Much helium figures to be pumped into the balloon before Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck swap spirals Saturday night. By the time the Washington Redskins and Indianapolis Colts kick off at FedEx Field — the historic first meeting between the quarterbacks who went 1-2 in this year's draft — we'll probably forget it's just a dress rehearsal, a game that doesn't amount to a hill of dirty socks.
Of course, in these situations, some hype can't be helped. That's because "these situations" — two quarterbacks being joined at the hip the way Griffin and Luck are — aren't all that common in the NFL. Think about it: How often have two QBs entered the league at the same time and been surrounded by this kind of whoop-de-do? It's hard to get the stars to align that perfectly.
And even when they do, a genuine rivalry between the two quarterbacks doesn't necessarily develop. Tim Couch and Donovan McNabb, the top picks in 1999, never met in a regular-season game. Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf, the top two in '98, squared off only once — five weeks into their careers. Drew Bledsoe and Rick Mirer, who led off the '93 draft, faced each other twice as starters.
Here's another pair of fraternal twins for you: John Elway and Dan Marino, both of whom were drafted in the first round in 1983. In their 33 combined seasons — 516 games, regular season and postseason — do you know how many times they crossed paths? Three. (Final score: Marino 2, Elway 1.)
Elway, it turned out, had a much more meaningful rivalry with Bernie Kosar, who he traded touchdown passes with in three AFC title games. That's the thing about quarterback rivalries: so much depends on sheer happenstance. The greatest QB rivalry of this generation, for instance, is the one between Tom Brady, a sixth-round pick in 2000, and Manning, the first overall pick in '98. Why? Because they both landed on really good teams, and those teams kept ending up on each other's dance card, including three times in the playoffs. So far, there have been 13 Brady-Manning matchups — Tom leads 9-4 — and we'll be treated to No. 14 in October, when his New England Patriots host Peyton's new club, the Denver Broncos.
What we're talking about, as much as anything, is the law of averages. In the '50s, when there were only 12 teams, great quarterbacks (e.g. Bobby Layne and Norm Van Brocklin) would bump into each other all the time — twice a season if they were in the same conference. Nowadays, though, with 32 teams, you can go years without seeing another club.
What kind of rivalry can 2011 Heisman Trophy winner and the 2012 No. 1 pick look forward to? A distant one, most likely. They are, after all, on different sides of the NFL divide. If that doesn't change, they'll meet once every four seasons — unless their clubs collide in the Super Bowl. For the most part, though, their rivalry figures to be statistical. Who wins the most rings? Who makes the most Pro Bowls (or commercials)? Who puts up the glossiest numbers?
Ergo, Saturday night's get-together should be enjoyed for its novelty as much as anything. I mean, there's no telling how many more times RG3 and Luck will share the same football field. (According to the NFL's schedule calculus, they should meet once in their first five seasons — next year. If they meet more than once in their first five seasons, well, you know what that will mean.)
As has been noted, Griffin and Luck have been on each other's radar since high school. They finally met last year at a couple of banquets — the College Football Awards in Orlando and the Heisman ceremony in New York — and, during their brief commiserations, exchanged cellphone numbers.
"We've texted back and forth," RG3 said, "but we haven't been holding conversations about this defense or that defense.… I definitely look forward to playing that guy throughout my career. I think it'll be an exciting matchup every time we face each other."
That said, "I never will truly get to face Andrew," he added, "because he doesn't play defense."
Interesting. Larry Bird said something similar once when somebody brought up his rivalry with Magic Johnson. I'm a forward and he's a guard, Bird replied. I don't defend him, and he doesn't defend me. The rivalry is really between the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers.
In the NFL, though, it's a little different, the league being so quarterback-driven. Any game between Griffin's club and Luck's club always will be seen, first and foremost, as Griffin vs. Luck. And this preseason tilt will, too, even though, according to Mike Shanahan, RG3 will play barely more than a half in his final tuneup before the opener at New Orleans.
So instead of calling this Griffin-Luck I, maybe we should call it Griffin-Luck 1/2. But however you want to bill it, it's not to be missed.
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