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Thoughts On the Eve of a Quarterback Competition

Part I: I'm Glad the NFL is Back

Seems like it is ancient history, the thought of missing preseason games to the lockout. I had made peace with that eventuality, and to some extent had even made plans for no preseason, an extended summer vacation if you will, and in a lot of ways, it was very easy to come to those terms. The rot that was exposed at the heart of the NFL was something I could have done without over the arc of my NFL fandom.

And now with a game just ahead of us, even if it is one that Coach Fox isn't going to bother gameplanning for, I realize how excited I am that it is back.

And this isn't Gregg Doyell excited. In the early hours of the NFL season, he felicitously rattled off an enthusiastic endorsement of what he called "The most fun NFL, ever," a direct product of labor relief and excitement over actual news. His point wasn't lost on me, but the hyperbole just doesn't fit. Sure, the initial tidal wave of news was epic, but not compared to the regular beginning of free agency, and not compared to the typical beginning of training camp. If not for the info and reports being stacked and overlapping, all happening at the same time, it probably wasn't particularly noteworthy, feelings of relief not withstanding. Eventually even that tidal wave ebbed. Unless you were an Eagles fan.

And this sense of relief that Doyell mentions gets me thinking, because I can't say that relief was the essential feeling that I had. I wonder how many other fans out there felt similar to how I did? How many had experienced a sort of disgust and resulting ennui from seeing a bit too deeply into and rubbing up a bit too closely against the political machine pumping away non-stop at the core of the NFL like a throbbing black heart? And worse yet, how many fans had experienced a moment's hypocrisy, a sense that they were "riding the white bronco," and were about to embrace something they had discovered to be deeply repellant?

How to reconcile these two disparate halves of the whole?

Still, a Broncos game is right around the corner. Its probably a question for some other time.

Part II: Bronco vs. Bronco

The debate is called Orton-vs-Tebow. It is about what we think we know, about how a QB plays the position, about whether it actually matters how you play the game, about whether there is an "I in team," or a "defense in team" for that matter. Its about confirmation bias, whether or not a fan should boo, the meaning of "intangibles," the limits of toughness, the nature of "injury prone," the importance of 3rd down and the redzone, and every other down leading up to it, and who is a better fan.

As you can see, the title of the debate is misleading, since it isn't really about Orton, and it certainly isn't about Tebow. These two tragic brothers have become the surrogates for every aborted Bronco-idea since last January.

But the fans are fuming.

Apparently this is a big deal. Ask anybody on this blog and you'll keep hearing the same story. Orton didn't get it right. Tebow can't get it right. Our trust has been violated. We have been lied to. Broken promises and promise, personal, unwritten and otherwise.

If you think Tebow is the only right answer, you can be made to feel downright unwelcome sometimes. And if the community has its way, and it always does, those who wish to point out that Orton is the only right answer will have to wait on that discussion until we play Miami on October 23rd.

Isn't that a little harsh on both fronts? Is it sour grapes? I want to say it is, but whose? Tebow-backers because Orton will get the start? Orton-backers because despite it all, Tebow is still more loved? It isn't either of these, so what is it?

"It" can be difficult to understand unless explained. So I'm going to explain it, in one sentence, and you will understand it immediately.

Everybody here is on the same adventure.

That is pretty much it.

We all arrive at the Broncos to have an adventure. For some of us the adventure is sitting on the edge of a seat, throwing things at the TV. For others it is sitting on the edge of the training camp field, caught up in a groundswell of enthusiasm so profound it stops the heart for a beat or two. For others it is high-fiving a complete stranger, or debating passionately the 2-deep breakdown of FBs leaguewide.

And in this age of instant communication and rapidly evolving media everyone of us can have a following. We become half voyeur, half exhibitionist. Did you know you can subscribe to the individual blogging efforts of members on MHR? We are all microstars, spinning through a galaxy of diluted fame. We are quick to read, quicker to respond, quick to point out, quicker to the point, and quickly discovering that in all this content and all these moments, punctuating all of this drifting nothingness, the only warmth we have ever felt are those inconsistent dots of human kindness and recognition.

This is our adventure. Our deeply individualized, intensely collectivized adventure. A blog that mattered could be written about any of us or each of us. We can tell our stories over and over. Some of us have better connections. John Bena tells his story and gets invited on the news. Our adventure matters.

A lot of these adventures/stories/narratives have been told, but none seems to infuriate as much as the Griese vs. plummer, Plummer vs. Cutler, Cutler vs. Orton, Orton vs. Tebow. And the reason is because it isn't about Orton vs. Tebow. You might not have noticed, with all the sound and fury, but the debate, ostensibly about Orton and Tebow, back when it was still in its infancy, has matured and ripened, become something else entirely.

It has stopped being about whether Orton is the only right answer or whether Tebow is the only right answer. It turns out that both of these opinions are on the same side.

The other side of the debate that has taken form is a much, much larger group, but only half as vocal, that believes that regardless of whether you support Orton, Tebow or both, there are a lot of different answers that could all be right. And that is ok.

It is the same voices over and over that insist there is only one right answer. They dwindle daily, maturing into voices that insist that there are actually lots of ways to get where we are trying to go, and lots of things we don't already know, but will soon learn.

The debate has often fell flat, but amid the thunks, a lot of us have learned more about what we thought we thunk. Ideas can always be wrong. Observations can always be clouded. There is always someone who doesn't understand the point we are making, there is always someone who saw what we didn't. And it's no easier on any one of us than another.

That is part of joining the legacy of the Broncos, for us, for Orton and for Tebow. Accepting that you are one among many. This isn't always a good thing. When one Bronco goes down, all the rest have to work even harder. When one member loses sight of the point, we all have to work that much harder to keep things in focus. In one way or another, we all sweat the outcome.

We can write all the posts we want. We can belabor as many points as we care to. But no one person ever fully understood the Broncos, no one Bronco ever won anything. It has always been done as a team. We survive and thrive amidst the swirling season as a group. You forget this, lose sight of this, and you lose the essence of what makes this whole experience rich and compelling. You lose period.

This is all we get. All we have is each other. We are the only thing warm in this place, and the only fans who understand which team is truly the most awesome.

Elway and Bowlen know this. Shanahan was fired because he forgot it. Bena, Kirk, the rest of the staff. You.

The adventure belongs to all of us.

Part III: And That Includes the NFL

I admit that I did feel that moment of hypocrisy when I welcomed the NFL back into my life after the lockout. But I got over it pretty quickly, because like the Orton-Tebow debate, I knew that the two sides of the issue weren't what is commonly thought. I was truly welcoming them back.

That a business has to operate by graft and pull, straddling political machinations like a gymnast mounting a pommel horse, should be less than surprising. I read a lot during this long offseason about Invesco Field and how it came to be, about leaguewide loan problems, about mistakes and blunders by owners, including our own Bowlen. I maintained insightful dialogues with insiders on the stadium processes of past and present, and discovered far more than I had any real interest in learning. I mulled these issues over for a long time, deciding how they affected me as a longtime Broncos fanatic. I finally came to understand that they don't.

I don't begrudge the owners or the players for how they might choose to be a part of this legacy that we know as the game, and which they know as monument building. And I never bought the oversold narrative about how fans would come running back to the NFL. If anything, it was the other way around. Fans spent the offseason enjoying their connection to the NFL. Here on MHR we relived the history of past greats, compiled data on our possible starters, and debated the merits of possible rule changes, CBA changes, and roster changes. Just like with the advent of fantasy sports years ago, the owners and players have no control over our choices and creativity in enjoying the game. I see the end of the lockout as the NFL getting its act together and rejoining us in the continued evolution of that legacy.

The NFL really has the same curse/blessing that we all do as fans: they want to be a part of something greater than themselves. Fans have a front row seat for that process, especially with places like MHR. Throughout our lives, you may notice that small specialized communities build up around the things we value and cherish. Neighbors will naturally come together, responding to the value they feel in their neighborhood. Similar political ideologies, similar aesthetic preferences, similar pastimes will all tend to rally to each other, and find enjoyment in each other.

Behind this you can see the protection and reflection of our values, but both of these ideas are merely corollaries to the real motivator behind these communities, which is growth. And that growth happens in so many ways. For a place like MHR, one of the biggest growth factors comes in the exchange and curation of ideas. SBNation technology makes curating value particularly easy, but any forum allows for it. When ideas get put to the test, they will yield or remain firm, and in the process, our ideas as a group become much stronger. I can't tell you the many ways in which I have been able to apply ideas and concepts from MHR on a wider scale in my life. This enriching and compelling process is why I keep coming back, and keep putting my ideas out there to be throttled.

Just like the NFL wanting to tap into our fan imagination, and into the larger legacy of the game, bad ideas want to be something more than they are.

Part IV: Do You Take Your Roof For Granted?

So I found this eerie picture, and I made a hole in my roof.

I'm not sure which one to tell you about first.

Let's start with the picture. I am in the middle of remodeling a historic house here in Ketchikan, it is 106 years old as of this year, and it is an amazing process, like an archaeological dig. As anyone who has done a project like this, or any contractor who has built anything can tell you, there are interesting things built into walls everywhere. I know in my own building projects over the years I have lost tape measures, carpenter's pencils, levels, stringlines, stapleguns and more, and I know that they are living in between rafter blocking, and built into foundation cripple walls. In the house I am working on now I have found an old leather purse (had 2 cents inside, both from 1907), a collection of weather almanacs touting the effervescent miracle of Dr. Nervine's Alka-Seltzer, a number of brass weights and an old plaster mold for making false teeth. All built into walls and attics.

So I was recently taking a discontinued block chimney out. It has leaked since we got the house, despite our lamentations, and finally we can get rid of it, and patch it for well and good. As I am breaking the old bricks out on the way down into the attic, tossing them carefully over the eave and into the yard below, I find an old photo slid between the wood blocking, like a shim. It isn't a very big photo, maybe 3X4, and it has these three smiling people in it. No date, no note. Just dark and light spots on old paper.

I put it in my pocket and went about pulling the brick core out, a heavy, solid masonry block used to transition through the peak of the roof. But my mind is on the photo. It doesn't capture a story, the story that went with those smiles was supposed to have been passed along by by the photo's audience. Without the living storytellers the story is gone. I keep thinking about the photo, about an an unstoppable stream of seconds that swallows us all. The story of these anonymous people is like the buildup to a sneeze that will never come. I'm not being careful. Not paying attention. In hindsight, a little more loft to the toss would have gotten the brick core cleanly past the eave of the roof below me. As it was, I dropped the brick core through the pantry roof, tearing a surprisingly circular hole out and crushing the tile in front of the washing machine. Within moments my wife was looking up at me through the hole, while I looked down from my diety's eyeview, Saint Jeremy of the Spike, patron saint of failure.

And that is when it strikes me, that that is really the difference.

The stories that get remembered, the ones that keep going, that end up mattering, inevitably were about a failure. My wife and I are having a good laugh about the hole in the roof. That is how you can know that life is good, when you can either ask "How did I survive that?" or "How in the hell am I going to pull this one off?"

I know that failure isn't the end of the story, it is often only the beginning. Ask Elway. The guy who had the gall to have a career that would have made a perfectly good screenplay knows all about it. Failure that is. For success to bestow its life-affirming blessing on us, it has to be rare, and in order to be rare, it has to be surrounded by our failures. While I'm quite sure I would be happy without another mistake like the hole in the roof, I also know that I am happy to have learned how to live with disappointments great and small. I still have stories to tell. I wish the same for all of you.

Success intertwined with failure, the future of our Broncos, NFL greed mixed with NFL legacy, both sides of Orton vs. Tebow, Orton, Tebow, you, me, me you...

And so it goes, the darkness of the one mingling with the light from the other.