While I'm not a huge Penguins fan, I do love goaltender Marc Andre Fleury. Just look at this video montage--how can you not love the Flower? I admire Fleury because, like most goalies, he has to put up with a ton of criticism from fans and media, alike. I also have a soft-spot for Fleury because, in Pittsburgh where Sidney Crosby is king (at least in a hockey sense), he's usually in the background when things are going well and games are being won in abundance.
And that brings me back to the criticism part.
Pittsburgh is currently in the throes of an epic struggle with the upstart Islanders in the first round of the NHL Playoffs (the 1 vs. 8 series is tied at two games each). And as is usually the case during the Pens' struggles, Fleury is taking the bulk of the blame. Fear-not, Fleury-detractors, back-up Tomas Vokoun will start in goal for the Pens in Game 5, Thursday night. Is the back-up the answer? It's anyone's guess, but he's probably a "soft" goal or two away from being in the same boat that Fleury's in right now.
I honestly don't know how goalies do it. They have to keep track of a little black puck while 10 crazy Canadians are flying around, deflecting that puck 17 different times in a matter of seconds. One second, the puck is at center ice, headed towards the other end. The next second, it's right back in the goalie's lap after ricocheting off the boards, a player's stick and another player's skate. And a goalie must prevent that crazy moving puck from going into the net while wearing cumbersome equipment--including a sight-altering mask, and what amounts to a catcher's mitt on one hand--and most of those same crazy Canadians whacking at each other, the puck, and his face.
And if a goalie fails four times out of 40 (or on 10 percent of the shots), he ABSOLUTELY BLOWS!
The only sports job I admire more is that of an NFL quarterback.
Like NHL goalies, QBs have to put up with a lot of flack from the fans and media. And I guess you can say that kind of attention is warranted--after all, quarterbacks normally get the biggest contracts, the title of franchise "savior," and when things are going well, they normally get the most credit.
However, just like with goaltenders, NFL signal callers have to get the job done with a lot of frantic action happening all around them. They not only have to call the plays, they must be able to audible out of them when the defense dictates it (oh yeah, they must be able to recognize various defenses), and they must be responsible for getting the other 10 guys on offense lined up in the right positions--and this is all before the snap.
Once the snap occurs, it's then the quarterback's responsibility to know where all of his receivers are, have pocket awareness, know when it's time to escape the pocket, and complete the pass on-time, to the proper spot. And he often must do this with three, four or five large, angry men trying to take his head off.
And if a quarterback fails to do any of these things on a consistent basis, he ABSOLUTELY BLOWS!
Oh yes, and he's usually not considered very tough, either.
That's right. Despite the fact that he must complete various tasks with guys rolling into his legs, smacking him in the helmet and bashing him from the blind-side, a quarterback's toughness is often called into question.
Like Jack "Splat" Lambert once said, "Quarterbacks should wear dresses."
Yes, because getting smacked from behind while trying to complete a pass, clearing the cob-webs out of your head, and then getting up and doing it again 30 seconds later is just the most sissified thing I can think of. If these actions are akin to a person in a dress, I guess people who wear dresses must be pretty damn tough.
This is a bit of a digression, but I've always found it humorous how defenders get labeled "tough" because they get to smack offensive players who, more often than not, are preoccupied with doing something else, like throwing a pass or catching it.
Former Raiders safety, the late Jack Tatum, was considered one of the most intimidating and vicious hitters of all-time.
Other than his hit on Frenchy Fuqua during the Immaculate Reception, maybe Tatum's most famous hit occurred in Super Bowl XI when he knocked the helmet off of Viking's receiver Sammy White after he caught a pass over the middle. If you click on the link, you'll notice that Tatum hovered over White after the play like a Vulture. But really, who was the tough guy, the one who's action was basically the equivalent of hitting a baseball off of a tee, or the player who still held onto a football after getting his helmet knocked off by a guy who crashed into him at a high rate of speed?
I'd go with the receiver.
And that reminds of an NFL Films program I watched way back when about defensive players and toughness. Some coach (I forget who) commented on how it's really not so big and bad to smack a guy when he's concentrating on doing something else.
I've never considered a quarterback/receiver/running back a "wuss" since.
Former Steelers receiver Hines Ward sort of broke the mold on what receivers had to endure during an NFL game and dished out almost as much punishment as he took during his career. Maybe that's why his peers on defense once voted Ward the NFL's dirtiest player--to quote Jerome Bettis, "It ain't no fun when the rabbit gets the gun."
Back to quarterbacks.
Ben Roethlisberger is considered one of the tougher signal callers in the NFL because of the punishment he's endured throughout his career. But maybe most quarterbacks are tougher than we often give them credit for.
I love how people will point out that a particular quarterback doesn't like pressure and hates defenders being around his feet or in his face every snap. "If you pressure and disrupt (insert quarterback here), he doesn't like it, and his performance suffers."
I bowl Sunday evenings, and during football season, the TV at the alley will be tuned into the Sunday evening "Game of the Week." It's funny how many times a guy watching the game will call an NFL quarterback a "wuss" because he can't perform while being pressured by 300 pound men. But then five minutes later, he'll claim that his missed spare was the result of poor bowling etiquette by the 110 pound woman in the lane next to him and her failure to wait her turn, thus causing him to be distracted.
Lastly, maybe the rules are a bit skewed towards protecting NFL quarterbacks, but maybe they should be. And the people out there who are part of the "QBs should wear dresses" movement. Maybe they should change their definition of what toughness really is.