Monday, February 6, 2006

(I'll get back to the rock soon enough. But before I leave Detroit, one last football post.)

I truly wish it wasn't so, but Jerramy Stevens is done. He will never get past tonight. In four years he will be out of the league, probably playing arena ball or something. And his will probably go down as one of the most unlikely unravelings in professional sports history.

On Tuesday morning, Stevens was merely the starting tight end for the Seattle Seahawks. A former first-round draft pick he has enjoyed an altogether unspectacular career. All things considered he was likely bound for an average to slightly above average career.

Tuesday afternoon Stevens makes a comment about his team possibly winning the Super Bowl on Sunday. The next morning his comment appears in the papers. And shortly thereafter everything changes.

Pittsburgh linebacker Joey Porter, who the press has been goading at every opportunity all week, decides to pick up on the comment and get himself fired up for the game with a little smack talk. The press, with absolutely nothing else to talk about, runs with it and turns Porter v. Stevens into the week's dominant story.

Stevens is besieged and Porter is encouraged to up the ante. Porter obliges and takes issue not just with the comment, but actually questions Stevens' manhood and worth as a football player. Suddenly this isn't just the biggest story of the week, it's the only story.

(The funny thing: I bet if you polled the 3,000 members of the media here, 2,500 of them would have agreed that this was a fairly insignificant story. But mob mentality supersedes everything. Especially when there are thousands of column inches and countless hours of airtime to fill.)

You knew it can only end one of two ways. First, if Seattle wins and Stevens plays well, he and his teammates will have defiantly answered Porter's comment, the Pittsburgh linebacker's gambit having back-fired miserably. Second, if Pittsburgh wins and Stevens struggles even slightly, the storyline will follow that Stevens was unable to answer Porter's challenge. He will have choked. His entire career will be thrown into doubt as teammates and opponents sense that when it comes down to it, Stevens doesn't have the guts to compete. He will be, as Porter said, soft - bar none the worst thing you can say about any professional athlete.

So what happened? Stevens didn't just struggle, he absolutely bombed. He dropped crucial passes, including Seattle's last play in the final seconds. In desperation time he failed to get out of bounds after making a catch, essentially killing whatever hope Seattle had left. Even on the pass he caught for a touchdown he looked awkward and unsure of himself.

In the dressing room he didn't even bother to change out of his equipment at first - just sat there at his stool, staring at the floor. I'm not sure how you could not feel sorry for the guy. In the biggest game of his life he was completely emasculated. But he got screwed. He was the unwitting victim of forces much, much bigger than himself.

This wasn't Buckner or Norwood. He didn't just pick a bad time to make a single mistake. Jerramy Stevens was set up. He turned his head for a second and, bang, he was completely blind-sided.

I don't know how he recovers from this. Well, actually, I have some idea how he could recover. He could come back next year, put up Pro Bowl numbers, help Seattle back to the Super Bowl and have a decent performance in a winning effort. But how likely is that? More or less likely than Stevens having another so-so season and gradually falling out of favour in Seattle now that he no longer has the benefit of the doubt and has seemingly confirmed that he doesn't have "what it takes" to succeed at this level?

I really, really want it to be the former. I'm not sure how anyone can't want this guy to redeem himself. Well, anyone other than Joey Porter, but with any luck you are not Joey Porter.

As it is, he's going to get killed in the morning papers. And on television for days and weeks to come. When next season starts, this will all get dragged up again. There will be lots of stories about his attempt to redeem himself, what he learned from the experience and how he spent the summer searching his soul and refocusing himself. Teammates and coaches will pledge their confidence. Someone will pen a fantastic 10-page, soft-focus profile for Sports Illustrated. It'll be compelling stuff, but I'm not convinced it will amount to much of anything.

Lesson #1: The Joey Porters of the world win far more often than they should.

Lesson #2: Fame sucks.

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