November 15, 2011

Too Much of an Elite Thing

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It’s an age-old adage that is as true in practice as it is contradictory in theory: “Too much of a good thing is not a good thing at all.”

Stay up all night studying for a prelim? You can’t stay awake during the exam. Drink too much coffee in order to avoid this fate? You can’t fall asleep at night. Eat too much Taco Bell because you’re wide-awake at 3 a.m. and have nothing better to do? And, well, you get the point.

Even though excessive behavior is so clearly corrosive, we remain obsessive with our individual tendencies to the point that they become compulsive. Notice how quickly too much “–ive” turned a rather casual statement regarding America’s indulgent culture into an English teacher’s rhyming nightmare? Enough said.

So a few weeks ago, in a conversation with my housemates, I came to realize just how much of what we say can be grouped into a relatively tiny vocabulary used in overwhelming excess.

For example, one of my friends has a particular affixation with the word “preposterous.” Aside from its most basic definition, he applies the word to anything in life that he deems good, bad, or strange enough to warrant a superlative. The whole situation is, quite frankly, preposterous.

Another one of my friends has developed the word “perverse” into his daily repertoire, as in, “You just got back-to-back stars in Mario Kart? That’s perverse.” A rather impressive use of the word if you ask me — until you play two straight hours of N64 and aren’t sure whether your head is hurting from looking at the TV for too long or from the repetitive “purr” echoing throughout the room.

Not to be outdone, I have my own excessive tendencies that people close to me are far too glad to point out; but in an attempt to get to the point of this column and kill a bad habit in the process, I’ll spare you.

And so I digress.

Since the initial imposition of new rules favoring NFL quarterbacks and wide receivers in 1977 — and the continued attention to the matter in the decades that have followed — the NFL has slowly transitioned into a pass-happy league. Now, with the 2011 regular season on the backstretch, it appears that we are witnessing a climax in this trend in the form of a passing Golden Age.

Despite atrocious individual performances from the likes of Mark Sanchez and Joe Flacco, and nearly nonexistent passing attacks in Indianapolis and Jacksonville, Weeks 1 through 4 of the 2011 NFL season resulted in the four highest passing yardage totals in league history. Now in Week 11, the numbers remain impressive. In the previous nine regular seasons, only the 2008 New Orleans Saints averaged over 300 yards passing per game. This season, the Saints, New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers are all on pace to exceed that mark. Additionally, if the quarterbacks of these three teams keep up their stellar play the rest of the year, they will each break Dan Marino’s single-season record of 5084 passing yards set in 1984.

And it’s not only the wily veterans who have been leading the passing barrage in 2011, as newcomer Cam Newton (record 422 passing yards in first career start and rookie record 432 passing yards the following week) and numerous other rising stars have played an equally significant role in the aerial onslaught.

Clearly, the sky is the limit in today’s version of America’s game.

Yet, with the excess of stellar quarterbacks in the league today comes an excess of one word used to describe them: elite.

This needs to stop.

I have never had a problem with labeling a quarterback “elite,” as it is a clear descriptor of an individual who is at the very top of his performing class. However, as is the case with overusing the word “preposterous” or “perverse” during a quick race on Rainbow Road, the word elite begins to lose its meaning with each successive iteration; and even more so when its use is unwarranted.

It’s hard to determine when the “elite” outbreak began, but it is pretty clear that the issue has become a full-blown epidemic in 2011.

The culprit? Well, there’s many, but as is common with most verbal conflicts, I’ll start the discussion with New York Jets’ head coach Rex Ryan. In an interview in August prior to the start of the 2011 campaign, Ryan labeled quarterback Mark Sanchez elite because of his ability to win. This would be fine if elite was synonymous with being a winner, but the definition is far more expansive than what Ryan would lead you to believe.

Even more preposterous (see how contagious excessively used words can be?) than Ryan’s declaration was a statement made by San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh prior to his team’s game against the New York Giants this past Sunday in which he said quarterback Alex Smith is, “every bit the elite quarterback as there is playing in the game right now.” Yes, this is the same Alex Smith who was drafted first overall in the 2005 NFL Draft and has produced a career passer rating of 75.3 and zero winning records in six seasons since. He has seen improvement under Harbaugh in 2011, but elite is a far ways away.

Other players have found themselves in the elite discussion over the past couple years, as well, including the Giants’ Eli Manning, the Philadelphia Eagles’ Michael Vick, the Atlanta Falcons’ Matt Ryan and the San Diego Chargers’ Philip Rivers. Combine those names with the consensus Top-5 (in no particular order) Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning (when healthy), Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers and we’d have over 25 percent of the league’s starting quarterbacks labeled elite. Clearly, a new definition of the word is needed.

Ryan was off to a good start because, after all, the game is all about wins and losses. Sorry Alex Smith. Still though, so much more goes into being an elite quarterback, and yet, it seems the entire debate can be answered with one simple question: Regardless of where the game is, who the opponent is and what the supporting cast looks like, which quarterback would you want leading your team?

Okay, not a simple question, but simple enough to end the debate. An argument could be made for any of the Top-5 listed above. Big Ben’s dynamic playmaking, Brees’ deadly accuracy, Brady’s relentless will to win, Manning’s effortless efficiency and Rodgers’ unmatched talent make all five receivers viable candidates to take the ball in a big game, and they can each be labeled elite as a result.

The others? With a possible exception of Eli, who is quickly closing the gap between himself and the Top-5, there is no question that all other quarterbacks in the league would be passed over for the five players listed above. As long as this is the case, such quarterbacks cannot be labeled elite. They may one day reach that level, and when they do the top of the pack may look a little different than it does now. Elite territory should be reserved for the best of the best — there isn’t room for sixth-, seventh- and eighth-best.

Unfortunately, the sports media doesn’t work this way, and the word will continue to get tossed around until half the league’s quarterbacks are elite — at which point we’ll need a new term to describe the sport’s best.

Has The Sun overplayed “epic” yet?

Original Author: Dan Froats