Over on Sports Illustrated's The Cauldron sub-site, Joey Harrington took to hashing out the strange arc of his football career, from his first days in Eugene, Oregon to his tortured years with the Detroit Lions all the way to the final bell in New Orleans. You can read it here.
It's a very interesting read about a quarterback who was sold football with his time in Oregon, but found the NFL vastly different in how it approached the sport he fell in love with and the ways where the game simply failed to be fun. It's probably not something that will garner some fans for him -- plenty will remain dead-set against The Loser Guy and continue to profess that Football Is A Very Serious Matter. But for those willing to move beyond that, it's an interesting look in how this league operates in ways both subtle and gross to create the sausage ravenously devoured every Sunday.
It's certainly critical of the NFL -- particularly in how it must sell the product each week and bend the very essence of human nature towards aggression and malice in order to make it all work. To Joey, that broke down a lot of what he found in football in college, which was a sense of camaraderie and fun. He battles throughout with the two conflicting thoughts -- that football is amazing and fun at his height and that football can be hellish at its nadir.
Definitely take the time to get through it all, if you're the sort who remains interested in Lions players after they've left the team for other pastures.
Here's a few highlights in how they relate to the Lions:
I'm sometimes asked if I was put in an unfair position in Detroit. My answer is always immediate and the same: No. Saying so implies I was the only one in that kind of a position. Welcome to the NFL. Pick a year, and I'll give you five guys who were in the same type of spot I was. For all of my prior success -- all the balls I had bounce my way through college -- I wasn't prepared to deal with it when things no longer went my way.
"Look, Rod," I said. "If you want me to be here, I will be here, because I respect you, and I respect Matt. But with the exception of one or two guys in that locker room ... the rest of them can go to hell."
Through the gentle nudging of general manager Matt Millen â who was, in my opinion, one of the only stand-up guys in that organization -- I spent a lot of time with a sports psychologist, trying to figure out how to get my confidence back. In the NFL (and especially at the quarterback position), if you don't have confidence, you're done.
On going to Miami, getting his confidence back, and coming back to Detroit on Thanksgiving and beating his former team:
Jason [Garrett] and Mike [Mularkey] understood life in ways a lot of people don't. They grasped the importance of putting in work on the football field, but they also understood where football fell on the totem pole of life. What they had was perspective. Looking back, I see it as one of the greatest gifts football has given me.
Even in victory, even though I knew I'd only thrown one pass in the fourth because we were beating them so badly, they found a way to try to bring me down. So yeah, you can say that was a satisfying day. It's impossible to quantify what a performance like that can do for a quarterback's confidence. For the first time in what felt like ages, I'd proved to people -- and to myself -- that I could still play this game, and play it at a high level.
On his teammate Michael Vick in Atlanta, and how he roots for him:
I get asked about Michael Vick a lot. Strange as it sounds, that relationship was one of the bright spots during my time with the Falcons. I really liked Mike, and was thrilled to see him turn his life around. If you were to meet him in passing, you'd probably say he's a bit standoffish. Maybe even a little arrogant. But he had to be. For as much as I felt my life was bubbled, his life was ten times more chaotic â the pressure, the scrutiny, the endless questions â than most other players. If you actually took the time to sit down and talk to him, one on one, you knew he was a good person.
Finally, words about the inherent, selfish nature of the NFL that can tear apart people at times.
This creates an environment where the majority of NFL players, if given the opportunity, will play in a game even if they're advised not to. If they don't, they might be putting their jobs at risk. It's not like you can take a medical leave; the season -- and the team -- are built to move on without you, if they have to. It is the job of the coach and front office to win games. If they give someone else the opportunity to do the job you were doing, and if that player does it well, you may find yourself staring at a pink slip. The approach is inherently shortsighted, at least when it comes to the welfare of the athletes. Even today, I wake up with bone spurs in my ankles, fewer ligaments in my shoulder, and disc issues in my back. And I got out relatively unscathed.
Then there's how players sometimes act because of what they're asked to be on the field. The sport -- its producers, players, and consumers â have come to expect a certain level of aggression. Everyone wants their players to be destructive on the field, but in order to sell Sunday product, it has to be manufactured from Monday through Saturday. The expectations that your favorite player will be a monster on Sundays and a saint the rest of the week -- well, that's not how human nature really works. You're going to be what you've trained to become. So it's outright hypocritical for people to applaud and glorify the violent things someone does on the football field, only to be surprised and appalled at the reprehensible things they do off of it.