By Julie Buehler
Tom Brady is married to a super model. He’s won 3 Super Bowls, amassed countless NFL records, and is arguably one of the best to ever play the game.
Aaron Rodgers dates Hollywood starlets. He’s won a Super Bowl, MVPs, carries the greatest single-season passer rating ever and has the NFL’s highest career passer rating.
Philip Rivers has been married since college, has never been to a Super Bowl, but is enjoying one of his best statistical seasons ever.
Colin Kaepernick is a single guy, a young, up-and-coming star who’s drinking from a fire hose every week while trying to learn the toughest position in sports.
What do they all have in common?
They were all “back-ups.” And that term was used on them in the same sneering way we use it to describe the likes of Mark Sanchez, Mike Vick and Kyle Orton and other signal callers who were called on to replace the illustrious “starters.”
But when you consider the tightrope walked by a team, coaching staff and the player known as “the back-up”, that kind of quarterback is perhaps the most unique dichotomy of futility and power in all of sports: Equal parts powerful and powerless.
Every practice the backup is the guy doing the grunt work while the starter gets the credit and the accolades, the $100 million dollar contracts and the endorsements. Yet with one play, the keys to a billion dollar franchise could suddenly hang on the neck of a minimum salary guy that had been carrying the clipboard the day before.
If he’s decent, he can save a franchise from certain ruin. If he’s bad, he can cost an entire front office their livelihoods.
If he’s awesome, he can send a city swirling into controversy and if he’s Kurt Warner, he’ll re-write history books in a way that not even Hollywood could imagine.
As of this writing, there are 11 NFL franchises that are starting a quarterback they didn’t begin the year with, or a quarterback who had been a backup with another franchise.
So 1/3 of the league is forced to rely on the guy fans only want to see when it means their franchise is so bad he’s a source of relief.
Take a bigger look at the picture and 17 of the franchises employ a signal caller who was a backup at some point.
And the latest news out of Arizona is the best team in the NFL just lost their starter, Carson Palmer, for the season. Thus career backup, Drew Stanton, has a chance to help Cardinal fans forget Palmer in the first place.
The resurgent Cleveland Browns are leading the AFC North with a 6-3 record and their starter, Brian Hoyer was a backup for 3 different teams before landing a starting gig with the Browns.
The Chiefs gave Alex Smith a massive extension, letting him know he’s valued as their starter. But he was the backup for the 49ers after being their starter, then benched for Kaepernick who had been his back up.
But the most interesting NFL quarterback triangle is what’s happening in Philly and New York.
Last year, the Jets decided Mark Sanchez wasn’t good enough to be their quarterback and rookie Geno Smith would take the helm. Meanwhile, the Eagles decided they liked former backup Nick Foles to become their starter over Michael Vick.
Well, Vick landed in New York, Sanchez in Philly, both were named backups and shared the scorn associated with that moniker.
Then injuries piled up and Smith was hot garbage, so the Jets turned to Vick while Foles went down with a busted clavicle and the Eagles turned to Sanchez.
So, Sanchez took over for Foles who took Vick’s job who now has the job Sanchez got fired from.
And both backups got their teams week 10 wins.
So while backups are an easy target for punch lines, they have the power to turn a franchise into a playoff team or send an entire front office to the unemployment line.
Julie Buehler hosts the Coachella Valley’s most popular sports talk radio show, “Buehler’s Day Off” every day from 3-6 on 1010 KXPS, the valley’s all sports station. She can also be seen every morning between 6-7am on KMIR sharing the coolest stories in sports. She’s an avid gym rat, slightly sarcastic and more likely to recite Steve Young’s career passing stats than American Idol winners. Tune in M-F 3-6 pst at www.team1010.com or watch “Buehler’s Day Off” on Ustream and KMIR.com for her sports reports.