Unabated to the QB, Week 4: The Great White Hope

“‘Self control!’ repeated Tom incredulousy. ‘I suppose the latest thing is to sit back and let Mr. Nobody from Nowhere make love to your wife. Well, if that’s the idea you can count me out…. Nowadays people begin by sneering at family life and family institutions and next they’ll throw everything overboard and have intermarriage between black and white.’

“Flushed with his impassioned gibberish he saw himself standing alone on the last barrier of civilization.

“‘We’re all white here,’ murmured Jordan.”

–F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

Running for 100 yards in back-to-back games is not much of an accomplishment in the NFL, even in these passing times. As such, running for 100 yards twice in a season is pretty commonplace. Since 2002, there have been 244 different individual seasons in which a running back has had at least two 100-yard games. Until last week, though, there was something uniform about that list.

None of those running backs were white.

That’s right. With his second consecutive 100-yard game on Sunday, Cleveland’s Peyton Hillis became the first white running back to eclipse the 100-yard mark twice in the same season since Mike Alstott in 2001. The issue, though, goes back further. Alstott was the first to do it since at least 1990, which is when I started getting tired going back through Pro-Football-Reference’s Play Index. That’s 20+ years and 500+ seasons of at least two 100-yard games. A full two are now by white guys.*

*Note: People often cite Nick Goings as a white running back who had five 100-yard running games in 2004. Goings, though, is mixed race — just like Barack Obama.

Hillis isn’t alone. Just last week, John Kuhn led the Packers in rushing (with a whopping 39 yards!), and Danny Woodhead scored a touchdown for the second straight week out of the Patriots’ backfield. Of course, this all comes after there was a legitimate debate about the viability of Toby Gerhart’s Heisman candidacy and NFL potential — based almost exclusively on his race.*

*Please note that I call this debate “legitimate.” The fact that there hasn’t been a successful white running back since John Riggins justifies that kind of racial profiling. And even then, the white running backs who have had success — Riggins, Alstott, and Larry Csonka, come to mind, as well as Hillis now — are a certain kind of running back: namely, a borderline fullback.

Hillis may not be the Great White Hope of the backfield, but he is the closest there has been in a long time.

Speaking of Peyton, who’d have guessed that he would have as many career 100-yard games at this point (three) as his Arkansas teammates, Darren McFadden and Felix Jones, combined?

And it was only a matter of time before that Bengals’ AFC North winning streak predictably stopped against Cleveland. Seven in a row down the tubes.

You hear that silence? That’s other GMs not calling the Eagles about Kevin Kolb’s availability.

I heard a fair amount of people mention how Nate Clements has to know Roddy White is sneaking up on him on that fumble. That’s true; he does. But the bigger question to me is this: Why is Nate Clements still running with the ball in that situation? It’s actually better for San Francisco if he doesn’t score a touchdown there. A TD makes it an eight-point game, so it’s still one possession, and it gives the ball back to the Falcons. If he goes down after making the pick, the Niners can run some serious clock before giving the ball back to Atlanta deep in Falcons’ territory, if at all.

Also true: Ahmad Bradshaw needs to know Zachary Bowman is behind him on his fumble in the fourth quarter against the Bears. The interesting thing was Bradshaw appeared to be looking for the giant videoboards in the four corners of New Meadowlands Stadium to see if anyone was behind him (a practice that, by now, we know is pretty standard). But by looking diagonally to his left for the videoboard, Bradshaw couldn’t see Bowman to his back right. Clearly, videoboards should only be positioned directly behind the end zone.

Jets Bash of the Week: You may have played better than the Bills, but you certainly didn’t look better. Those throwback threads were fine, Buffalo.

On the topic of the Bills, do you think Buffalo fans would trade their sad NFL franchise for the generally successful Toronto Argonauts of the CFL. Sure, it’s not the big-time, but at least it’s a winner, right? And Toronto clearly wants the Bills, so why not make the deal for a year or two and see how it goes?

Before Championship Weekend last season, I explored the issue of fan suffering. In comparing the histories of the Saints and Vikings, I asked:

“In the end, what’s worse? Is it worse to suffer a seemingly neverending series of small losses, or just a few really big ones? Is it worse to be unknown or to be known for coming up short?”

But really, now that I think about it, the absolute worst fan experience is to shift from relevantly coming up short (like the Vikings) to complete irrelevance (like the Saints). And who occupies that ignominious place in the NFL these days? Yep, the Buffalo Bills.

My original question about Buffalo was going to be whether it was worse to be a Bills fan during the Aughts, when they never made the playoffs, or the ‘90s, when they lost four Super Bowls. But really, you can’t look at those decades exclusively, and to me, the Aughts become a lot worse because Bills fans had grown accustomed to mattering. Now, they don’t matter at all. For football fans just younger than me, there isn’t much difference between the Bills and the Detroit Lions or the Kansas City Royals or the Los Angeles Clippers.

And that’s depressing, even for Buffalo.

Chiefs Plug of the Week: You mean, the “last unbeaten team” in the NFL Kansas City Chiefs? Get used to hearing it, folks! At least until Sunday!

Josh Scobee’s 59-yard field goal was just more evidence that field goals are simply too easy in the modern-day NFL. Maybe Pierre was on to something.*

*I would advocate two- and three-point field goals in that scenario, by the way. Not three and four. We don’t want field goals accounting for even more scoring.

Totally didn’t expect that Broncos win in Tennessee. Is it time already to jump off the Titans’ bandwagon? They have not looked good in three weeks (believe me, their win over the Giants was not impressive), and the schedule doesn’t get any easier from here on out.

Also strongly considering a leap from the Miami bandwagon. Tough to recover from home divisional losses.

That T.J. Ward hit on Jordan Shipley was the cheapest cheap shot I’ve seen in a while.

It’s a little early to say this, and the Jets and Colts (among others) will have a say in it, but if Sunday’s game in Pittsburgh between the Steelers and Ravens was an AFC Championship Game preview, I’ll take it for the second time in three years. Those teams know how to play good football games.

According to Deadspin — psh, you totally think you know where I’m going with this, don’t you — one of Malcolm Gladwell’s self-described “big questions” for Bill Simmons at The New Yorker Festival was that Charlie Batch’s success this season showed that there is no such thing as a great quarterback in the NFL. I really hope Deadspin is taking this out of context, because such an extrapolation by Gladwell is nothing short of insane; it would move me much closer to Steven Pinker on the infamous Pinker-Gladwell Spectrum.*

*Which I just made up.

I imagine what Gladwell actually meant was that, given certain contexts — particularly a team with a great defense and solid running game — it doesn’t much matter who you play at quarterback. This is largely true. Not to pour salt in my own wounds, but the Ravens won a Super Bowl with Trent Dilfer at quarterback, and Joe Gibbs — who Gladwell called the greatest football coach ever in another “big question” — won three Super Bowls with quarterbacks who wouldn’t be called “great.” Gladwell may think that a system is primarily responsible for our idea of the quality of a quarterback, and this is a much saner and stronger case, with notable historical exhibits such as Joe Montana and anyone who played for Texas Tech.

But I still think going from “The system helps make the QB” to “There are no great QBs” is way too big a step.

Stealing some nomenclature from The Awl, the AFC Listicle (a ranking without commentary):

16. Buffalo

15. Cleveland

14. Oakland

13. Denver

12. Jacksonville

11. Cincinnati

10. San Diego

9. Kansas City

8. Miami

7. Tennessee

6. Houston

5. New England

4. Indianapolis

3. New York

2. Pittsburgh

1. Baltimore

One response to this post.

  1. […] narcissist. Tim mentioned Gladwell’s session with Bill Simmons at The New Yorker Festival in Unabated to the Quarterback, but here’s the Deadspin rundown in case you missed it (amidst the Duke Thesis and Brett […]


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