Warning: Sports rant ahead.
There are a few “elite quarterbacks” currently playing in the NFL. They’re obvious choices. Older Manning (younger Manning is essentially there too). Brady. Rodgers (whose name I can’t say in my head without it sounding like “Rod-juhs!” from the insurance commercials).
Tony Romo is not an elite quarterback.
Joe Flacco is not an elite quarterback.
Alex Smith is not an elite quarterback.
Might they be? At some point? Before they retire? Possibly. But just because a guy throws a great game (even “the game of his career”, tm Chris Collinsworth) doesn’t make him an elite quarterback. Just because ESPN wants to drive conversation and water cooler talk doesn’t make any of these guys elite (is the water cooler officially an outdated measurement of buzz?). Just because one of their teammates or one of their coaches declares it to be so doesn’t make it so.
Imagine if this magical word was used in every profession? I counsel students and process their loans with 99.9% accuracy. Well, gee, I must be an Elite Financial Aid Counselor! That 16-year-old that packed your groceries without damaging anything (and separated perishables from pantry staples, to boot), an Elite Grocery Bagger!
Sidenote: I get it. These examples are silly. They don’t include a defense that’s trying to run you down, they don’t include working out days on end, and they don’t include many other things that come with being an NFL quarterback. But go with me.
I’m going to focus on Alex Smith for now. This isn’t because the other two are more or less rant-able (I appreciate Alex Smith’s talent and history), but because my anger over the use of “elite” to describe every. quarterback. in. the. NFL. came to a head after reading this tweet from Bay Area sports radio personality (and fellow Marist alum) Brandon Tierney:
Just flipped on Chronicle Live, the topic: is Alex Smith an elite QB? This is truly getting out of hand. Elite? Really? Elite? COME ON!!
— Brandon Tierney (@BrandonTierney) September 13, 2012
As it turns out, San Francisco media appears to be on a one-town mission to keep this ridiculous conversation going. The second of those articles breaks it down by the numbers. By arguing that Smith has better numbers than Peyton Manning in the past 665 attempts (which I’m sure are the 24 games that show Smith in the best light), they make my point for me. Matt Schaub has better statistics than Smith. Does that mean Matt Schaub must be elite? Oh, don’t worry, there’s an article stating just that. Matthew Stafford’s stats are impressive too, is he elite after just a few seasons? Not quite, but he’s showing signs.
Guess what? QBs are getting faster, stronger, and better every single day. Many of them are going to have stellar seasons that don’t convert to wins. If you throw 3 TDs and no INTs, but your opponent throws 3TDs with no INTs and their special teams win the game, you’re going to lose. You both put up great stats, but you can’t both be elite. If everyone is elite, there is no elite. Doesn’t that jive nicely with that HS commencement speech about not everyone being special?
If a QB makes it to the NFL, you have to assume he’s damn good at what he does. He doesn’t get to be elite after one great game, or one great season. Can we stop using this word altogether? If not, can we at least turn it into a drinking game? Maybe if NBC, CBS, FOX, ESPN and every other sports commentator out there had to take a shot every time they said elite, they’d scale it down a bit.
Sidenote 2: I used the word “elite” 16 times in this post (including that last one). So basically, I’m adding fuel to the fire of google searching that awful phrase, but that’s okay.