While the San Francisco 49ers nation remains divided on the current quarterback controversy between Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick. It should be mentioned that this controversy is not entirely terrible to have. The 49ers have two very capable quarterback competing for a single job. It could be worse; they could have two mediocre quarterbacks vying for the position. In the history of NFL football, there have only been a handful of quarterback controversies that pitted two ultra talented quarterbacks against each other. Most have been a decision based on the lesser of two evils. So with out question, the 49ers have it good with their current situation. A look at some of the more notable controversies over the years offers some insight to what the 49ers are going through, as well as the successes and failures that they have to take into consideration.
Joe Montana vs. Steve Young: Probably the most recognized quarterback controversy in NFL history. Two Hall of Fame quarterbacks for the 49ers, one with four Super Bowls on his resume, and the other with limitless potential. Montana was at the tail end of his career at that point, and had a host of injuries to contend with. And the 49ers could not hold back Young any longer, he had already been the back up to Montana for six years. In the end, the 49ers let Montana go in favor of Young. It was a decision that nearly ripped San Francisco apart. Young did end up winning another Super Bowl for the 49ers before he retired. And Montana went on to play for the Kansas City Chiefs, where he took them to two straight playoff appearances before his retirement.
Drew Bledsoe vs. Tom Brady: The New England Patriots found themselves in a heated quarterback controversy starting in 2001, when the revered Drew Bledsoe was injured, allowing the rising superstar Tom Brady to take command of the offense. Again, just as in the 49ers case, Blesoe was at the tail end of his career and battling injuries. And Brady was just too good to keep on the sidelines. Fans however did not see it like that at the time, as it appeared that the Patriots had just given up on an all star for an unproven quarterback that came out of nowhere. Alas, it’s safe to say it was a good decision on the Patriots part. Brady went on to bring New England three Super Bowl victories, as well as becoming the face of the NFL. Bledsoe on the other hand toiled in the NFL for five more seasons, playing with the Buffalo Bills and Dallas Cowboys. Although Bledsoe did play well for those teams, he never reached the playoffs again. In 2011 Bledsoe was entered into the Patriots Hall of Fame.
Drew Brees vs. Phllip Rivers: This one stings San Diego Chargers fans to this day, and brings a smile to the faces New Orleans Saints fans every time it is brought up. Brees and Rivers battled for the staring spot in San Diego during the 2005 season, a year in which Brees ended the year with a potentially career ending shoulder injury. The following year, the Chargers let Brees walk due to concerns about his injury and height, in favor of the taller and more quarterback standard Rivers. Subsequently, Brees brought the city of New Orleans a Super Bowl trophy, as well as taking them to the playoffs four out of his six years with the Saints. Rivers on the other hand, although having taken the Chargers to numerous playoff appearances, has yet to play in a Super Bowl.
Brett Favre vs. Aaron Rodgers: Again this fits the same scenario that the 49ers and Patriots have faced. A future Hall of Fame quarterback being shown the door by an up and coming star. The drama surrounding this controversy was equally as palpable. The historic Green Bay Packers franchise and city was torn right down the middle as to who should be the starter. How could they let Favre go when he still has so much football left in him, and is still capable of playing at a very high level? And how do they keep Aaron Rodgers from taking the field with all of the gifts that he can bring. It is a debate that still lives on to this day. The Packers reluctantly chose to go with the younger Rodgers when it was all said and done. To their credit, Rodgers did end up winning them a Super Bowl in 2010. Favre went on to retire numerous times from a host of different team, ultimately tarnishing a brilliant career.
Michael Vick vs. Donovan McNabb vs. Kevin Kolb: From an outsider’s standpoint, this Philadelphia Eagles controversy appeared to be more of who is not gonna hurt us as much type of decision. On one hand, they had an aging All Pro in McNabb that had been bitten by the injury bug on a number of occasions leading up to the controversy. On the other hand, they had a straight out of prison Vick, who was not in football shape and was a public relations nightmare. And on the third hand, they had a fresh-faced youngster in Kolb that had shown a great deal of potential in the games that he did play. The resulting decision did not end up working out for any of them. The Eagles decided to keep Vick, who in return posted one of the worst passer ratings in history as his time as a starter. McNabb went to the Redskins and then the Vikings where he saw limited playing time with both teams. He ultimately became an football analyst in 2012. Kolb went to the Arizona Cardinals, only to be embattled in a quarterback controversy there. He is currently on injured reserve as the third string quarterback.
Kyle Orton vs. Brady Quinn vs. Tim Tebow: It seems so long ago that the three of these players went head to head to head in a quarterback duel, yet it was only one year ago. Funny how Peyton Manning can erase the past so quickly and easily. To be honest, it was difficult for anyone to call this an actual controversy; the Denver Broncos really just had to choose which one was the best at being not horrible. Ultimately, all three quarterbacks have the skill set and talent to be back ups in the league. So when they all fight for a starting job, it is really uninspiring. As it stands, all three are back up quarterbacks in the league somewhere after Manning threw his Hall of Fame name in the ring.
So 49ers fans, be careful what you wish for in this controversy. Just because something looks good on paper does not mean it’s a ticket to success. By year’s end, we will know where these two quarterbacks stand in the depth chart. And most certainly one will walk after the season. Who will it be? And will the decision ultimately be just in the eyes of 49ers fans? There can be a very fine line between success and failure with this type of decision.
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