Posted: Wednesday April 4, 2012 9:08AM ; Updated: Wednesday April 4, 2012 9:08AM
Steve Rushin
Steve Rushin>RUSHIN LIT

It's a quarterback's world

Story Highlights

Quarterbacks have always been most important players in most important sport

Divide wasn't always so big; shortstops, centerfielders, centers once ruled day

Soon we'll need a Quarterback LoJack to follow every quarterback's every move

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When star free-agent quarterback Peyton Manning was deciding which team to sign with, reporters tried to follow him wherever he went.
When star free-agent quarterback Peyton Manning was deciding which team to sign with, reporters tried to follow him wherever he went.
AP

Before this sounds like a complaint, let me say I like quarterbacks as much as the next guy, and even sold Tommy Kramer two tins of Copenhagen at a Tom Thumb convenience store in Bloomington, Minn., when Two-Minute Tommy was the Vikings' QB and I was a red-smocked cashier, my parents having decided that a good way for a 16-year-old to make extra cash was to sell cigarettes, beer and Playboys to his neighbors.

If my hands trembled as I handed Kramer his dip -- and the change rattled in my clammy palm -- it wasn't just because I'd been mainlining Mountain Dew and Mike & Ikes for eight straight hours, and scooping Rocky Road ice cream that was as hard and mottled as Carrara marble.

No, my hands shook in the presence of Two-Minute Tommy because I held quarterbacks in such high esteem. They were Greek gods with better names, quintessentially quarterback names like Joe Montana and Joe Theismann and Joe Namath -- and, lest we forget, Joe Cool. When Snoopy played football (against 11 Woodstocks), he played quarterback in a shotgun offense.

Then as now, quarterbacks were the most important players in the most important sport in America. Quarterbacks owned nightclubs and wore Brut by Faberge. Quarterbacks were prom kings who dated prom queens. The boy who was All-Time Quarterback in backyard football ruled his cul-de-sac like a Colossus.

But here's the thing: Quarterbacks weren't the only colossi. Wide receivers were cool, devising ever more elaborate end zone dances even as my father sighed and maligned them as "pansies." Linebackers were awesome: Jack Lambert had more bars on his facemask than teeth behind it. Running backs -- sprinting through airports after returning their rental cars -- were perhaps the coolest of all football players.

And of course there were other sports that had other positions that were every bit as cool if not cooler than quarterback. In the 1950s, centerfielders were the quarterbacks of their day, when Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle and Duke Snider held down those positions in New York City.

In the '60s, Russell and Chamberlain fought like heavyweight boxers and made center -- hard as it is to fathom now -- the aspirational position on a basketball court. In the '70s, hockey goalies had badass names (Gilles Gilbert, Cesar Maniago, Tony Esposito) to go with badass masks that we doodled on our folders and tried to replicate in papier-mache.

As recently as the 1990s, shortstop could conceivably be considered the coolest position in sports, with daily testimony from Cal Ripken, Barry Larkin, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez, among many others. Soccer striker, hockey sniper, point guard, power pitcher -- all have had their fleeting moment atop the podium.

Not anymore, needless to say. Quarterback is now the only position in any sport that anybody seems to care about. We've spent the entire spring tracing the comings and goings of Peyton Manning and Tim Tebow. Drew Brees was franchise-tagged but might as well have been ankle-tagged, as every quarterback's every movement is now monitored, televised, tickered and tweeted. How long until each of them is fitted with an electronic ankle monitor upon leaving college, the better to track their actual and potential migrations? Whoever invents it -- Quarterback LoJack -- is our next Steve Jobs.

Of course, it already exists. It's called sports journalism, which is how you know that Andrew Luck -- there's a quarterback name -- held a "private workout" on Tuesday for the Colts. The "private workout" (which sounds like a Craigslist euphemism) follows his "pro day" workout for all 32 NFL teams on March 22, which came a day after Robert Griffin III's "pro day" workout, which came on the same day that Tebow was traded to the Jets, which came the day after Manning signed with the Broncos, which followed a week of traffic-helicopter video of Peyton ducking into and out of SUVs in stadium parking lots, all of America surveilling him like a lover scorned.

For a week there our TVs were turned upside down, the ESPN ticker dominating the screen while the televised games droned on distractingly.

And all of this, of course, is mere prelude to April 26, when the NFL Draft anoints Luck as the Number One pick and gives Griffin the runner-up prize of several million dollars, RGIII joining THIII -- Thurston Howell III -- in the company of millionaires.

Good for them. As I said at the start, I like quarterbacks. Theirs is the next biggest job after president. Or perhaps it's the other way around. Some are less admirable than others -- Ryan Leaf was arrested on burglary charges twice in the last six days -- but we respect the office if not always the officeholder.

The Colts' plane is the new Air Force One, its every takeoff and landing freighted with import. And why shouldn't it be? Presidents carry nuclear footballs while quarterbacks carry Wilson footballs. But who's to say, in 2012, which is the graver responsibility?

Steve Rushin is the author of The Pint Man, a novel. Purchase it here. Also check out steverushin.com.

 
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