This year is the first year that I have been interested in football in a long time. My favorite team, the Raiders, showed promise as the season began and Jason Campbell was still healthy. The Forty Niners were rejuvenated under a new head coach and a revitalized Alex Smith at quarterback. And in Denver, a young quarterback named Tim Tebow was pulling out the craziest victories in spite of his erratic passing and college style offense.
I started looking on Mondays on youtube for the latest highlights of Tebow’s football exploits. His in-your-face displays of his Christianity sometimes got annoying, but I figured that he is just a kid, and will eventually learn to be more humble in his expressions of faith. I just enjoyed watching the improbable comeback victories that he always seemed to pull off.
I used to be a big football fan in the 1970s and 1980s. I am a lifelong Oakland Raiders fan and the 1970s and 1980s were a golden era of Raiders history, with Ken Stabler, Dave Casper, Jim Plunkett, and Marcus Allen. My interest in football began to wane in the early 1990s, when Bo Jackson suffered a career-ending hip injury. I didn’t like the way Al Davis was treating running back Marcus Allen, and I gradually lost interest in football until this year. I’m grateful, as football is a great game with a lot of history. When I was a kid, I had a lot of favorite quarterbacks, and Tim Tebow and Alex Smith helped me to regain a love of watching the game.
My favorite player was Ken “the Snake” Stabler, the quarterback of the Raiders in the 1970s. In many ways, he’s sort of the anti-Tebow. He loved to drink and party and be with the ladies. On the football field, he had a weird side-arm throwing motion that was very accurate at getting to his receivers. Stabler was a master of the two minute drill. I saw many games where Stabler masterminded a late drive that would snatch victory from the hands of defeat. Sometimes he would find the strangest ways to win. I watched the famous game where the Raiders played the Chargers, and Stabler fumbled the football, and the ball got kicked around until Dave Casper fell on the ball in the endzone to win the game. Stabler had bad knees that cut short his career, but I always have felt that he was one of the greatest quarterbacks to have played the game.
Another favorite player from that time was Fran Tarkenton. I saw him towards the end of his career, when he didn’t scramble as much. But I saw old clips from Saturday morning sports shows of Tarkenton in his younger days scrambling all around the field and driving defensive linemen crazy. In many ways, Tarkenton reminds me of Tebow, in that both quarterbacks are at their best when they’re improvising on the run. I remember the Vikings of the 1970s, with Chuck Foreman, Ahmad Rashad and the Purple People Eaters defense. They never won a Super Bowl, but they were a great team.
I recently discovered youtube videos of old football games. So I’ve been spending some time watching old players that I always was curious to see. One of the players I always wanted to watch play during his prime was Joe Namath. As a kid, I watched him in his last year in the Rams, when Namath was way past his prime. My dad told me that when Joe Namath was young, he was one of the greatest quarterbacks around. He had a strong arm and quick feet and he had a great football mind. Don Shula once commented that Namath was one of the three best football minds that he ever competed against. Namath’s downfall was his bad knees. Because of his bad knees, Joe Namath couldn’t move away from tacklers like more mobile quarterbacks could, so he took a lot of vicious hits that eventually took a toll and eroded his talent. So Namath didn’t have as many good years as some of the other great quarterbacks. But as my dad said, when Namath was good, he was one of the best.
I never got to see Johnny Unitas play. And I missed out on Peyton Manning’s prime years during the 1990s and 2000s. So I missed out on watching some great quarterbacks. The two best quarterbacks that I saw play were Roger Staubach and Joe Montana. Both of them were great leaders who were cool under pressure. Like Stabler, Staubach and Montana led many rallies in the fourth quarter to lead their team to victory. Both led their teams to multiple Super Bowls. Of the two, I think Montana was the greater quarterback. I’m not sure if Joe is better than Johnny Unitas or Peyton Manning, but Montana was the greatest quarterback of the 1980s and early 1990s.
I don’t know how Tim Tebow will do in the future. During the off-season, I read that John Elway will work with Tebow on Tebow’s throwing mechanics. A lot of football commentators say that Tebow has lousy throwing mechanics. But I remember quarterbacks in the 1970s like Joe Kapp and Billy Kilmer who had a hard time throwing a spiral, yet still led their teams to victory. If Tim Tebow is to succeed in the long term, my guess is that the Broncos would probably have to stick to an offensive system that is built around Tebow’s skills, rather than force Tebow to have to fit into a more conventional offense. But who knows… maybe Tebow will develope into a more accurate passer. This entire season, he’s surprised everyone. He could do so again next year.