The Sun Sets on the Golden Age of NFL Quarterbacks

Let’s get nostalgic for a moment. Where were you 16 years ago? Here’s some context to help you remember: “Finding Nemo” had just been released, “Hey Ya!” was a #1 hit, and Michael Jordan had finished his final season with the Washington Wizards. It seemed like Howard Dean could possibly win the Democratic primary. And maybe you were in the crowds boycotting the Dixie Chicks?

It was also the last time we had an NFL Sunday without Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger or Eli Manning starting at quarterback. For 5,748 days, one of those three have started for their teams every week of the NFL season. Now, with Brees and Rothlisberger sidelined with injuries and Manning benched in favor of rookie Daniel Jones, the sun is beginning to set on the league’s golden age of quarterbacks.

Who knows what lies ahead for young stars like Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes, but it’s likely that their careers will differ from those of Brees, Roethlisberger and Manning in one key way: They won’t be synonymous with their teams the way that their predecessors are.

Our idea of a “franchise quarterback” is based on the model that this aging generation of signal callers created (or in the case of Tom Brady, will continue to create as he wins Super Bowls for the next 50 years). They defined their franchises. Sure, Brees started his career as a Charger, but he is the Saints. The New York skyline consists of the Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building, Derek Jeter, and Eli Manning. When the Eagles traded up for Carson Wentz, team officials say that they did so because they saw a player who could not only play quarterback for a decade, but one who could also represent the city for years to come.

Look at all other sports, and it’s clear that this kind of loyalty to a team is becoming rarer every day. LeBron has played on three teams. Giancarlo Stanton has played for two. It’s much more likely that you’ll see this generation of quarterbacks swap out jerseys a couple times in their careers.

There’s something undeniably fun about that, the exciting rush of a change of scenery. But here’s to the old tentpole around which you can build a franchise. Someone like Manning might have a final winning percentage of exactly .500, but as the top movies, hit songs, and surging presidential candidates have all changed 10 times over since he first took the helm in New York, we could always count on the fact that Eli Manning would be under center for the Giants. He’s a throughline and a touchstone for a generation. Sometimes, the most powerful thing sports can do is to not change at all.

(Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

Pilgrimages

The Rugby World Cup kicks off today in Japan, and officials estimate that 600,000 devotees from Rugby-mad countries like New Zealand, South Africa, and France have already bought tickets to the tournament. Japan isn’t a typical Rugby power, but like all major international tournaments—the Olympics, the World Cup—it will now become the epicenter of the sports world for several weeks. These events act as part-celebration and part missionary trip, communing old fans and introducing a whole new population to this mad, wonderful thing that we adore. Team USA—expected to be underdogskick off its World Cup against England on Thursday, September 26. You can watch on NBC Gold.

(Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

Holy Wars

Sure, Tennessee-Florida might not have the same stakes that it did in the 90s, when Peyton Manning was wearing Tennessee orange and Steve Spurrier stalked the Gator sideline. In 8 of the 10 years, both teams were ranked among the Top-10 when they met, and the SEC East was often decided by a game dubbed “The Third Saturday in September,” because, well…you get the idea. But just because both programs aren’t perennial national title contenders doesn’t mean there’s any less bad blood. Anything can happen in a rivalry game. Can things finally turn around in Rocky Top? Tune in this Saturday at noon EST to find out.

 

Scripture

NFL Veteran Vontae Davis Quit the NFL Midgame. Here’s What Happened Next

By Brendan Meyer • ESPN

Almost a year ago, Bills cornerback Vontae Davis took off his pads at halftime and retired in the middle of the game. Brendan Meyer catches up with Davis here, and spoiler alert: he doesn’t regret his decision one bit.

Kevin Durant’s New Headspace

By JR Moehringer • Wall Street Journal Magazine

After a controversial Finals and move to Brooklyn, KD dishes on his time in Golden State and what success means to him. A fascinating look into the mind of one of the greatest athletes of his generation.

This Grandma Is Visiting Every National Park

By Connor W. Davis • Outside Magazine

When her grandson was in a funk, Joy Ryan told him, “I think it’s time we go see some mountains.” The next day, at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Joy camped for the first time in her life. Now, the 85-year-old has visited 29 of America’s National Parks, where she and her grandson hike, camp, and relish life.

(L.E. Baskow / Las Vegas Review Journal)

Miracles

Look closely at this picture of Dearica Hamby’s miracle buzzer beater that propelled the Las Vegas Aces into the WNBA semifinals. It was a miracle shot, a last-second steal and heave, and if you study the faces of everyone in the photo, you’ll see how sports have the ability to leave us with a million emotions at once. Don’t forget to keep watching the always thrilling WNBA Playoffs for more moments like this one. The Aces next game is against the Washington Mystics on Sunday at 5 PM EST.

(Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Believers

Why do I love sports? It’s an internal harmony. We didn’t have much money growing up in our working-class North Jersey town in the 1960s. But we had stickball on the playground blacktop, football between the parked cars down the center of our street, and basketball wherever we could find anything resembling a hoop.

None of us considered ourselves athletes. Sports was just there. It was part of our getting together and hanging out. An unorganized, natural state of play.

The “game,” any game, is simply inherently in our blood, and an internal harmony connects us vicariously as spectators. Watching a game, we are knocking the cover off a fastball. We are sinking a three-point basket. We are making the diving catch in the end zone. We are sharing, in that moment, years of blood, sweat and the joy of being alive at the height of our being.–Tom Sierchio  

(Morris Berman / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Old Testament

Awakening the Giant

By Seth Wickersham • ESPN The Magazine

Hall of Fame quarterback Y.A. Tittle isn’t like Eli Manning. He’s not known for being the face of any particular franchise. Instead, he’s known for being the subject of one of the iconic sports photos of all time. In this 2014 story for ESPN Magazine, Seth Wickersham reveals the toll that the picture has taken on the aging quarterback, and why he says the QB hates looking at it. Come for the perfect opening section, and stay for a meditation on sports’ afterlife.

Hymns

In 1908, brothers Michael and John Shea heard Michigan’s new fight song, “Hail to the Victors,” which we featured here last week. They saw how it energized fans and players alike and decided that their alma mater, Notre Dame, needed a march of its own. Michael, a priest, wrote the music while John wrote the words, and soon, the Notre Dame band was playing the famed “Victory March” at every game.

Only four years after the song debuted, a certain flutist joined the band and performed at every game: His name was Knute Rockne, and he only went on to be one of the greatest coaches in college football history. So when the no. 7 Irish face off against no. 3 Georgia this Saturday at 8 PM EST, be sure not to make fun of any band geeks performing the song. You never know who might be playing the flute.

Last Words

“The secret is to work less as individuals and more as a team. As a coach, I play not my eleven best, but my best eleven.” –Knute Rockne, Notre Dame coach