MADNESS IN MANKATO!
This is what it's all about. It's about wanting to play the game so much that you come to a remote place like Mankato, Minn., you work out under the glare of an unforgiving sun, you field questions from reporters who doubt your fitness and your decision-making—all so you can be that man. All so you can have a chance to stand under center and direct a potent offense in the most popular sport in the most powerful country on Earth.
This is the most compelling story in the NFL, the one unfolding at Vikings training camp. We speak, of course, of the battle between Sage Rosenfels and Tarvaris Jackson to be the backup quarterback.
You've heard the stories of these brave young men. In fact, you're probably sick of hearing them.
Jackson is the 26-year-old from Alabama State whom Brad Childress traded up to get in the second round of his first draft as a rookie coach, back in 2006. But after three unfulfilling seasons from Jackson the Vikings called down to Houston in February and placed a take-out order for quarterback competition, in the form of Rosenfels, 31. The Texans' backup, who showed tantalizing gunslinger tendencies last year, throwing 10 interceptions in his six appearances, came to Minnesota for the chance to win the starting job.
Now, instead of vying to be No. 1, Rosenfels (left) will battle Jackson to be the top backup—and that race is even more exciting. The stakes are even higher. As close as each man is to being the starter, he is just as close to having his parking privileges revoked.
This is because of the presence of another quarterback at camp. He is a son of the South, a man with a storied history. Perhaps you've heard of him. He is John David Booty, the fourth of four quarterbacking Booty brothers from Louisiana. No matter who wins the No. 2 spot, the 24-year-old Booty could be the cap-friendly third quarterback. Which means that for Jackson or Rosenfels, it's backup or back off.
True, either QB can tell himself that if he's cut by the Vikings, he can simply move onto another team—Jeff George still thinks he can play in the NFL, for heaven's sake. But getting released will give one of these men at least a glimpse of life without football. He will envision himself spending his fall Sundays at home, perhaps out back on the tractor, or playing touch football with carefully manicured friends in perfectly faded jeans.
Both Jackson and Rosenfels have started NFL games, and now as they fight for the backup job, they surely know that their place in the league is perilous. This is not the moment for coy flirting with what they want, like some indecisive teenager considering an invitation to the drive-in. They must plow ahead, never letting on how they feel about all slights, perceived and otherwise. They have to show that they want this job, and they want it bad.
Because only with unwavering commitment can one be the backup quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings.
BRUCE KLUCKHOHN/US PRESSWIRE (BOOTY AND JACKSON)
THE THIRD MAN Booty (9) could make Jackson (7) the victim of a numbers game.
MARK ZEROF/US PRESSWIRE (ROSENFELS)