The head coach of the Los Angeles Rams, Jeff Fisher, announced on Tuesday that the elusive Jared Goff will finally start in Week 11, and that former quarterback Case Keenum is now officially benched. After weeks of frustration and multiple sports columns expressing doubts about Fisher’s quarterback decisions — mine included — Fisher finally decided it was time to solve the problem of Goff.
In addition, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo officially conceded the starting quarterback position to rookie Dak Prescott during an emotional monologue read at the Tuesday press conference. Romo, after breaking a bone in his back during preseason play, was expected to return to the Cowboys this coming weekend. But with an unstoppable 8-1 record with Prescott on the field, it became clear that Prescott, not Romo, should be leading the Cowboys to a playoff berth this season.
Romo and Keenum have, of course, extremely different circumstances. Romo was watching Prescott succeed from the bench while recovering from injury; Keenum was throwing interceptions in London while Goff waited in the wings.
But what the two have in common is the extreme grace they personified in losing the starting position. This week in the NFL, two men illustrated the epitome of sportsmanship both in public and in the locker room.
Romo’s press conference is a must-watch. He didn’t answer any questions, he didn’t make any excuses and though he read a prepared statement, his words were sincere and laden with his own passion for the game of football and the Cowboys as an organization.
He took viewers through his own personal struggle, as a “kid just starting out and wanting to be part of something bigger than myself.” He talked about how he believed Prescott has “earned the right to be our quarterback,” and that he wants to a positive influence on Prescott in the coming weeks.
In other words, he was humbly allowing the Cowboys organization to quell controversy, questions and hard feelings by conceding in the name of the team.
Unlike Romo’s announcement, Keenum’s was made by head coach Jeff Fisher during a press conference on Tuesday. The decision came as a relief to Rams fans, analysts and journalists everywhere, as uproar over Keenum’s start over Jared Goff began in early September and has not ceased.
The locker room was not as giddy as the media however, according to ESPN staff writer Alden Gonzalez. Gonzalez chronicled the melancholy atmosphere of the Rams’ locker room on Wednesday: Despite his statistical shortcomings, Keenum won the support and respect of his team during his 10 weeks as starting quarterback. And, coming off a win — though a touchdown-less 9-6 against the struggling Jets — Keenum’s teammates weren’t expecting him to be benched.
Goff spoke profusely about his respect for Keenum as both a player and person in a press conference. Fisher explained that Keenum would remain a team captain. And other teammates, such as left guard Rodger Saffold, expressed their dismay that Keenum would no longer be starting, especially after they found a way to pull out a win this past weekend.
In the case of Case Keenum, the members of the Rams organization said it all: Keenum earned the respect of his teammates through his work ethic and attitude, and he would step down just as graciously as he had stepped up.
As Romo explained in his press conference, the starting quarterback spot was the goal these men had been working towards their entire lives, and it is heart wrenching to have this dream taken away, even if he no longer deserves it.
As Romo so eloquently stated, the NFL is a meritocracy. You keep your spot with your stats, your on-field intelligence, your ability to fit into a team’s plan and yield results. It is all too easy to be forgotten if the guy who replaces you leads your team to an 8-1 record. It is all too easy to be benched when everyone in the universe seems to be pressuring the coach to start the other guy, the one with a high draft pick and a boatload of potential.
This year, neither Keenum nor Romo had the numbers to keep them afloat in the NFL’s meritocracy — but at least they have their dignity, and that is a lot more than many other washed-up athletes can say.
Amanda Christovich is a sophomore in the college. THE ANALYST appears every Friday.
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