Is Chiefs’ Orton Tough Enough?


Somewhere in a dark room within the Chiefs practice complex a film projector is rolling.  In the room, instead of a group of players or coaches, Todd Haley and Kyle Orton sit alone.  Rolling on the projector is not film from last Sunday’s defensive battle* between the Chiefs and Bears, but an old game tape from late December in 1990 between the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Diego Chargers.  Those of us old enough to remember or smart enough to Google it know that this game clenched the Red and Gold a playoff berth that year.  I’d like to imagine that Haley is talking to Orton not about how Chiefs QB Steve DeBerg played, but instead that he is pointing to the broken pinky on his non-throwing hand that had a peg driven through it.  He’s replaying every hit that DeBerg took.  Haley’s message is as blunt as it is clear: This is what is means to be a Chiefs quarterback.  We spent more than 2 million dollars making you a Chiefs QB to salvage the end of our season so you better man up and get on the field Sunday.

*Although it was indeed a spirited effort by the KC defense last Sunday, this is one of my most loathed euphemisms in all of sports.  It’s used to describe a struggle between two offensively inept teams that, despite having all of football’s rules changed to enhance scoring, still are incapable of moving the ball into the end zone.

It’s no secret that I am a big DeBerg fan, those of you that have been reading the site long enough may remember that I centered my first post around ol’ Steve-o being my favorite Chiefs quarterback.  Yet this article isn’t about how tough DeBerg was.  It also isn’t about saving the Chiefs’ season or the fact that I incessantly get shit from people here in Denver about KC picking up Denver’s garbage for one play while they all pray at the Tebow alter.  This article is about mental and physical toughness at the quarterback position, and whether or not Orton wants to salvage his career.

More after the jump…

I was not a fan of the Kyle Orton trade.  In fact, aside from the carry distribution between Jones and Charles in the playoff game last year, the Orton pickup is the single most baffling move I’ve seen the Chiefs make since Haley has been their head coach.  When I first got to Denver toward the beginning of the season, the debate that you could not escape was who should the Broncos start: Tebow or Orton?  It reminded me of the epic South Park debate between Giant Douche and Turd Sandwich, Tebow of course being the douche, and Orton the turd.  Well let’s just say I wasn’t so happy when that turd got flushed and ended up in my hometown, and my frustration is through the roof to know that after one play he was injured and no one knows when or if he will return.

Look, I understand the argument that a quarterback with a hurt throwing hand may not be the best option going into a NFL matchup.  With our depleted rushing attack and deep threats in Bowe and Baldwin, the Chiefs will need a quarterback that can get the ball down the field and into the hands of our receivers if they are to have any chance of winning games.  My counterpoint to this is that Tyler Palko who will start if Orton sits out has thrown one touchdown pass in the three games he’s played this season.  One touchdown pass.  One miracle, end of the half, Hail Mary, holy-crap-how-did-he-catch-that-ball touchdown pass.  So really, how could a subpar Orton fair any worse than Palko has in his last three games?

Players respect a teammate that can set aside pain and injury to get on the field.  We need look back no further than last December to the Chiefs game in St. Louis to remember what a gutsy performance from an injured QB can do to inspire a team.  Last year everyone was looking at Cassel to play 10 days after having an internal organ removed; now all we are asking Orton to do is play with a sore finger.  I hope Orton’s future isn’t in Kansas City, but either way, if he wants to continue to be a quarterback in this league it’s time for him to nut it up.  If he doesn’t, he has no future in KC.   The Chiefs would feel bamboozled out of 2.5 million dollars, and although there may be backup options available to Kyle, his starting days would be effectively over.

Let me touch on what I mean by salvaging our season for a second.  I don’t mean win out and somehow, someway, clench a playoff spot to get embarrassed again and extend our streak of most consecutive playoff losses.  What I want from Orton is to “ruin our draft pick” by at least finishing out the year with a poor but not utterly embarrassing record and get some of our rookies experience with a mediocre quarterback.  To me this is our best option.  We save face, get to keep Haley as coach (which to me is a good thing), have some experienced second year players going into next season and hopefully it doesn’t end up another train wreck of injuries.  Best case scenario…

The more I think about it though, this situation for me goes beyond Kyle Orton and the Chiefs.  I believe this has to do with the “wussification” of the QB position that took form over the past few years and appears to have reached a climax.  Let me ask you a question, if Tamba Hali had dislocated a finger last week would you expect him to play this week?  I think the answer is yes, right?  In fact a lot of us would probably be surprised if it took him out for the rest of the game…  Now you may be thinking as a counter-argument that Hali doesn’t throw the ball, but he sure as hell uses his hands every down in much more violent situations than Orton does.  So really it has to do with the mental toughness of a player and what is expected from them based on their position.  What it comes to is that we expect a defensive linebacker to have a tougher physical and mental makeup than a quarterback.  But why is that?

The rule changes that protect and enable franchise quarterbacks in this league have caused two disconcerting trends that bother me.  The first I have already mentioned, and it is that the rules that keep the Tom Bradys and Drew Breeses from being injured have essentially weakened the mental and physical fortitude of the NFL QB position as a whole.  Now that isn’t saying that there aren’t tough mo’foes still getting on the field every day (look at Cassel from last year, and Ben Rapelisberger who is evidently made of concrete), but by and large it’s a fact.  A fact that we as fans have come to expect.

The second effect of rule changes is the incessant never-ending disgusting fawning over quarterbacks that happens from commentators and analysts alike.  During the Monday Night Chargers and Patriots games, as well as the Steelers game, the unabridged praise of the opposing quarterbacks went beyond annoying and disgusting to me and really became kinda creepy.  Jaws and Trent Dilfer are the worst offenders here (Jaws’ appearance isn’t helping him much with the creepy factor) but systemically this position has become deified and the way that the QBs are praised reminds me of the semantic argument from another South Park*: Do they love these quarterbacks, or are they in love with these quarterbacks?

*That’s right, two South Park references in the same post.  Welcome to nerdville, population: Me.

I understand that it is probably the single hardest position in all of professional sports because of the amount of preparation, acumen, and decision-making involved, but then again, it’s not as hard as it was a few years ago.  It’s easier to complete passes, and they don’t take the types of hits they used to.  For example, now if a defender’s helmet so much as touches the QB’s helmet they get 15 yards, plus the rule changes have essentially done everything but tie defenders’ hands behind their backs. What’s next, two-hand touch if you’re coming from their blind side? I expect with all of the quarterback injuries this year, the competition committee will be looking to see what else they can do to keep these franchise guys on the field.

I know I wandered off in this post, but really I just miss seeing players like (yes, I’m going to say it) Brett Favre coming out with a cast on his thumb, or good ol’ DeBerg playing from a stretcher with an i.v. coming out of his arm.  If they could do that, then Orton sure as hell should be able to take some ibuprofen and get on the field Sunday to prove to everyone that he’s not the lame duck that’s personified in the media.  At any rate it’d be better than seeing Palko on the field for another 60 minutes.