Watching the Viking/Seahawks football game Sunday was an unintended primer on how character is revealed through action.
On paper, Christian Ponder (quarterback for Vikings) and Russell Wilson (quarterback for the Seahawks) have a lot in common. Both men are about twenty-five years old, smart, hold advanced degrees, and were drafted early with high expectations of future glory. Both are physically gifted athletes who’ve married young and appear to have God on their side—if their comments are anything to go by.
Yet today, November 18, 2013, Russell Wilson appears headed for the Super Bowl while Christian Ponder is benched, has his Excelsior, Minnesota house on the market, and appears to be looking for a new job next year.
Why is that?
What’s the difference beneath their many surface similarities? Most football fans would snort and say it’s obvious: Russell Wilson is just a more talented player.
That’s an answer that leaves the storyteller in me profoundly dissatisfied.
Because what does it mean to be a talented quarterback? Is it just reaction time, the ability to “see the entire field” in a second and know where to throw the ball when a play doesn’t go as planned? Is it just that one guy has” better instincts for the game” than another? Or is it something less obvious but more fundamental to us all?
I think the difference is related to character. Christian Ponder’s almost too much of a good sport. After Viking losses, his comments have often been more thoughtful than angry. Neither of these quarterbacks is perfect, of course, but in my opinion Christian Ponder has been undone by his own lack of edge. He just doesn’t want it enough at a fundamental, gut level—and that’s not something that can be changed by wanting, wishing, or even better coaching. This is something innate, something beyond size, brain power or even work ethic. I’m sure Christian Ponder is/was sincere in wanting to be a top NFL quarterback, but it’s clear he’s never going to make it. Russell Wilson simply has that edge.
Or better yet, look at Percy Harvin. Harvin, who was recently traded by the Vikings to the Seahawks, is small by football standards, and injury-plagued, but so driven that every time he gets on the field he’s a genuine threat, a game changer. He’s thrilling to watch because you can feel his passion for the game. Harvin cares at a fundamental level, which has made him an uncomfortable player for coaches who seem to care more about a harmonious locker room than winning. Harvin has edge in spades.
And this is what I find so interesting about football. It’s human nature laid bare. Drama and ambition and character laid out for us to feast on, learn from . . . and ponder.
What more could anyone interested in storytelling ask in return for two hours of your time on a blustery Sunday afternoon?