Thursday, January 29, 2004
Teams better off with luck, not logic
Super QBs not result of scouting
HOUSTON - The more you're around pro jocks and coaches, the more you realize they're not much smarter about their games than you are. You see this every time Deion Sanders asks an inane question or Troy Aikman offers another tribute to the obvious.
(Apologies to Cris Collinsworth. He's neither inane nor obvious. He's the best network analyst going, hands down.)
Two words for all who believe insiders know a lot more than the rest of us:
You'd think NFL teams were recruiting secret agents, not offensive tackles. They have pro scouts and college scouts and scouts who offer second opinions. They have people, brilliant people, armed with stopwatches and personality tests. They can tell you the length of a receiver's sleeve and if he likes ketchup on his scrambled eggs.
It's a science, except when it's not. Often, it's luck.
Before he became a Super Bowl quarterback, 29-year-old Jake Delhomme was undrafted, cut five times and played two years in NFL Europe. The Carolina Panthers signed him last summer to back up 80-year-old Rodney Peete.
New England's Tom Brady seeks his second Super Bowl ring in three years. That's impressive for a quarterback drafted in the sixth round. Drafting a QB in Round 6 is like spending two bucks on a lottery ticket.
Now there is a new standard for the brilliance required to assemble a championship team: Panthers general manager Marty Hurney.
Hurney is a lapsed sports writer. In two years, he assembled a team that leaped from 1-15 to the Super Bowl. If a sports writer can run a team, how hard can it be?
"I wasn't a very good writer," said Hurney. He covered the Washington Redskins in the 1980s. He watched them win two Super Bowls. He befriended then-Skins GM Bobby Beathard. He asked a lot of questions. He's this year's genius.
"It's not like we have all the answers," Hurney said this week. "Everybody (has) their own systems."
Carolina's system, apparently, involved allowing Delhomme to wander the NFL wilderness for six years - throwing a total of 86 passes - before having him fall from the sky like Newton's apple to lead his team to the Super Bowl.
If finding football players is what you do, how do guys like Brady and Delhomme - and Kurt Warner - escape your notice? Why do you use the second pick in the draft on Ryan Leaf? What did the Bengals see in David Klingler and Akili Smith? Until this season, Jeff Blake was the Bengals' best QB in the last 15 years. Blake played only because the two quarterbacks ahead of him got hurt.
If you are fortified with enough "inside info" to rival the CIA's dossier on Saddam, how come you swing and miss so much?
A reformed sports writer has his team in the Super Bowl. Heh-heh.
"Sometimes, you just get looked over," Delhomme said. "You're always going to have people go through the cracks and whatnot. Scouting is an inexact science, I guess you could say."
I guess. Delhomme is pleasant, modest, unaffected. He lives where he grew up, in a little Louisiana place called Breaux Bridge. He married his high school girlfriend. He lives in a three-bedroom ranch house once occupied by his uncle. He had the place moved a half-mile down the road, to property he owned 50 yards from his parents' house. "I'm friends with my parents," Delhomme said.
When he's home, Delhomme tends to his three racehorses. He mucks out their stalls. This is not a complicated guy.
Hurney said the Panthers liked Delhomme's "intangibles," though how you scout those is anyone's guess. "Everybody likes him and draws to him. That's what you want in your quarterback."
Delhomme won't be asked to do anything Sunday but not blow it. Maybe that's what the Panthers take from all the brilliance involved in getting him to fall into their starting lineup. Teams win titles. Quarterbacks can't do it alone.
In 1954, Cleveland Browns coach Paul Brown took a QB from Stanford with the second pick of the first round. Bobby Garrett was a can't-miss guy, except for one thing: He stuttered. He couldn't call signals. PB shipped him to Green Bay. The can't-miss kid never played a down for the Browns.
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