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Vikings, Bills should stick with starting quarterbacks
Posted: Friday October 30, 1998 08:45 AM
If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
Randall Cunningham and Doug Flutie, two of the best quarterbacks in the NFL right now, may soon fall victim to a ridiculous "unwritten rule" that says starters don't lose their jobs because of injuries.
As I see it, starters shouldn't lose their jobs because somebody else got healthy, either. All things the same, your starter has to be the best person on the field -- the one who can most help you win.
Until Cunningham and Flutie fall off the hot streaks they're on right now, they should stay the starters. Sure, you sympathize with injured quarterbacks like Minnesota's Brad Johnson and Buffalo's Rob Johnson -- but to return to the starting lineup, they need to be more than healthy. They need to be awesome. Their replacements certainly have been.
Who cares if the Johnsons are younger and getting paid more? Don't you think the thousands of fans Flutie's bringing to the stadium every week are helping pay for Rob Johnson's $25 million deal? Are Vikings fans complaining about what Cunningham's done to Brad Johnson's team while he's been hurt?
Cunningham threw 14 touchdowns this season before his first interception (in Week 8!) -- nobody since Don Meredith has opened a year with that many scores without a pick. Brad Johnson? He was intercepted back in Week 1.
Flutie has been the best story of 1998, rallying the Bills and resurrecting his NFL career when everyone had written him off years ago. He's completing 64 percent of his passes, and most importantly, he's finding ways to win. All Johnson did was find ways to get knocked out of games.
Before you think there's a double standard, let me point out why John Elway and Troy Aikman are stepping back in as starters as soon as they're healthy: they are bona fide Hall of Famers. They've won Super Bowls. A blind man could see the difference between them and their backups.
But Rob Johnson? He had one NFL start before this season. Brad Johnson has had two strong seasons, but he's not Elway or Aikman. These two just haven't done enough to get their jobs back. Both teams and their fans have rallied around their current starters -- why break up the party when it's not over yet?
Regardless of who's injured, if your starting quarterback is winning, you should stick with him. Bill Parcells showed his loyalty to Jets quarterback Glenn Foley and gave him his starting job back, only to see him get beaten like a drum. All Vinny Testaverde's done is go 4-0 as starter. Sounds healthy to me.
Truthfully, I never had to confront this as a head coach. I guess I never had a quarterback good enough to justify such a debate. The closest I came was when I took over the Colts midseason in 1986 -- they were 0-13 behind rookie Jack Trudeau, who had thrown 18 interceptions and wasn't completing even half his passes.
Gary Hogeboom was coming off a broken collarbone, but I made him the starter and we won the last three games to finish 3-13. The next year, Hogeboom helped lead us to an AFC East title.
OK, so I benched a quarterback in favor of an injured quarterback, but Trudeau was unproven and had been struggling horribly -- it was an easy decision.
Cunningham and Flutie are having career years and deserve a shot to ride this wave in. The sad part of it is that both are such class, team-first guys that they'd take a demotion without a word. That shouldn't be held against them.
Buffalo and Minnesota have good things going, with their quarterbacks leading the way -- pulling the starter only screws up the team's chemistry. It's like when a baseball player has a killer hitting streak going -- he doesn't want to change anything, not his swing, not his pregame routine, not even his socks.
So don't change a thing. Don't look at who had the job first. Don't look at paychecks. Don't look at their ages and talk about the future -- in the NFL, the future is now. Look at the scoreboard and the standings. You wouldn't want to change anything there, would you?
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