Thursday morning quarterback

by Lou Scerra | 10/19/00 5:00am

Way too often, sports journalists find themselves being stamped with the most despicable label they have ever heard -- "Monday-morning quarterback." It pains a reporter so greatly because he feels as though all of the intellect, savvy and knowledge he possesses becomes irrelevant when his conclusion is simply that another decision would have put the home team in the win column.

For that reason, I bring you my own version of the Thursday-morning quarterback that draws not on Wednesday's results, but on restoring a little bit of faith to my readers and honor to my colleagues.

Michael Vick will win the Heisman Trophy in December.

I know what you're thinking -- why don't you also predict Tiger Woods to win a tournament or Michael Jordan to be a future Hall of Fame inductee? But, hear me out.

This selection has little to do with the fact that many consider Vick to be the most talented player in college football. Nor does it have anything to do with the fact that some believe Vick is not having the best season of the top Heisman candidates.

In fact, this column has nothing to do with what happens on Saturday. The proof that Vick will have the right stuff to carry home the hardware comes from Sunday's action.

Are you confused? Don't be. All sports are changing more rapidly now then ever before, and football is no different. It is just becoming more apparent in the intricacies of the professional game before it appears in the more conventional college version.

Look around at the successful and dubious signal-callers of this NFL season to date. Most of those who are mobile, multitalented and more athletic are taking jobs and victories away from the pocket passers of the 1990s.

Just look at the Dallas Cowboys' budding quarterback controversy. Even though Jerry Jones refuses to admit it, Troy Aikman's five-pick performance this past week against the New York Giants was, arguably, the worst game of his career. Dallas has looked awful under Aikman's guidance, while under another veteran, the more mobile Randall Cunningham, the Cowboys are 1-1, and Cunningham has five touchdown passes to just one interception.

What's the point? Cunningham's mobility freezes linebackers, gives his receivers additional time to get open, and pulls safeties in. Players are only getting stronger and faster, and running quarterbacks only stretch the field out and give the offense another dimension. Steve McNair is the perfect example of the success that one of these play-callers can have in his prime.

The sophomore quarterback Class of 1999 that includes Tampa Bay's Shaun King, Chicago's Cade McNown and Minnesota's Daunte Culpepper is emblematic of the rising stature of these moving quarterbacks. It won't be long before a pocket passer goes the way of the drop kick, the eephus pitch and peach baskets.

One final question begs to be asked by the doubting Thomases in the readership. What of the two most prolific passers this season: Kurt Warner and Peyton Manning?

Yes, they are pocket passers. But, exactly what makes them so effective and potent? Look directly behind them. The flexibility and extra dimension is provided by their running backs. Marshall Faulk and Edgerrin James will both undoubtedly clear 1,000 yards receiving and rushing this season.

Their ability to be a threat in many capacities forces the interior linebackers to drop back and puts the defense between a rock and a hard place. Defenses can blitz and potentially get burned or they can sit back and let the lightning-fast wideouts on St. Louis and Indy run 80-yard dashes into the end zone.

Maybe Vick won't win the Heisman on the second Saturday in December, but he will be a force come Sunday for years to come. The sooner the college coaches realize that the Vick's model is an infallible one, the sooner they will build national title contenders.

I hope he wins it. But even if he doesn't, I would much rather be potentially right on Thursday than undoubtedly so on Monday.

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