I have only a couple of faults that I'm willing to admit to, and one of them is football. I loved to play and I still like to watch, and I'll be in front of a television when the NFL season kicks off in eight days.
Of particular interest to me are the story lines of the two NFL quarterbacks from Bakersfield. Derek Carr, a Bakersfield Christian High School graduate, is entering his sixth year as the unchallenged starter of the Oakland Raiders. The other is Cody Kessler, a Centennial High School graduate who is trying to earn a permanent job with his third team in four years, the Philadelphia Eagles.
After Thursday night's final slate of practice games, teams will have about 36 hours to trim their rosters from 90 players to 53.
Carr will make the cut. Kessler may not, but it won't be because he lacks the physical tools to succeed.
Kessler suffered a concussion two weeks ago — the third of his career, at least — after absorbing a brutal hit that approximated a side-impact car collision. Little wonder he struggled badly last week in the practice game that followed, putting his job security at further risk.
Carson Wentz will be the Eagles' starting quarterback on opening day but, unless Kessler can turn in a clear-headed, mistake-free performance in Thursday night's preseason finale, 40-year-old Josh McCown, recently lured out of retirement, may well take his job as Wentz's primary backup.
Kessler must bring a mindset to Thursday's game that does not reflect normal behavior. He must summon that warrior mentality once again but, because one concussion increases one's susceptibility to another, will risk his health in doing so.
But then that's his problem, not ours — or so the rest of the sporting world, fans particularly, seems to believe.
We saw that ugly attitude in action last week when another young NFL quarterback decided he'd had enough. Andrew Luck, the highly accomplished leader of the Indianapolis Colts, shocked the sporting world when he abruptly retired from the NFL at the age of 29. In seven seasons he had suffered a sprained shoulder, a lacerated kidney, a torn abdominal muscle, torn rib cartilage, a concussion and a torn labrum. He is still suffering from the effects of recent calf and ankle injuries. And that's just what we know about.
“For the last four years or so, I’ve been in this cycle of injury, pain, rehab, injury, pain, rehab, and it’s been unceasing, unrelenting, both in-season and offseason,” Luck said Saturday.
As he walked off the field after news of his retirement had broken Saturday night, Colts fans showered him with boos from the stands.
Fox Sports 1 personality Doug Gottlieb tweeted, "Retiring cause rehabbing is 'too hard' is the most millennial thing ever."
Most players hold themselves to extraordinary standards of pain management and courage under fire — but fans and pundits? Their expectations can be absurd.
Carr, too, must overcome injury demons. He has suffered three fractured bones in his back, a broken fibula, a knee ligament sprain, one bruised, one sprained and one broken finger, a bruised chest and a concussion. "Would you blame Carr if the injuries are weighing on his mind a tad?," ESPN's Paul Gutierrez opined 11 months ago.
Carr memorably challenged sports commenter Max Kellerman to a cage fight in January after Kellerman questioned Carr's want-to. "He looked shell-shocked" at times last season, Kellerman said. "He looked like a quarterback who had quit."
Consequently, although Carr now evokes a calm training-camp confidence — and has played well in the preseason — he enters the season with a chip on his shoulder that arises, at least in part, from the criticism of detractors.
I'll be rooting for both Bakersfield quarterbacks to succeed on the field this season. I'll also be rooting for them both to walk off the field unassisted after each game.
I love watching football. That doesn't mean there aren't moments I have to look away.