Toward the end of another ugly NFL game here last Sunday, I trained my binoculars on Derek Anderson. The injured Cardinals quarterback stood on the sidelines in black workout gear. He did not play. A concussion, they said, which may or may not be true. It certainly was a good excuse anyway for a team going nowhere to play a new face, in this case that of the Fordham rookie John Skelton.
I had lost interest in the game somewhere in the third quarter. It was then I realized the opponent, the Denver Broncos, was tanking the game in response to a coaching change several days before. That the Cardinals won, 43-13, to raise their record a fathom off the seabed to 4-9 was meaningless. That Skelton’s NFL debut had turned out so-so was even less meaningful in the dim light of the pitiful Broncos defense.
So I searched around for something interesting. Eventually I found Anderson. And before that, but related none the less, I found Brady Quinn.
Quinn stood on the other side of the field, likewise twiddling his thumbs. If Quinn had wanted to see DA, he would have had no obstruction. Nor the distraction of being deep into this sorry game. All Quinn had to do was focus dead-ahead. The one-time star at Notre Dame is the Broncos’ No. 2 quarterback behind Kyle Orton. And like Anderson with Arizona fandom, Quinn is far from the darling of the Denverites. He is no doubt a soon to be forgotten footnote in Broncos history. It is the rookie quarterback, always the rookie, that the fans fall in love with. For a few seconds at least. And now, in Denver, it is Tim Tebow, the No. 3, a former Heisman Trophy winner at Florida, that is the adored one.
But Anderson and Quinn have a much larger connection than any trifle that could occur this season as both teams wallow around waiting on the season to die. The two quarterbacks were pitted against each other for several seasons with the Cleveland Browns. Starter and backup. Backup and starter.
In 2009, the Browns were the last team to announce a starting quarterback. Would it be Quinn or Anderson? Coach Eric Mangini eventually named Quinn, who ultimately started nine games that season with DA starting the other seven.
Quinn, a first round draft pick, was the fans’ favorite. And the fans let Anderson know he was not welcome anymore, and when earlier this year he was cut by the Browns, DA responded in anger: “The fans here are ruthless and don’t deserve a winner,” Anderson was quoted as saying in an email. “I will never forget being cheered when I was injured. I know at times I wasn’t great. I hope and pray I’m playing when my team comes to town and (we) roll them.”
I wondered if all that angst had embittered Quinn and Anderson, that they now saw each other as enemies. That they wanted to forget the cruddy days in Cleveland.
So I had the glasses on DA as Sunday’s game ground to a halt. I wondered if he would rush out onto the field to congratulate Skelton. Or would he seek out Quinn? Or someone else?
I followed DA’s progress as he walked onto the field. He was a man on a mission. He looked neither right nor left. Just moved steadily straight ahead, paying no attention to teammates or the few Broncos still milling around at midfield.
At last another figure entered my field of view. It was Quinn. Anderson strode up to him, wrapped an arm around him, and they embraced with DA affectionately ruffling Quinn’s hair. It was a touching moment, I thought. Like watching two warriors who had endured hell and more, and because of it had bonded in a way few of us ever will.
I had been rewarded by knowing their history. It is not always who wins and loses that engages. It is little dramas like this that are often more entertaining than the game itself.