November 8th, 2013

Billy Reed: See Bridgewater while you can

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Billy Reed

Executive Editor


Billy Reed: See Bridgewater while you can
There won't be another quarterback like Teddy Bridgewater / photo from SI.com

It’s widely assumed that University of Louisville junior quarterback Teddy Bridgewater will opt for the NFL draft after this season. If that’s the case, I would encourage fans to pack Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium for Teddy’s last two home games — against Houston on Nov. 16 and Memphis a week later.

If Teddy leaves, we will not see his like again. I can state that with a degree of certainty because we have not seen his like previously. Of all the great quarterbacks who have played their college football in Kentucky, Teddy is simply the best.

It must be remembered, of course, that George Blanda and Johnny Unitas didn’t really blossom until after they left the University of Kentucky and U of L, respectively. The others who have to rank high on anybody’s list are UK’s Vito “Babe” Parilli, Rick Norton and Tim Couch, and U of L’s Chris Redman and Brohm brothers, Jeff and Brian.

Couch is the only quarterback from Kentucky to be invited to the Heisman Trophy ceremony in New York and then picked No. 1 in the NFL draft. Both of those achievements are in the realm of possibility for Bridgewater, who has put up amazing numbers in a 7-1 season that continues Friday night at Connecticut.

Unfortunately for Teddy — and unfairly — he has no way to compete against his No. 1 opponent this year:  A schedule that’s devoid of Top 20 opponents. That’s what the TV talking heads keep harping on. And on and on. So one most turn to the NFL scouts and media experts to get a better assessment of Bridgewater’s talent and leadership skills.

This is from Matt Brown of the respected Sports on Earth website:

“In this age, I must clarify that you should please not take ‘Teddy Bridgewater is a professional quarterback’ as some kind of proclamation on my part that Bridgewater has violated the spirit of amateurism or some other phrase that the NCAA would probably say. What it means is that Andrew Luck is the only quarterback in recent history who has looked more like a professional quarterback at the college level than Bridgewater … Bridgewater is of the Luck/Manning/Brady school of mastering the fine details of the position, both mentally and physically.”

As a Heisman voter for more than 30 years, I take seriously the part about the Heisman mission statement that says the trophy should go to the best player who also best demonstrates character, integrity and sportsmanship. By that criterion, Bridgewater has no peer.

Hopefully, the Heisman voters saw the touching piece in Sports Illustrated and the ESPN segment that documented the relationship between Teddy and his mom. When she was diagnosed with breast cancer, he seriously considered giving up football to care for her.

During his three years at U of L, his conduct has been exemplary. He has never been embroiled in a controversy. He has studied and excelled in the classroom. He’s so quiet and modest that he even asked U of L’s sports information office to not — NOT — mount a Heisman campaign on his behalf.

But for such a humble youngster, his leadership speaks volumes. Against Rutgers last season, he played through pain and injury to lead the Cards to a victory that got them into the Sugar Bowl. To a man, his teammates talk about how much they respect and trust his decision-making.

I’ve also thought an athlete’s body of work is important. During his three years, the Cards have competed well against teams from the SEC, ACC and Big East. Teddy’s signature victory came in last year’s Sugar Bowl against a heavily favored Florida team that almost made the national championship game. That should not be dismissed lightly.

Bridgewater has set such a high standard for excellence that the crowds in Papa John’s virtually gasp with disbelief when he throws an errant pass. Simply put, he was born to play quarterback. He’s cool under pressure. He finds the open receiver. He knows when to zip the ball and when to float it. His ball-handling and faking are superb.

In riding the Teddy bandwagon, I certainly do not mean to disrespect the achievements of the other Heisman contenders. Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M, who last year became the first freshman to win the award, is college football’s most exciting player. Alabama’s AJ McCarron does nothing but win. Florida State freshman Jameis Winston is the phenom du jour and Oregon’s Marcus Mariota has earned a lot of admirers.

But when I consider who has the whole package, who has the character and leadership to match his ability and who best fits the Heisman Trust’s own definition of who should win the trophy, I don’t see anybody I like better than Bridgewater.

So if you love football, or greatness in any form, seize the opportunity to see him play while you can. You will not be disappointed.

 

 

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