Saturday, January 21, 2017

Points Over Pints: The Best Left-Handed Quarterbacks

Appeared on in January 2015

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

We’ll begin at an obvious location and with a good friend and dutiful manager of precious inventory: my beer fridge. What do we have here? This is the biggest decision of the day. A pale ale, a pilsner, a weizenbock, a quadrupel ale…now that would get me to the happy place quickly…and a stout. The stout it is. What is this? Milk Stout from Left Hand Brewing Company, another stellar Colorado brewery committed to world happiness. Yes, in this column creating quality beer is synonymous with promoting world happiness. Get with the program.

Left Hand has such a great story. Dick Doore, the brewery’s co-founder, started as a humble homebrewer, a truly noble hobby (and you better believe I’m going to use the data point as justification for retaining the buckets, carboys and racking canes in my overfilled garage). The company is committed to reducing its earthly footprint and to charitable work in the community. According to its website, the brewery’s name is derived from Chief Niwot – a name that means “left hand” in the Arapahoe language, a tribe that wintered in the local area.

Slapped on the stem of my bottle of Milk Stout is another trademark: a label featuring a left handprint. Lefties: coveted commodities in baseball, disrespected patrons of golf, marginalized kids in composition class. What about lefty quarterbacks? There have been a few…and still fewer good ones. Who would be my top six of all time? Why six? Come on, we are talking beer here, and beer’s prime numbers are six, 12 and 24. A list of 12 would get dry quickly; a list of 24 might not be possible. Why quarterbacks? Because Left HAND Brewing started this. What, do you want left-footed kickers? Okay. Morten Andersen. Sebastian Janikowski. David Akers. John Kasay. Riveting, huh? Right, quarterbacks it is…

6. Bobby Douglass

There are probably more than five left-handed quarterbacks who were better than Bobby Douglass, but I want him in my six-pack. His skills and flaws speak to me.

Douglass was 6’4”, 225 lbs - a massive specimen for his time - ran like the wind and possessed a bionic left arm. Measurables weren’t his issue; harnessing his skills, particularly that cannon arm, was.

Douglass was the Little League pitcher you hated to face – fast…and hopelessly wild. His best completion percentage in any season where he attempted more than 100 passes was 48 percent. Even on the curve, that’s hideous. As compensation, Douglass often ran wild. He always managed to compile more passing than rushing yards but the margin was sometimes very thin. So he wasn’t former Oklahoma “quarterback Jamelle Holieway (a guy who often did out-rush his passing yards), but his statistics do resemble a wishbone quarterback’s during the heyday of Southwest and Big 8 Conferences.   

One more Bobby Douglass stat (I can’t get enough of this guy): during his rookie year in 1969, his sack percentage was 20 percent. By comparison, Peyton Manning’s lifetime sack percentage is 3.1 percent. First rule of successful quarterback play: remain vertical. There’s a “ladies of the night” joke in there somewhere that I’ll just let go.

Douglass’ size and story reminded me of another, modern-day 6’4”, roughly 225-pound quarterback who struggles with accuracy and probably runs a little too much: Colin Kaepernick. Before the Kaepernick critics get too emboldened, his accuracy issues aren’t anything like Douglass’. Kaepernick’s career completion percentage is just over 60 percent. His career sack percentage? 8.7 percent. So relax frustrated 49ers fans. Fill a glass with something from Left Hand Brewing and appreciate your right-hander under center.

5. Mark Brunell

I’m getting an image (what is in this Milk Stout?). Mark Brunell and I are cruising through Longmont, Colorado. Parched like cowboys after a rodeo we swing into Left Hand Brewing for a refreshing elixir. Brunell, unfamiliar with craft beers, asks for my recommendation. “Ahhh, you are in good hands, my friend. I know beers like you know the cover-2 defense and exotic blitz packages.”

I lock eyes with the bartender and request a pint of Sawtooth Ale for my left-handed wingman. An approving expression is returned as he retrieves a glass and gives the tap handle a hearty tug.

Sawtooth is a Left Hand benchmark. It is well balanced and full of character. There are no overly complex flavors or bizarre adjuncts to contemplate. It simply delivers what it promises without excessive fanfare. Its focus is substance over style.  

The same can be said for Brunell. Traded from Green Bay to the expansion Jacksonville Jaguars, Brunell was instrumental in establishing the team’s foundation. He was mobile, smart and adept from the pocket. He played his way onto three Pro Bowl teams, won five playoff games and led the Jags to the 1996 AFC Championship Game. Brunell was a class act, a winner. “Bartender, another round of Sawtooth’s, please.” 

4. Michael Vick

Every year I get excited for the fall and the influx of pumpkin ales during October (beer month!). And every year I’m disappointed. Why do I force it? It’s just not a style to my liking. I have no doubt that the skilled brewers at Left Hand could come up with superior pumpkin-flavored offering, but I doubt it would etch an unforgettable memory in my mind or leave me longing next fall’s batch. 

It’s the same with Michael Vick. The allure is obvious – wicked fast, cannon arm and a flair for the dramatic. Nearly every fall for the last dozen-plus years (with the exception of those he spent in prison for dog fighting), I have eagerly anticipated him doing the impossible and revolutionizing the quarterback position. In Atlanta, the highlights were frequent. In Philadelphia there were moments where Vick appeared close to becoming the unstoppable duel-threat his skills portended – but it fizzled quickly. Even with the New York Jets this past season, I was intrigued when he took over for an ineffective Geno “Pick Six” Smith.

Why? What is my obsession with Michael Vick? Yes he can run around and make electric plays that are backyard classics delivered in HD TV and before 75,000 fans. Yes he plays with courageous abandon. Yes he has rushed for more yards than any quarterback in NFL history. But he has never consistently done the boring stuff that it takes to win consistently and when the weather outside is frightful. His career completion percentage is 56 percent and he has only one season over 60 percent. He led the NFL in fumbles – twice. His career high for passing touchdowns in a season? 21. That is so…1972.

Vick is what he is: overrated. He is my pumpkin ale of quarterbacks. I’m certain he’s thrilled.

3. Boomer Esiason

If Left Hand Brewing were to craft “Boomer Ale”, it would have to be an IPA stuffed fabulously pungent hops. The nose would singe stray and overgrown cilia. Seconds after the first swallow the consumer’s face would draw inward and his eyes would water as the palate processed the awesome overload of bitterness.

Some poor soul has to spend their career playing for the Cincinnati Bengals, New York Jets and Arizona Cardinals, teams seemingly condemned to second-class NFL citizenship, so that others can enjoy careers with the league’s blueblood franchises. Esiason, embittered soul that he must have been, carried that professional cross.

A four-time Pro Bowler and one-time All Pro, Esiason and his Cincinnati teammates nearly overcame their Bengals karma and defeated Joe Montana and the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XXIII. With just over three minutes remaining, though, all parties returned to their assigned roles. Montana orchestrated a 92-yard drive and threw a game-winning touchdown pass to John Taylor; Cincinnati, meanwhile, chewed on a bitter but familiar bridesmaid pill.

All other things equal, I wonder how different things would have been for Esiason had he swapped professional existences with Montana or Phil Simms (the quarterback with that other team in New York). Or what if Esiason, a product of the University of Maryland, had been the guy to come off the bench for Washington when Joe Theismann’s career abruptly ended in 1985? Would there have been a Doug Williams story? Or Mark Rypien?

Alas, not all flowers are roses; some are hops. Not all quarterbacks are Joe Montana; some are Boomer Esiason.

2. Ken Stabler

I have very faint memories of watching Ken Stabler. He mostly lurks in random clips, appears on YouTube shorts and enters conversations about the old times with highly respected NFL fans sporting grayer beards than my own. I see flashes of his long, 1970s-style hair spilling out from the bottom his helmet and his scruffy, pirate-like beard, the perfect adornment for an Oakland Raider. Just flashes. Magical flashes. And stories. Legendary stories.

This has allowed Stabler to maintain mystic qualities in my mind. He is bigger than his actual measurements and likely more accomplished than he actually was. With a nickname like “The Snake”, can you blame me? What football-obsessed ten-year-old doesn’t immediately love a player named after a serpent, the rumored earthly symbol of the devil himself? I wonder sometimes why he isn’t in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I suppose that debate is best left to older minds more capable of separating fact from fantasy…or over-analyzing a resume.

What no one will debate is Stabler’s grit or his guts or his propensity to just win football games, baby. As a starter, Stabler won 96, lost 49 and tied one. He authored the “Sea of Hands” – a desperation touchdown pass to Clarence Davis to beat the Miami Dolphins in 1974 - and the “Holy Roller” – a last-gasp forward-fumble that Dave Casper recovered in the end zone to beat the San Diego Chargers in 1978 – two of the NFL’s most iconic endings and improbable wins for the Raiders. When they name your comebacks and change the rules to prevent them from happening again, you’re just good, no matter the jury’s age.

1. Steve Young

No reason to get cute and attempt some sort of self-righteous diatribe to avoid the obvious. The room is blue. Everyone knows it. I could try and convince you that it is red.  I could whip myself into a passionate rage, speak in tongues, pull rabbits out of my hat, catch bullets in my mouth and speak with the spirits of Elvis Presley and Jimi Hendrix, but you still wouldn’t buy my argument. With all due respect to those other southpaws, this isn’t even a contest. Steve Young is far and away the best left-handed quarterback in NFL history.

Of course it wasn’t always touchdown passes and Super Bowls. Young played two years in the USFL where he was…okay. He played two years in Tampa Bay where he was…less than okay. A trade (career salvation) shipped him to San Francisco where he sat behind Joe Montana for nearly five seasons. Finally, at the age of 30, he became the entrenched starter for the 49ers and he…was…spectacular. It was an uncommon journey (one that might not happen in today’s grow up quick or be discarded NFL) but his career accolades say it all: seven Pro Bowls, three All Pro selections, two NFL MVP awards, Super Bowl Champion, Super Bowl MVP, Pro Football Hall of Fame (2005). 

Oh, and just one more thing. During the 1994 season, Young completed over 70 percent of his passes, won the league’s MVP award and led the 49ers to the franchise’s fifth Super Bowl victory. It was his greatest season as a pro and the year he finally escaped Joe Montana’s shadow. It was also the year Left Hand Brewing Company opened for business.  

No comments:

Post a Comment