterbacks Go to Die

Babe Parilli, Jeff Blake, Jack Trudeau, Boomer Esiason, Bubby Brister, Frank Reich, Neil O’Donnell, Vinny Testaverde, Rick Mirer, Quincy Carter, Jay Fiedler, Patrick Ramsey. They all put in time with the New York Jets, either at the end, or in the middle, of careers that had already peaked (or hardly ever were). Which is why Brett Favre’s move to the Big Apple has the ominous ringings of “aging quarterback pushing the envelope on legendary magic.”

We’ll waste no more words on the Favre-Packers PR slopfest. Instead let’s ponder what happens now that Favre has set his cap for a place where quarterbacks go to die. (That's Brett on the left, in much younger days.)

The Jets have made significant theoretical upgrades to their team, which finished a disappointing 4-12 in 2007, after the very hopeful 10-6 of 2006. They’ve made trades and they’ve drafted with purpose, with the hope that #1 pick defensive end Vernon Gholston, out of Ohio State, can help anchor a rebuilding defense.

But in acquiring Favre, in a weird trade that has more caveats than a domestic court custody decision, the Jets dumped Chad Pennington, which has the air of bad karma waiting to happen.

Check out the Pennington log here. He’s a gifted quarterback, whose main stumbling block to success has been primarily his proneness to injury. Pennington, 32 (almost 7 years younger than Favre), is a smart and savvy signal caller, admirable to watch, and he’s led the Jets to the playoffs three times in the six years he’s been the starting QB.

Pennington will find work elsewhere, and there’s always the possibility that his prime time has yet to come. Dumping him for Favre makes sense if one is committed to his Brett-ness, which apparently the Jets are. No sense in having another disgruntled first-string QB around, especially one whose abilities might rather challenge the Great One’s. All’s well with callow Kellen Clemens now holding the Jets’ sideline clipboard.

Of course, the bigger questions are about Favre’s ability to stay healthy and what going to the Jets will do to his psyche, given the team’s historical penchant for sabotaging impending success with abject mediocrity.

The Jets are not a team that gets off the schneid. They won a Super Bowl 40 years ago and haven’t won one since. Their playoff history is sometimes “one and done” but always ultimately disappointing. Now they are patching holes with serious amounts of spackle and have brought in a legend to lead the charge.

Certainly the dramatic tenor of the 2008 season just got a huge battery boost. The idea of Favre in New York is conceptually bright in and of itself, but God help us if we’re focusing on his stint there for all the wrong reasons. Like, he can’t spin straw into gold with the Jets’ question-mark offense. Or he gets pounded by the Patriots and Bills defenders, who will definitely be coming after him bigtime. Or, worst of all, he simply ages before our very eyes, and that old Jets voodoo curse hits him with Cajun fury.

Meanwhile, back in Green Bay, all eyes are on Aaron Rodgers—pictured left with general manager/mentor Ted Thompson—who, as far as anyone can tell, still hasn’t proven that he’s a front-line NFL QB. He may have the pedigree, but he doesn’t have the track record, and he essentially comes in to the season as most any rookie would. If he falters, especially while Favre succeeds, we’ll all certainly get an ironic chuckle out of that.

Both tragedy and drama have stalked Favre’s career, and there’s something about his country-boy stalwart that has also kept eyes focused on him. Now, in the twilight of his career, he takes the biggest stage of all, New York, where the reigning NFL champs are the rival crosstown Giants, led by another Mississippi-linked gunslinger, Eli Manning.

Okay, then. We'll root hard for ya, Brett. And if it comes to it, we'll resist the urge to say, "I told you so."

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