There is no position in professional team sports that carries with it the weight of a team and the weight of a society like a quarterback. A sport that asks twenty two players to step onto the field simultaneously, yet results in only one of those players touching the ball every single play, pins not just a team’s best chance to claim victory on that one person, but allows that person to shape the team’s entire identity with who he is as a human being.
Even baseball rests its pitchers. But there’s no rotating lineup at the QB position.
So much rides on this player, that every team becomes a Rorshach Test with the QB himself as the ink blot. Look at the Philadelphia Eagles, what do you see in your first impulse? Do you see a franchise that forfeits its soul for the sake of a W? Or maybe a team that’s willing to explore all legitimate alleys, the dark ones just as much as the light ones, in search of that elusive Super Bowl? These are two views that many people have of this team, and they are largely rooted in the ambivalence that surrounds its lightning rod of a starting QB. These feelings of the quarterback spread naturally to his team. And then they start to color the community that supports the franchise. This is more than just another player on the field. This is a societal ambassador.
The Kansas City Chiefs are no different. And right now, we are defined by Matthew Brennan Cassel, whoever that is. I’ve written that Cassel is an elusive enigma, wrapped in a riddle, wrapped in a greatly foibled football player. And because he swept into the starting role in the same flurry that brought GM Scott Pioli and head coach Todd Haley, I still feel the fanbase still doesn’t properly understand him as we should.
The next five weeks (every Friday), I will address a different aspect of Matt Cassel, the Man, the Quarterback, the Potential Legend. What do we ask him to be for us? In what ways might he be a blessing to this franchise? In what ways might he fail us, inasmuch as a sports figure can? How might he change the history of the Chiefs? How might he change sports in Kansas City?
There is no position in professional team sports like the quarterback. And Cassel deserves for us to hit the reset button on him; for us to approach him with new eyes and a fuller understanding of who he is and what he’s up against. And we deserve to know what we have in him, and what that potential might be. I call this reassessment The Cassel Project.
Why this all matters, after the jump.
The last time I tried a pop-pscyhology breakdown of Matt Cassel, a few commenters had trouble shrugging off their indifference:
I don’t get it. I really don’t care what he’d be like if I ran into him Home Deput [sic], so I don’t understand the search for a personal connection. If players and coaches respond to him, trust him, and believe in his abilities, that’s sufficient for me.
To answer, I quote the zenmaster himself, Priest Holmes, as he used to tell Larry Johnson: “as you go, we go.”
Understand who Matt Cassel is and you understand who the Chiefs are. More than every other player in KC, his weaknesses are the team’s weaknesses, and the team’s potential for greatness depends on his. Yes, there are coaching schemes, and there are teammates. But the most skilled teams fail year and year in leiu of the teams whose QBs carry them the best.
Matt Cassel, for the next few years, must carry the Chiefs. It is his job. And he’s been roundly criticized and unfairly praised and prematurely assessed every single day he’s been here. This series doesn’t seek to eliminate that misunderstanding — this is only a blog, after all — but I hope for it to do its part in pulling back the curtains. With the Draft and the lockout and Joplin taking up the majority of our attention this offseason, I feel like Matt Cassel has developed into a fascinating character, right under our noses.
If you are someone who cares about little else but the win column, this series (and this blog) might not be for you. If you share the minimalist attachment to sports figures exemplified in the quote above, Peter King’s column is out today, so go nuts.
But if you’re a fan of the story, of being proud to call yourself a Chiefs fan, of the traditions and the colors and the stadium and the lore of the Hunts, and if you view the Chiefs as an element of Kansas City that we all get to share, rather than the experiences of remote athletes that you simply watch a dozen Sundays a year, then hop aboard.
And let’s talk Cassel.