When the Colts beat the Jets on Sunday afternoon to earn a trip to Miami for Super Bowl XLIV, they cost their quarterback and league MVP Peyton Manning a chance to play on the same field a week earlier in the Pro Bowl.
Or, rather, the questionable decision by the NFL’s brain trust to move the Pro Bowl ahead of the league’s championship cost Manning the opportunity to make his eighth consecutive appearance amidst the stars. (It also cost six of his teammates and seven New Orleans Saints the chance to play in the game.)
The original voting tabbed Manning, along with the Chargers’ Philip Rivers and the Patriots’ Tom Brady, to be the AFC’s quarterbacking trio for the game. But Brady — nicked up and just a year removed from a serious knee injury — pulled his name off the roster, and Rivers will be busy tending to his wife, who is due to give birth to the couple’s fifth child.
Enter the Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger. But oops, he’s banged up, too, and won’t risk aggravating his ailments to make his first Pro Bowl appearance.
Alternate No. 2 (replacing Rivers): Houston’s Matt Schaub, who earned the selection by leading the NFL in passing yards (4,770) and ranking third in the AFC in yards per attempt (8.18).
Alternate No. 3 (replacing Brady): Cincinnati’s Carson Palmer. Except that Palmer is recovering from surgery on his thumb and will also be unable to participate in the festivities.
Alternate No. 4: Tennessee’s Vince Young, whose dynamic abilities make the choice palatable, in spite of his unspectacular 82.8 quarterback rating.
But now, with Manning unavailable, the AFC required a fifth alternate, and its eighth Pro Bowl quarterback overall. The honor will go to Jacksonville’s David Garrard.
The 31-year-old Garrard is fresh off his second full season as the Jaguars’ starting quarterback, during which he compiled a 7-9 record despite finishing the year with four consecutive losses. Garrard ranked eighth in the AFC in completion percentage (60.9) and ninth in both quarterback rating (83.5) and yards per attempt (6.97). He threw for 15 touchdowns and rushed for three.
But Garrard was also among the conference leaders in a number of dubious statistics. Garrard was often guilty of holding onto the ball too long — although his porous offensive line did him no favors — leading to 42 sacks, tied for the second-most in the AFC. He also turned the ball over 18 times, tossing 10 interceptions and losing eight of his 14 fumbles, which were the most of any NFL quarterback.
In other words, Garrard’s play during the 2009 season was the definition of mediocrity.
As the Pulitzer Prize- winning novelist Ellen Glasgow once wrote, “Mediocrity would always win by force of numbers, but it would win only more mediocrity.”
Mediocrity is precisely what commissioner Roger Goodell has won by moving the Pro Bowl ahead of the Super Bowl.
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