Monday night Curtis "The Kid" Painter stepped out of the tunnel, realizing his boyhood dream of assuming the role as starting quarterback for an NFL team. The opportunity would come under much turmoil, scrutiny and debate.
Many have questioned Painter's ability to play in the NFL since his first appearance as a rookie for a then 14-0 Indianapolis Colts. With home field advantage a foregone conclusion, and much to the the protest of loyal Indianapolis fans, Jim Caldwell made the decision to walk away from potential perfection vs the New York Jets and throw a young and inexperienced kid to a very hungry and determined Rex Ryan-led defense.
The Jets win ensured them a spot in the playoffs. The showing was a disaster. Painter finished the 2009 season with a lackluster performance and very honestly left very few fans confident in his ability.
Painter did not play in the 2010 regular season.
He began this pre-season getting reps with the first team for the first time since the end of the 2009 season after long time starter Peyton manning was sidelined with a neck injury.
That was quickly overshadowed when Kerry Collins was signed as a quick band-aid. Painter finally inherited the role as veteran journeyman, Kerry Collins was injured by what what was later deemed an illegal hit from Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Farrior in a week three Colts loss.
Collins had been solicited and lured out of retirement by Colt's head coach Jim Caldwell and General Manager Bill Polian. Both Caldwell (quarterbacks coach at Penn State) and Polian (General Manager with Carolina Panthers) had a history with Collins.
Last week I wrote a piece about why I thought Painter has gotten a bad rap. I thought he had been unfairly judged. Some time, experience and reps may show what the "Kid" can do.
So, tonight, friends and foes, Painter supporters and detractors were watching to see what he could do. He did well.
Painter completed 13 passes on 30 attempts for a total of 281 yards in the air with 2 touchdown passes. One of those passes ranks as the fifth longest pass from scrimmage all time in Colt's history and second in NFL history for a pass thrown in a quarterback's starting debut. All of this occurred while under constant pressure from the Bucs defense. Not too shabby.
But that's not the most important stat. What is the most important is that for the second week in a row, Painter has put his team in a position to win. This is the intangible that separates ordinary guys from winners.
Those who consistently can put their team in a position to win will build confidence in their teammates. That confidence will in turn produce desire and effort. And those qualities are what championship teams are made of.
Painter may not be a Manning, but honestly, who is? The reality is that Manning will one day be gone forever and we have to accept that fact. When that day comes, we will have to settle for someone who actually has imperfections but has ability and desire. Tonight, I think The Kid proved that he's got it.