NEW YORK – The two kids from Northern California burst from NFL afterthought to championship contender in eerily similar fashion a decade apart.
Tom Brady and Colin Kaepernick, each playing in a conference title game this weekend, are bookends to a fortuitous moment in quarterback history. On one side are the likes of Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, still scintillating in their mid-30s.
On the other are Kaepernick, a 2011 second-round draft pick, and the brilliant class of rookies with Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson leading their teams to the playoffs.
Young, old and in between, the current crop of NFL quarterbacks is not only deep but dynamic and diverse.
“We’re in a little bit of a boom right now. We’re flowing a little bit, especially young players,” Hall of Famer Steve Young said last week. “If those guys continue to develop, we’ll have a period of time here, kind of a Camelot of quarterbacking.”
The depth of the position shows in the other two guys joining the Patriots’ Brady and the 49ers’ Kaepernick in the conference championship games. Atlanta’s Matt Ryan and Baltimore’s Joe Flacco were first-round draft picks in 2008, and for all their successes, they’re probably low on the list when fans think of the most dominant quarterbacks.
Yet here they are a win away from the Super Bowl after leading stirring comebacks that answered many doubts about each.
Quarterback has long been the glamour position of all of sports, but it seems even a bit more glamorous right now. Rule changes favor a wide-open passing game. Colleges and high schools run more sophisticated offenses, and the best athletes gravitate to quarterback then develop into polished passers who happen to be able to scramble.
“I can’t remember – even though this is a quarterback-driven league – as many remarkable and compelling stories on the quarterback side as you’re seeing this year,” CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus said.
There was that brief stretch less than 15 years ago when Trent Dilfer and Brad Johnson won Super Bowls, and it seemed perhaps championship teams didn’t need a star at the position. Since then, here’s the roll call of victorious quarterbacks: Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, both Manning brothers, Brees and Aaron Rodgers.
Twenty-five of the 46 Super Bowl MVPs have been quarterbacks, but now it’s five of the last six. In the half-dozen years before that, four were non-QBs, including two defensive players.
The bottom of the standings is full of clubs with uncertainty at the position: from the Chiefs and Jaguars to the Eagles, Cardinals and Jets.
This quarterback Camelot is about more than the deep field of effective starters. The playoffs oozed with stars popular not just for their performances but their personalities and pizazz.
“If you’re on Park Avenue in New York [at league headquarters], you’re pretty happy with the new representatives that will be the ambassadors for the league for the years to come,” said Troy Aikman, who will call the NFC title game for Fox.