Rivalries Are Unpredictable, but Odds Don't Favor Griffin-Luck Becoming Epic
This year marked the fourth time in 40 years that quarterbacks were taken with the top two picks in the NFL draft. And as a result, the expectations are sky-high for both Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III.
Additionally, there's an expectation that Luck and Griffin will inevitably develop a rich rivalry that will go down in the books with Brady-Manning and all the other great individual rivalries in football history.
A few problems with that potential narrative:
Individual rivalries aren't common in football
Name me some of the greatest player-versus-player rivalries in football history. Coming up with a comprehensive list isn't as easy as you'd think. That's because football is—excuse the cliché—the ultimate team sport.
"I will never truly get to face Andy," Griffin said in his press conference Monday (via NFL.com), "because he doesn't play defense."
And that's the problem. Quarterbacks don't get to face quarterbacks. They only get to face defenses. Joe Montana and Dan Marino weren't rivals. They rarely faced each other.
Why would it be any different in this case?
They play in separate conferences
Rivalries like the one between Tom Brady and Peyton Manning were born out of a high quantity of matchups. The Redskins only play the Colts every four years, and the two teams can't face each other in the playoffs unless it's the Super Bowl.
That means it's all or nothing.
There's a chance the two meet on several occasions in the biggest game on the planet, but the odds are stacked against that happening consistently in this parity-laced era of pro football.
If these two don't have a chance to face one another on a near-annual basis, or in the postseason every once in a while, they'll never develop a rivalry.
There's a chance one or both will bust
I mentioned that there have only been three other times in the last 40 years where quarterbacks have gone No. 1 and No. 2 in the draft. Well, in all three cases, one of the two pivots selected became a bust.
There was Peyton Manning, and then there was Ryan Leaf.
There was Drew Bledsoe, and then there was Rick Mirer.
And there was Tim Couch before Donovan McNabb.
It's hard to imagine Luck or RG3 not making it, but, statistically speaking, one isn't supposed to. They might defy the odds, and the top of this draft might be anti-crapshoot, but we just don't know.
It's hard to forecast a rivalry when we can't even be sure both involved parties will be successful.
Is race still a factor in determining sports rivalries?
Race isn't a factor like it was in the past
I'm not saying it isn't a factor, but I don't think I'm being controversial in stating that we continue to make progress in this area. In his take on this situation Monday, NFL.com's Dan Hanzus listed several reasons why this could be a picture-perfect individual rivalry:
Two highly accomplished college players. One black, one white. Both taken at the top of the draft. Each tasked with revitalizing once-proud franchises.
I'm quite proud to say that I really hadn't given the difference in race any thought until Hanzus brought it up. Have you? Am I just a crazy color-blind Canadian? Let me know if I'm off-base here, but I really can't imagine race will divide the fanbases over Griffin and Luck, and I certainly don't think it'll add to the intensity of a potential rivalry.
ESPN host/troll Skip Bayless might disagree. Here's what he had to say on Monday about an imaginary RG3-Kirk Cousins quarterback controversy:
"I'm going to throw it out there. You also have the black/white dynamic and the majority of Redskins fans are white and it's just human nature if you're white to root for the white guy. It just happens in sports. Just like the black community will root for the black quarterback."
Again, this mentality may exist in pockets, but I know these fans and have traveled to these cities, and I just can't see this being a black-versus-white thing.
It should also be noted that the absence of a rivalry would also have nothing to do with Griffin and Luck being friendly or lacking an intense hatred for one another, as was implied by Hanzus on Monday.
Some of the greatest rivals in sports have also shared mutual respect, appreciation and even friendship. Just ask Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, who were genuine friends while competing against one another during their playing days.
Hanzus is right about one thing: Rivalries, especially between individuals, have to be developed organically. They can't be forced upon either player, either team or either fanbase. I've seen rivalries manufactured by the media to pump up storylines, and they usually don't take.
It will be fun to take a look at Griffin and Luck on the field together Saturday when the Redskins host the Colts, but there's no chance a rivalry is spawned by an exhibition game.
This isn't to say that Griffin and Luck won't be paired together and compared to one another on a constant basis. They will. It happens with quarterbacks who come out of every draft together (see: Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco or Cam Newton and Andy Dalton in recent years), and it's especially the case with guys who go No. 1 and 2 (see: Manning and Leaf).
We're talking about two very special players with very different skill sets and in very different situations. They might never be rivals, but they'll be linked to one another for the rest of their lives.
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