Well, now we know why Matthew Stafford, who left Georgia in 2009 to become the Detroit Lions’ (and the entire NFL’s) No. 1 draftee, has gone from being a Hot Young Quarterback to being a Flawed Young Quarterback. According to Mike Ditka, it’s the hat.
In an interview with Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press, Ditka – who played for the Chicago Bears hundreds of years ago and who coached them only slightly more recently – said of Stafford:
I think when you look at him you see all the touches of greatness, in my opinion. Then you see some plays and go, ‘”Wow! Why’d he do that?” I think he can make all the throws. He’s a smart kid. I wish he’d put the baseball cap on frontwards instead of backwards all the time.
At last check, none of Stafford’s howlingly awful interceptions – and he has delivered more than his share – were authored while wearing a baseball cap, be it frontwards or backwards. NFL rules call for players to wear these things called helmets while actually playing.
But if we look beyond headgear, Ditka does have something of a point. Even at Georgia, Stafford came across as more carefree – or careless, depending on your point of view – that you’d like your quarterback to be. Ask Georgia coaches about Aaron Murray, who wasn’t as talented as Stafford, and they’ll rave about his attention to detail. Nobody has ever raved about Stafford’s attention to detail.
Stafford is the anti-Peyton Manning. He doesn’t over-analyze. He grips the ball and lets ’er rip. Sometimes he does it sidearm. Sometimes he does it to spectacular effect. Sometimes he throws it to the wrong team. Sometimes you wonder how a team with Stafford and Calvin Johnson, once of Georgia Tech, can ever be stopped. Then you note that the Lions just fired their coach because they got stopped way too often. Some of that has to fall on the quarterback.
Ditka again, via Monarrez:
If you’re the leader of the football team, I think you’ve got to stand up and be that leader, assume that role … I’m not knocking him. I’m just saying that’s the first thing I would tell him if I inherited him. When you’re going to go do an interview, put it on like it’s supposed to be on, not backwards, sidewards, whatever way they put them on anymore.
As someone who witnessed Stafford’s first collegiate pass (against Western Kentucky) and his last (against Michigan State), I can’t say I’m terribly surprised by his career trajectory. On the April night Detroit took him No. 1, I wrote that I wouldn’t have. I thought he was a great talent; I wondered if he’d ever be a great quarterback. I likened him, for both better and worse, to Jeff George, another guy with a big arm who went No. 1 overall but who never panned out, least of all as an Atlanta Falcon.
And, if memory serves, Jeff George wore his cap backward, too.