|03-03-2006, 03:52 PM||#1|
Giving You The Business
Join Date: Aug 2005
Location: Huntersville, NC
Good Plummer Discussion
An e-mail discussion between ESPN's Bill Simmons and the New Yorker's Malcom Gladwell. I agree with these arguments to an extent, although I am of the opinion that every year Plummer spends in this offense the likelihood of a blow-up game diminishes.
Gladwell: So do I work hard on my writing? Well, yes. But not that hard. I'm a five- or six-draft kind of person, not a 10- or 12-draft kind of person. Plus, I write for the New Yorker, so I have an entire army of high-IQ fact checkers, and editors and copy editors working with me. To stretch the quarterback analogy here, I'm Jake Plummer: I work in an offensive system designed to make me look way better than I actually am. Speaking of which, how fascinating was the Plummer meltdown in the Pittsburgh game? People have been beating up on Plummer, saying that his true colors emerged in that game. I prefer to look at it the other way. Shanahan managed to put in place an offensive system so brilliant and so precisely tailored to his quarterback that he could make Plummer -- Plummer! -- look like a great quarterback for 17 consecutive games. That's pretty remarkable. The Plummer story is not about the frailty of individuals. It's about the redemptive power of environments. As I said, I think I'm Plummer.
Simmons: Wait, I know Jake Plummer, I watched Jake Plummer, I wagered on Jake Plummer ... you, sir, are no Jake Plummer. Shanahan's system was predicated on the Broncos' jumping out to leads, then protecting those leads in the second half with their running game and Jake's occasional play-action passes (which were always wide open because their running game was so good). The catch was that they could never fall behind in any important game; there was no way Jake could be effective under those circumstances, and only because Shanahan inadvertently undermined his confidence (by creating the "Now don't screw this up, Jake!" offense), so Plummer's meltdown against the Steelers became a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts. If the Patriots had gone to halftime with a 6-0 lead, it would have happened a week earlier. But it was going to happen. You can't make it through a 20-week season without your QB carrying the team at some point. It's impossible.
I sincerely doubt that the New Yorker carries you like the Broncos carried Plummer all those weeks. Besides, you could never grow one of those lead-singer-of-the-Black-Crowes-level beards like the one Jake has been working on.
Gladwell: You're probably right. But imagine Plummer was drafted by Shanahan and came to maturity in the NFL entirely within a conservative, run-first offense. Imagine, as well, that the Broncos were every bit as successful in those years as they were in the pre-Plummer era. What would we think of Plummer? We'd say that he was an efficient, intelligent quarterback. We'd call him an adept game-manager. We'd marvel at his discipline. John Madden would go on and on about how the value of a quarterback who doesn't make mistakes has been vastly underestimated, and if Plummer occasionally imploded while playing catch-up in a big game we'd say that the one problem with a Shanahan offense is that it can't score in a hurry. We'd blame Shanahan, in other words, not Plummer. Plummer would still be Plummer. But inside of a very structured system -- one that played to his strengths -- he would seem to us like a totally different quarterback. And after five or six years or so with Shanahan, he really would be different: all vestiges of the old swashbuckling Jake the Snake would largely be obliterated.
My point is its almost impossible to know where the person ends and their environment begins, and the longer someone is in a particular environment the blurrier that line gets. More specifically, you can't make definitive judgments about the personal characteristics of people who come from structured environments. What does it mean to say that a Marine is brave? It might mean that a Marine is an inherently brave person. It may also be that the culture of the Marine Corps is so powerful, and the training so intensive, and the supporting pressure of other Marines so empowering, that even a coward would behave bravely in that context. That's what I mean when I say I'm Plummer: I'm working in a such a supportive and structured environment that I no longer know where my own abilities end and where the beneficial effects of the environment begin. Just think if you were a New Yorker writer, Bill. Suddenly your editors would be asking you to make your stories longer. You spend the summers at a writer's colony in New England, working on an historical novel based loosely on Freud's famous falling-out with Adler. And girls would hit on you in bars because they would think of you as cute in that nerdy, bookish way. But you'd still be Simmons, wouldn't you?