Oh, How We Forget…
College football is full of elite quarterback talent. But once these signal-callers take their talents to the NFL, much of their past success becomes long forgotten. In a world centered around “What have you done for me lately?”, it is important to remember the stars these players once were, not the so-called ‘bums’ they are now.
The Minnesota Vikings’ playoff hopes took a large beating thanks to their 16-13 loss in Detroit on Thanksgiving day, with much of the blame once again residing upon the shoulders of Sam Bradford and his offensive unit. In fact, Bradford has long been dubbed the ‘burden’ of this ‘otherwise fantastic’ Vikings team, a club blessed with one of the best defensive fronts in the league. But while the former Sooners star gets labeled as this alleged ‘bum’, many forget the talent the Heisman winner once displayed.
After Sam Bradford tossed that late interception on Thanksgiving that essentially lost his team the game, many were quick to castigate him as an ‘incompetent quarterback’ who is ‘wasting’ the talent Minnesota has on the other side of the football. While Bradford is certainly not an All-Pro QB by any means, and some of the criticism thrown his way is well deserved, do any of these critics remember the Sam Bradford that passed for over 4700 yards and 50 touchdowns* in one season down in Oklahoma? Does anyone remember the Sam Bradford that came away with that campaign’s Heisman Trophy? Does anyone remember the Sam Bradford selected with the number one overall pick just two years later?
Yes, I understand there is such thing as an NFL Draft bust. And yes, I do know that Bradford may begin to fall under that unfortunate class. But I also stand bewildered how fans can be in awe of a player’s talents one day and just a few short seasons later call him a ‘bum’.
Sam Bradford may not be living up to the hype of a number one pick, but how can self-proclaimed analysts idolize him as a Sooner and then proceed to abhor him as a Viking? I am not asking fans to treat him as a god like figure just because he could dominate the Big-12, but it is puzzling how much the perception of an athlete can alter simply due to a change of scenery.
Bradford isn’t the first player to encounter this predicament, either. As 2016 number one overall selection Jared Goff stood on the sidelines in LA, much of the NFL world called for him to replace then starter Case Keenum, who was also beginning to receive the ‘bum’ label. Yes, Keenum was terrible for much of this season before Jeff Fisher finally brought Goff in, but the Houston alum was also just as much a star at the collegiate level as his counterpart from California.
Shall I jog your memory of who holds the NCAA records for both career passing yards as well as career touchdowns? No, it is not the great Jared Goff; it is Case Keenum. To be fair, the Houston team Keenum suited up for matched up mostly against schools outside of the Power Five conferences. But, once again, a QB formerly seen as a legend in college was treated just the opposite once he reached the big leagues. Nobody wants to remember the insane numbers he amounted as a Cougar: only the interceptions he threw as a Ram.
Was his play in the NFL really that bad? Yes, it was. Should Jared Goff have come in to replace him much earlier in the year? Most certainly. But don’t classify Keenum as a nobody when not long ago you admired his accomplishments somewhere else.
Next, let’s examine the case of Browns draft pick Brandon Weeden. The former Oklahoma State QB was selected 22nd overall in the 2012 NFL Draft as a 28 year old, a senior citizen by rookie standards due to multiple years spent playing minor league baseball. The selection of Weeden was met with large disapproval from Cleveland fans as well as the entire NFL community, with many calling him an automatic bust before he even took a snap under center. But, once again, everyone failed to remember all of the success the rookie had at his alma mater.
As a senior, Weeden nearly rallied his Cowboys to the 2012 national title game, passing for over 4700 yards and 37 scores* in the process. He was one of the country’s best quarterbacks the season prior to declaring for the draft, yet when his name was called by Commissioner Goodell, he was greeted with a series of displeasure. It was mostly his age that disqualified him as a first round prospect in the eyes of most, however nobody even cared to commemorate his collegiate prosperity or talent. Instead, they viewed him as another botched draft choice by a dysfunctional Browns organization.
So why does this occur? Why is it that the second one leaves college, all of their previous achievements go out the window? Well, for that, we’ll just have to look at the nature of the American sports fan.
First off, although many do follow both, there are a majority NFL buffs who don’t watch college football very often. An abundance of Rams fans probably didn’t see Case Keenum as a Houston Cougar, nor did a myriad of Browns advocates follow Weeden as a Cowboy. So all that matters to them is what they produce as a professional, which didn’t end up very satisfying for either.
Secondly, NFL fans lack one key attribute – patience. Even players who had success in the pros are denounced at their first mistake. So when a rookie’s last sense of fame was at a whole different level of football, that criticism enters an entire new degree. Oklahoma State’s win over Oklahoma was last year’s news by the time Weeden was drafted, whereas the quarterback’s 12 for 35 debut against the Eagles took prime spotlight.
Browns fans didn’t have the time to wait on Weeden just because he had a great showing against Louisiana, and Vikings devotees don’t have the tolerance to counter every Bradford pick with an allusion to one of his touchdowns when playing Texas A&M.
But how do these quick changes of perception affect college football today, and the impression of the nation’s modern stars for years to come?
Lamar Jackson has been applauded all season long as the country’s best player, an insane combination of arm strength and foot speed comparable only with the likes of Cam Newton and Johnny Manziel. But Jackson weights a grand total of only 205 pounds, nearly 20 pounds lesser than that of former Heisman winner and current punching bag Robert Griffin III.
So if RGIII got beat up in the NFL, Jackson will be tossed around like a freshman on the varsity squad. And by the time the Louisville star is sitting on the bench hammered by injuries, his days of 500 total yards and 5 touchdowns as a Cardinal will be long behind him. Nobody will view him the way we all revere him today. Rather, he will be seen just the same as Bradford, Keenum, and Weeden: a bum.
The list goes on and on: Matt Leinart, JaMarcus Russell, Geno Smith, and more. But is it fair, the means in which all of these tremendous college athletes are treated? Based on much of their production at the next level, probably. But amid the screeches of insults directed at these NFL busts, remember the admiration you once had for them as they dominated defenses just a few seasons prior. When Lamar Jackson is being pummeled by linemen nearly twice his weight in four years, just recall the glorification you gave the QB as he torched the ACC. Because in the era of “What have you done for me lately?”, it is past performance that is becoming more and more meaningless, when in reality it is the triumphs of these great student-athletes that should be the highlights of our memory.
*College stats courtesy of http://www.sports-reference.com/cfb/