there is no feeling in football that is better than watching those final seconds tick off the clock and knowing the guy on the other sideline is utterly helpless to do anything about it. It’s delicious, almost as satisfying as sex—almost.
Heart is exhibited when a quarterback plays through pain, when he smashes into a 320-pound defensive lineman on third down to try to gain those extra six inches for the first down, or when he throws an interception and then runs forty yards down the field to make a tackle.
The quarterback doesn’t have to be the most popular player in the locker room, but he sure better have the respect of every man on the roster. And that level of respect is possible—it’s achievable—through displays of heart.
So if you take everything I just described about the ideal NFL quarterback—the heart, the grit, the smarts, the ability to lead, to throw with accuracy, and to have just enough athleticism—who do you get? Who would qualify? If I could draw the perfect quarterback, it would be a mixture of all the top guys I’ve coached: the heart and mind of Peyton Manning; the grit and leadership of Big Ben; the athleticism of Andrew Luck; and the arm of Carson Palmer.
When Peyton started studying game film, Archie had just one request: “If you’re going to watch film, do it the right way,” he said. By that he meant, Don’t watch the ball, watch the defense; fans watch the ball.
Peyton learned at a young age to avoid four common fundamental mistakes that young quarterbacks frequently commit: Never look behind you when you make your drop in the pocket; don’t stutter-step after receiving the snap; don’t pat the ball before you throw, because it will disrupt your timing with the receiver; and be perfectly balanced when you take the snap.
We had those old Beta video machines and I immediately shipped mine down to New Orleans, where Peyton was staying. I sent him video clips of all our plays along with our playbook. He received the shipment on a Thursday. I flew to New Orleans that Friday. The Beta machine was in his bedroom. I couldn’t believe it, but Peyton already had a pretty high level of familiarity with our offense. He must have stayed up all night Thursday studying. We spent all day Friday in his room. I couldn’t give him enough information.
A few weeks later, at our mini-camp for rookies and veterans, Peyton immediately took charge. We put the Beta machine in his hotel room, and the night before camp began we met from 6 p.m. until 2 a.m. going over plays. Six hours later Peyton stepped into the huddle on the first play and called, “Dice right, scat right, 92 X.” The veterans just looked at him in astonishment. He seemed to know the whole damn playbook!
The ideal quarterback has the light feet of a boxer, the flexible hips of a golfer, and the powerful shoulders of a tennis player. You want your quarterback to reach up and throw down.
Johnny wasn’t a thrower; he was a passer. You always want passers, not throwers. Throwers wait to see a receiver break open and then sling it in that direction, usually as hard as they can. Passers release the ball before the receivers get open, usually with the right velocity and touch.
This is not a secret: Sustained effort toward developing and maintaining mental and physical skills is the foundation upon which success in life is built.
I know that a lot of high-level college coaches won’t even look at high school quarterbacks who only play football, because there is a widespread belief in coaching circles that if a kid only focuses on football, he’ll have maxed out his potential by the time he reaches college. But if kids play multiple sports, the logic goes, their ability to grow as athletes will be far greater when they step onto a college campus.
I say let kids discover their physical limitations on their own, but never, ever stop encouraging them to aspire to succeed. Succeeding isn’t being Peyton Manning; it’s being the best you can be.
One door closes, another one opens. And this was one heck of a door, because it turned out Peyton Manning would be standing on the other side.
Before the 2004 draft, when I was the wide receivers coach with the Steelers, I ranked the prominent quarterbacks who were about to come out of the collegiate ranks, from Eli Manning to Philip Rivers to Ben Roethlisberger. In my judgment it was a no-brainer who the best NFL player of the three was going to be—Big Ben.
Then, before I left his office, Coach Bryant told me to carry one piece of wisdom with me for the rest of my days. “Coach them hard,” Coach Bryant told me, “and hug them harder later.” Those were the last words Bryant ever uttered to me. They became my guiding philosophy.
Seam balls separate quarterbacks. A seam ball is when you have three receivers running deep routes, two on the outside and one on the inside. The seam is the throw to the inside receiver; you have to get it over the linebacker and in front of the safety. It’s one of the more difficult throws to make. A lot of quarterbacks can’t find that guy in the middle.
This is another trait of the great QB: He doesn’t linger in the joy of today; instead, he looks at what needs to be accomplished tomorrow.
Later, Michael would comment that his first impression of me was that I could use the word “fuck” as a noun, an adjective, and verb in a single sentence.
NFL games are won and lost on third downs,
Instead we need to try to fix the players. Is the problem alcohol? Drugs? Let’s fix it. Let’s try to address the problem rather than kick players to the curb because they have a tainted reputation. This is one of my biggest pet peeves with the NFL.
Work will always be there; kids won’t.
In my book, gazing twenty years into the future, I think the prototypical NFL quarterback will look a lot like today’s Peyton, Ben, Carson, Andrew, and Tom Brady—guys who have heart and grit, big, strong, sturdy guys who have howitzers for arms and just enough athletic ability to scramble around in the pocket for an extra few seconds to allow their receivers to get open down the field. He’ll have to be a leader, be smart as hell, and be the first guy in the building each morning and the last one to leave at day’s end, just like all those guys.
Every so often there will be outliers like Russell Wilson at Seattle. Russell, who is 5'11'', played in a pro-style offense at Wisconsin and is one of the smartest quarterbacks in the league. The Seahawk coaches have done a nice job devising a scheme for him that creates passing lanes. It’s not easy for a quarterback to be six feet or under in the NFL—the only other short guy who has really lit it up in the last two decades has been the Saints’ Drew Brees—but it can be done when the right player is with the right coaching staff.
I call plays and coach quarterbacks the same way: No risk it, no biscuit.