Some years ago, a young quarterback finished his freshman year of high school playing in a grind-it-out, run-first offense. But his father wanted his son to play for a coach who would develop his son's talent for throwing the football. The father found his man in Jack Neumeier, coach for Granada Hills High School in California. Neumeier had recently developed a pass-first, madcap, spread attack featuring multiple receivers each adjusting their pass routes on the fly to find openings in the defense. The son played for three years at Granada, set numerous passing records, and went on to an illustrious career at Stanford University, after which the Colts selected him with the first pick in the NFL draft.
This is not the story of this year's first pick, Andrew Luck — whose father was a former NFL quarterback — but instead that of NFL Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway.1
Ever since the rise of the T-formation and the modern notion of the quarterback as passer and team leader, young QBs have received varying amounts of training for the position. If his father was a coach — like Elway's was — or if he happened to live in Granada Hills, California, he might learn the sophisticated skills necessary to continue developing. But if not, it was unlikely that he'd ever receive that sort of necessary coaching. The long history of quarterback draft busts has taught us that athletic ability alone does not make a quarterback. A great quarterback is instead one of sport's oddest confections: He is the athlete whose success depends as much on his brain as on his body. One can't help but wonder how many would-be great quarterbacks never had the chance to develop because no one taught them the intricacies of the position; like some football equivalent of Gray's Elegy, who knows how many mute inglorious Mannings remain forever obscure to history.