The notion of a distraction is, at its core, silly.
The concept of "distraction" is as unfair to the player in question as it is nonsensical, and yet nothing is grasped at so closely by teams, media and fans. All three parties have varying degrees of definition, but the basic level of the concept hinges on the belief that football teams are both military units in nature and fragile ecosystems where any ripple in cohesion or focus will completely torch the whole enterprise. It's vaguely offensive in nature, that a group of professional athletes who have been disciplined in hard work and team chemistry their entire lives would suddenly be phased by a gay man wanting to play football, or a player's tattoos, or an interview with ESPN.
The actual pathogens that could potentially be labeled as distractions are far more sublime and still probably don't cost games in autumn.
But what is there to make of Jake Rudock? The old adage holds that the most popular player in town is the backup quarterback, but there is more to the groundswell of excitement among the Michigan sports ecosystem. Those Lions fans whose interests intersect with the University of Michigan's football program are particularly taken with the pick, while other contingents feel nothing but dread that the Lions would take Rudock.
The dread stems from the notion that Rudock might be a distraction.
The issue with Rudock coming to Detroit has never been about how good or bad Rudock may or may actually not be. In most other cities, it would be assumed, rightfully so, that Rudock will be the journeyman backup, nothing more barring a miracle. He will come in when required, make sure the ball is handed over and then return to the bench when the starter returns to the field.
But that's not what it is in Detroit. It is the Michigan connection, and it is the overwhelmingly, cloying Tom Brady comparisons that won't die, and it is the fact that he landed here, as close as possible to the epicenter of all of that. It's the fact that Rudock's one year at Michigan represented the vanguard of the Jim Harbaugh hope and change. It's because those who believe in Rudock believe in him because he won in college.
Rest assured, if Jake Rudock becomes a "distraction," it will be because the media and fans try to create one out of him. If he becomes a distraction, it will be because there will be a conscious purchase of mythology. It will be because the slavering defense of Matthew Stafford in the face of any criticism will suddenly dry up, that one bad game will bring a glut of questions asking whether or not the team should start Rudock "because he's won all his life and you have to see what he can do."
This all might sound familiar. Did the Detroit media and fans not do this with Drew Stanton, another local prospect, in a darker age of Lions football? Did the carousel not repeat with Kellen Moore, with a vocal contingent clamoring for the Boise State winner to simply show the world that he could win at the next level, all he needs is a chance? Now that winner wore maize and blue in college. Dear God, the beast is being fueled already, its girthy takes ready to crush three lanes of traffic on I-75.
Doesn't all of this sound extremely unfair to Jake Rudock? Certainly, but don't think anyone who believes without a shred of irony that Rudock can become a Tom Brady and oust Stafford's Bledsoe somehow cares about what's fair and unfair to Rudock. All they want is bragging rights on Sunday and a chance to feel better about their football team.
Of course, this all, again, supposes that a locker room is a delicate flower waiting to wilt. This all supposes that the will of the great beast, the fans, and the dark priests of the media will generate sufficient noise to prevent Jim Caldwell from coming up with another play that wins a game on Sunday. This all supposes that Stafford will suddenly be looking over his shoulder on every play because Jake "the Snake" Rudock is lurking in the wings. Just loosening up his arm.
In other words, it's a whole lot of blithering nonsense.
But it will create for terrible opinions in comment sections, ensuing fights and blocked-up call-in lines to radio stations. Increased work for board-ops and moderators, nasty words exchanged over Facebook and Twitter. That, my friends, is simply a bridge too far.