The terrible thing is that we're going backward, like from the Renaissance into the Dark Ages. You see, before there were quarterbacks, there were Triple Threats, and, all things being equal, I think you would have to say that Triple Threats were every bit as romantic as quarterbacks. The Gipper, for example. He was a Triple Threat. So was Jim Thorpe. Wasn't Red Grange, too? See, I'm not saying all the glorious stuff didn't start on the gridiron until Sid Luckman. I'm just saying that we sure miss it now.
It peaked with Johnny U. Sonny had too much girth and Broadway Joe had too much hype, so Johnny U was the high-water mark of quarterbacks. Why, here was the very essence of America rolled into one man. The work ethic: high tops, black, regular issue; crew cut. All business. But Horatio Alger. Johnny U was cut by a losing team. People foam at the mouth when they talk about Joe D hitting in 56 straight games. Well, Johnny U threw touchdown passes in 47 games in a row, and tell me, even with all those snap-takers nowadays who throw for 800 yards on any given Sunday, will anyone ever again chuck TD passes in 47 straight?
Here are some reasons why quarterbacks don't exist anymore and have been replaced by snap-takers:
1. THE CURSED MARK OF TARKENTON. Imagine anybody of consequence "scrambling." That was bad enough, and then, one Sabbath afternoon, scurrying around back there like a prairie dog, Tarkenton broke Johnny U's career passing yardage record. After that it was hard to put your faith in anything real.
2. EQUALITY IS NEXT TO PARITY. "We will draft the best available athlete irregardless of position," the general managers began to say. You would actually choose an athlete over a quarterback? It was never quite the same after this pitiful revelation of substance over style.
3. ANTI-COLONIALISM. As Professor Harry Edwards observed recently, most pro football games now resemble national match-ups "between Ghana and Nigeria." All the receivers and runners are black, while the quarterbacks are white. It's as if the snap-takers should have pith helmets on instead of the ones with face masks. Until a USFL expansion franchise goes into Johannesburg, the quarterback is in the wrong century.
4. UP LINEMEN. When scouts started saying many quarterbacks were too short to pass over the tall linemen, the whole image of the quarterback changed. It never bothered anyone that Bobby Layne was short, did it? He could reach the bar, couldn't he? Ever since this business about quarterbacks not being able to see over and pass over, most people have come to assume that quarterbacks are Lilliputian, like the coxswain in a crew.
5. THE ONLY FRACTION LEFT IN TOWN or WHEN DID HALFBACK BECOME A DIRTY WORD? There used to be fullbacks, halfbacks and quarterbacks. As long as there were two fraction-backs around, the one running and the other passing, it was all right, very democratic. But now halfback has disappeared and by comparison with full back, quarter back sounds like a real cheap, dumb thing to be. This is all the more so because the other backs have glamorous names: tailback, cornerback, wingback, ace back, free safety, and whatever the other safety is. Also, a quarter doesn't mean as much as it did in the days when you could get a whole good meal with one.
6. THE TIME IS OUT-OF-JOINT When people die, it is said, well, he was too good for this world. Right now, that is true of quarterbacks. When quarterbacks ruled the gridiron and our hearts, quarterback-type people existed in all walks of life. But now the world is full of lackluster snap-takers. For example, think of quarterback types from the recent past, and then think of their equivalents today. Here is a sample list.
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