Nick Foles – Sports Media Kryptonite?
By Tim Reilly
On Friday, members of the Philadelphia Eagles alit at the NovaCare Complex to commence preparations for their 2014 NFL campaign. The Eagles begin their second year under the stewardship of head coach Chip Kelly and boast one of the most dynamic offenses in the NFL. Returning to pilot the offense is Pro Bowl quarterback Nick Foles, who led the league in passer rating while tossing 27 touchdowns and throwing just two interceptions. Last season, the team overachieved to the tune of a 10-6 record, an NFC East Division title, and an unexpected playoff appearance. Despite the pressure of a stronger schedule and the burden of heightened hopes, the Eagles appear primed to continue their success and compete for the Super Bowl.
Alas, pessimism is to Philadelphia sports fandom what smog is to Los Angeles. Even though the spirit of optimism that has enveloped this upcoming Eagles season seems to have cut through much of the miasma of negativity, one usually need not look far for a critical analysis from a sports commentator. Into the breach dutifully steps Buzz Bissinger, whose profile of Nick Foles in the July issue of Philadelphia Magazine casts doubt on the young quarterback’s ability to win big games. According to Bissinger, the Eagles signal caller lacks the “edge of Peyton Manning,” the “come-from-behind fearlessness of Tom Brady,” the “gravitas of Drew Brees,” and the general aura of arrogance that all great athletes possess. However, Foles’ gravest personal flaw is that he is “chickens—.” Bissinger’s primary evidence to support his assertion: Foles, who has willingly chosen as his career a job that entails regularly facing down the pass rush of large and athletic defenders, would not consent to an interview with the great Buzz Bissinger.
Seems unfair, right? Yet so it goes in the frequently speculative and reactive, rarely informative or predictive world of sports journalism. It’s an environment that worships tough talk at the expense of truth and rewards those who can provide the hottest “takes” at the highest volume. Narratives, as evanescent as snowflakes, are shaped and quickly discarded depending on each week’s results and, often, the extent of the athlete’s cooperation with the media. For example, all it takes for a peerless athlete like Robert Griffin III to transform from a prodigy to a goat is a 3-13 season and a few curt answers at a press conference. If RGIII leads the Washington Redskins back to the playoffs this season and peppers in a few platitudes about leadership along the way, expect the criticism about his “selfishness” to be forgotten as quickly as it was constructed.
However, lost amid the cacophony are fundamental truths about football. Most importantly, the quarterback may not be as essential to a team’s success as we pretend him to be. In The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game, author Michael Lewis examines the success of legendary head coach Bill Walsh, whose “West Coast Offense” revolutionized the NFL. Lewis writes that “Walsh took an unusual view of quarterbacks: he thought they were only as good as the system they played in.” Walsh was able to win consistently in the NFL with quarterbacks as talented as Hall of Famers Joe Montana and Steve Young and as obscure as Jeff Kemp and Steve Deberg. The coach’s rhythmic and precision-timed passing attack maximized the strengths of his athletes and mitigated their weaknesses.
It’s a bit premature to begin comparing Chip Kelly to Walsh, but one does notice similar strands in their coaching philosophies. Like Walsh, Kelly does not seem to overvalue the quarterback position. Kelly’s system is predicated on spreading the field horizontally, placing superior athletes in space, and exploiting mismatches. While Nick Foles will be relied upon to make the correct decision, or “read” in football parlance, his contribution to the play is not demonstrably more important than the efforts of the wide receivers or offensive linemen. In order for such an operation to work efficiently, perhaps an unselfish conductor like Foles is required.
Besides, a regular viewer of ESPN might inquire, doesn’t the media appreciate selflessness as an essential aspect of teamwork and the key to avoiding the dreaded “distraction?” Just look at the treatment of Johnny Manziel, a young man whose pedestal was erected by the very same writers and analysts who now rip him for daring to stand on it. Regular dispatches have been filed by reporters chronicling Manziel’s trips to Las Vegas, among other off-field exploits, and wondering if he will party his way out of a career. What do these journalists want? Apparently they just want a story, especially one that provides the kind of material that allows them to self-righteously click their tongues as they’re writing.
Ultimately, Nick Foles will learn that the only way to win the media game is by winning. Winning playoff games. Winning Super Bowls. He can also continue to be the sort of quarterback that the scribes claim they want in a player, the kind who refuses to make headlines by issuing intemperate quotes or engaging in questionable off-the-field behavior. Good luck writing that story.
Tim Reilly works at a small beer distributor in Northeast Philadelphia. When he’s not rotating kegs, he writes on occasion. Check out his blog, Idle Observations, at http://observationswhileidle.
The views and opinions expressed in this article of those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Young Involved Philadelphia. Young Involved Philadelphia is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information provided by the author of this article.