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The “comma-but crowd” is skeptical, but all wet

No sooner had University of Texas quarterback Vince Young declared himself eligible for the 2006 NFL draft than the eyebrows raised and you could hear the “hmmms” coming from everywhere.

Never mind that Young not only had a fabulous regular season, then put on the greatest individual performance in the history of individual performances in Texas’ 41-38 victory in the Rose Bowl.

Surprising? Hardly. Doubting Thomases have been hanging around locker rooms and press boxes since the days of flannel uniforms, dropkicks and golf balls stuffed with feathers. There were probably “experts” who could find something wrong with every great player from Babe Ruth to Michael Jordan.

I call them the “comma-but crowd” — you know: “He’s got a lot of talent, but…” or “He’s fast, but…” or “He’s smart, but…”

Probably the most prominent target of the Chronic Skeptics Club in the last half-century was Johnny Unitas. When Unitas came out of high school, he was considered to be talented, but too small. Then he flunked the entrance exam at the University of Pittsburgh, which resulted in him being labeled talented, but too dumb as well as too small.

He was working construction and playing semi-pro ball for $6 a game when the Baltimore Colts signed him to a $7,000 contract in 1956. By 1959, the comma-but crowd realized they had blown it. Eighteen years later, Johnny U. was a legend and considered by many to be the best quarterback of all time.

Then there was Larry Bird. When he was a senior at Indiana State in 1978, Jerry West, who was coaching the Los Angeles Lakers at the time, was quoted as saying, “Boy, is he slow.” I saw Bird play in college and he was slow, as in, “He’s a great shooter, but he is slow.”

And who can forget the dunce cap glued to Terry Bradshaw’s head when he came out of Louisiana Tech, along with the “he hasn’t played anybody” tag. Everyone agreed he had a great arm and pretty good speed, but he wasn’t all that intelligent. Last year somebody asked Bradshaw what his career quarterback rating was and he said, “Four Super Bowl rings.” In fact, Terry’s so dumb, it’s all he can do to be paid around $50,000 per speaking appearance.

And here’s what one scouting report said about New England quarterback Tom Brady when he was at Michigan: “Poor build, very skinny and narrow, lacks mobility and the ability to avoid the rush, lacks a really strong arm.” No wonder he wasn’t taken until the sixth round of the 2000 NFL draft. Word is, he laughed all the way as he went to pick up his three Super Bowl rings.

Meanwhile, back in the Lone Star state, the comma-but boys are leery of Young because he throws the ball sidearm — or, as one sports writer put it, as if he is trying to sling dog poop off his hand. These are the same types who said Clark Gable’s ears were too big, Tom Cruise is too short and John Wayne couldn’t act a lick.

Never mind that Young is 6-5, 225 pounds and as elusive as a hummingbird. Or that if and when you do corner him, he’s only slightly easier to bring down than a water buffalo. Or that he completed 65 percent of his passes during the season, then went 20-for-30 for 267 yards and rushed for another 200 yards against Southern Cal. Oh, and those 200 yards included touchdown runs of 17 and 8 yards in the final four minutes to bring Texas back from a 38-26 deficit.

In the world of skepticism, none of that matters because he’ll never be a top QB because he has a sidearm delivery. You would think he insists on playing with his shoestrings tied together, or playing video games and drinking beer instead of Gatorade during timeouts.
What the comma-but crowd forgets is, the only thing that matters is that the quarterback gets the ball to the open receiver. It matters not whether he throws it sidearm, underhand, uses a two-hand chest pass or puts on a passing mechanics clinic.

Gil Brandt, former Dallas Cowboys personnel director and the NFL.com draft analyst, said Young would have benefited from staying at Texas for his senior season. But then he added, “He has a bottom line of 30-2 (won-loss record). Bobby Layne and Sonny Jurgenson didn’t have perfect deliveries either, but they’re in the Hall of Fame.”

Even Brandt, though, had a comma-but: “Going from college football to the NFL,” he said, “is about like going from eighth grade to being a graduate student at MIT.”

Unless Young is totally baffled by the defenses he’ll see in the NFL, how can he miss? The way Young responded to the pressure put on him when USC went ahead by 12 points with 6:42 to play spoke volumes about the intangibles Young possesses. He basically said to his teammates, without actually saying it, “Hop aboard, guys, we’re going to the end zone.”

I’m predicting he’ll take it to the next level — no commas, no buts.

Rick Woodson’s column appears each week in the Rochester Business Journal’s print edition at www.rbjdaily.com. Listen to his weekly program, “The Golf Tee,” at 9 a.m. Sunday on WHTK-AM 1280.


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