ESPN the Magazine ESPN


ESPNMAG.com
In This Issue
Backtalk
Message Board
Customer Service
SPORT SECTIONS







The Life


October 1, 2002
The Pederson principle
ESPN The Magazine

  • All-Armageddon Team

    It has now been 10 years since a backup quarterback got any pub in Green Bay. So it was somewhat fitting that Doug Pederson's moment in the FlemFile spotlight was fleeting.

    Just minutes into our chat last weekend in Green Bay, during which I was trying to discover what it's like to back up a guy who never needs a backup, you-know-who came busting into the room with all of his usual bombast. Waving a videotape of his early days as a backup and a holder, Brett Favre pretty much declared the interview over.

    "Just a second, Brett," Pederson yelled, "I'm talking to ESPN The Magazine."

    Doug Pederson
    Not so fast, Doug. Brett has it all under control.
    "Now who there would actually want to talk to you?" Favre shouted back. His wild hair and his goofy grin, even at 33, still remind me of Calvin from the cartoon Calvin and Hobbes. "Come on, let's watch this tape, I'll show you how it's done, boy."

    "This is Fleming David Fleming. Give me a sec."

    "Fine," said Favre, "but hurry up and tell Fleming he's pissing me off."

    Get in line dude, I replied.

    "Now," mumbled Pederson, trying not to laugh, "Do you see?"

    Yeah, I see.

    But really, no one has a better vantage point than Pederson's about the odd Maytag Repairman-like existence of a backup QB in the NFL.

    On Sept. 27, 1992, Favre began his Cal Ripken-like streak of 161 consecutive starts, the most ever by an NFL quarterback and the longest streak of seasons starting for one team in any of the major professional sports. Favre's streak is really more a testament to his talent than his toughness. Imagine being this good for this long, week in and week out, in a league where already this year eight teams have yanked their starting QBs.

    30 Second Column
    I watched Sunday's Panthers-Packers game from the press box high above Lambeau Field, but through the magic of the Internet I was lucky enough to spend part of the day listening to Ernie Harwell's final broadcast with the Detroit Tigers.

    I grew up in Detroit, so even through the scratchy broadcast coming out of a cruddy little computer speaker, Harwell's nasally, knowledgeable twang was music to my ears. There is still a little clod of turf that I "borrowed" from old Tiger Stadium after the 1984 World Series that continues to grow in the backyard of my parents' home. I can still remember waiting to hear Ernie say, SWING annamiss he struck 'im out! before bolting downtown that night. Because nothing related to the Tigers actually happened until Ernie said it did. A unique talent and a true professional who painted games for us with his voice, Ernie transcended the game in ways that only those who are best in the biz can do. Sports is somehow less special now that he's gone.

    The Flemister File
    Wherein we follow the exploits of FlemFile mascot and Washington TE Zeron Flemister:

    Some serious excitement going on with ZFlem during the Redskins bye-week: blocking practice. Tight ends are weird, they're part wideout, part tackle. Most are good at one or the other. The great ones excel at both.

    "For most players this week is all about fundamentals, working on the little parts of your game," he says. "I want to be labeled a complete tight end so I'm working on my blocking." Good for you ZFlem, 'cause far too often ego prevents NFL players from focusing on their weaknesses.

    When it comes to blocking, low man often wins and at 6'5" ZFlem struggles when he takes on defensive ends late in games. When he gets tired he dips his head instead of bending his knees. This leaves him off-balance and makes him easy to toss. Film work helps. "It never lies," he says. Veteran TE Walter Rasby also offers advice. And then there's the blocking cage: a metal box players run through that forces them to get low before hitting a dummy. If you get lazy and hit your helmet on the steel cross bar your ears ring the rest of the day. Can you hear me, ZFlem? "Yeah man, I can hear you." So far so good.

    The Flem Five
    I did a feature on a certain K.C. running back in the latest issue of The Magazine, so that got me thinking about the Top 5 Players With Religious Names (let's call 'em the All-Armageddon Team):

    5. TIE: Andy Heck, OL, Washington; Bob Christian, FB, Atlanta

    4. Blaine Bishop, DB, Philadelphia

    3. Marquez Pope, DB, Oakland

    2. Muhsin Muhammad, WR, Carolina

    1. Priest Holmes, RB, Kansas City

    Flem Gems
    Which is a bigger bunch of babies: The U.S. basketball squad or our Ryder Cup team? FieldTurf, the artificial surface that's all the rage now in sports (the Seahawks' new stadium has it), is so close to real grass my 13-month-old daughter Ally (we call her Oop) romped around on it last Saturday and she kept bending down to tear out the blades of grass so she could eat them. Green Bay Thought No. 1: Is there anything more American than Packer fans wearing cheese bikinis dancing to Van Halen inside Lambeau Field? So far this season at least 60% of the missed tackles I've seen are because people are trying to strip the ball. This column was written while listening to U2's Zooropa.
    GBT No. 2: Wonder if Terry Glenn, who has missed 28 of a possible 99 starts, decided to try and play Sunday after seeing Packer guard Marco Rivera suiting up with a torn MCL. The Packers are so banged up, one of the local stations plays the theme to ER during their team reports. When it comes to their continued kid-glove handling of Randy Moss, the Vikings' front office is just like the team's defense: gutless. GBT No. 3: Is the team in teal for real? Nope. But the Carolina Panthers Front 7 sure is. It's one of the best in the NFL right now. And if you're rebuilding in this league there isn't a better place to create a foundation for your franchise. If you don't think the whole is greater than the sum of it's parts when it comes to defensive lines, explain the Saints' success and the slow starts of costly free agents La'Roi Glover and Joe Johnson. At some point this season every team in the AFC North will be using its backup QBs. GBT No. 4: How long until Packer DB Mike McKenzie gets one of his sweet dreads yanked out of his head? I'd be interested to hear what a psychiatrist would say about how former quarterback and current 'Skins coach Steve Spurrier always seems to treat his QBs so poorly. The faster a running back argues to the ref that he was down, the more likely it is that he fumbled. GBT No. 5: MIAMI 48, AKRON 31. Overheard on the plane home. "Excuse me miss, is [Carolina kicker] Shayne Graham on this flight?" "No sir, the Panthers made him walk home."

    Besides the records he's accrued during the streak (he just passed Joe Montana as the fifth-most prolific passer in NFL history with 3,414 completions), the MVPs and the Super Bowl ring, Favre's created an NFL family tree that is approaching Bill Walsh proportions. His former QB coaches include Andy Reid and Steve Mariucci. And during his run 13 players have backed him up including Kurt Warner, Mark Brunell, Aaron Brooks, Matt Hasselbeck and Ty Detmer as well as Pederson, who returned to the Pack after starting gigs in Philly and Cleveland.

    Check out Pederson's numbers in 2001: seven snaps, zero passes and a kneel-down against St. Louis in the playoffs. (Although he did crank a homer in the team's charity softball game this summer.) His numbers are typical. In the last nine seasons Favre's backups have averaged less than seven completions per season. Oh yeah, Favre also takes 99.9% of all snaps in practice, and if Pederson ever jumps in for a practice snap Favre yells, "Go getcha a couple crumbs in there, big guy."

    Ya know, if it wasn't for the preseason and his job as holder on PATs and field goals, Pederson wouldn't even need to wear a cup.

    Not everyone is suited for this role, where to be successful you have to suppress the very things (drive and competitiveness) that got you to the NFL in the first place. (Are you listening, Doug Flutie?) Pederson, who drove a truck for Roadway Packaging before the Packers signed him in 1995, knows better than to complain or backstab.

    "My game is more mental," says Pederson, a 10-year vet from Louisiana. "Knowing Brett and his background it's hard not to get lulled to sleep and into a glide mode. But the minute you do that: Boom! Something happens, I get thrown into a game and end up looking like a fool out there."

    So Pederson has invented ways to stay busy. In practice the plays are piped in through his helmet and he gets to send them in to Favre. He also runs the scout team offense and many times, when opponents run similar attacks, he gets to practice the Packer O. "Doug's always been athletic, he's always had good feet," says head coach Mike Sherman. "He's smart and he knows the offense. He's comfortable with what we do and us with him."

    On game days Pederson listens in with a headset and charts the opponent's tendencies with yellow note cards and, of course, the ubiquitous clipboard. He's in constant phone contact with the team's coaches in the booth and on the sidelines. He gets the game Polaroids first, marks them up with a blue Sharpie, then hands them to Favre; the two of them review the film on the team bench with their legs crossed like two sales reps. When they finish, Pederson stores them away in a crisp brown accordion file folder sitting next to the Gatorade.

    Hoping to catch him nodding off on the bench, I was actually surprised how busy Pederson was on Sunday at Lambeau. Besides his work on the sidelines, he also held on three kicks. And based on the film clip Favre was showing off last week, it's a good thing Pederson was out there. The footage showed Favre in his first season with Green Bay holding (if you can call it that) for a field goal against Pittsburgh. He's lined up crooked, the laces are backwards and he let go of the ball early, staring at it with his hands out like a gypsy hovering over a crystal ball.

    "He looked like Charlie Brown," says Pederson. "It wasn't pretty."

    It never is with Favre, and maybe that's his appeal.

    After getting sacked by Dan Morgan in the fourth quarter, Favre trotted off the field and, as he usually does, headed right for Pederson. "What the heck happened?" he asked. Pederson was then able to tell him that when the Panthers read pass on first downs they tend to drop their weakside linebacker and blitz Morgan.

    Later, Favre scraped with Panthers' defensive end Mike Rucker, dusted himself off and tossed a Kevlar-piercing bullet to Donald Driver to win the game. It was vintage Favre. Pederson admits that he often sees Favre getting up slowly and his heart races (he's human) and he looks around for his helmet, only to watch Favre get up, get mad and get even. You see this and understand right away that it's actually easy to back up Favre. I mean no one in the NFL -- not Kurt Warner or Donovan McNabb -- could watch that 31-yard TD pass and think, 'I should be in there instead of him.'

    Then, with the Panthers driving for what should have been a game-tying field goal, Pederson picked up a pair of binoculars. At first I thought he was trying to check out the cheerleaders. Then I realized they don't have any up here in rural Wisconsin. (And, well, thank goodness for that.)

    Using an injured lineman as camouflage, he zoomed in on Carolina offensive assistant Mike McCoy across the field, hoping to read his lips and tip the Packer defense off about a play or formation. Pederson is familiar with McCoy's speech and terminology because the two spent time together with the Packers in 1995.

    At first he was a bit sheepish when I brought up the sideline espionage. Then he just shrugged his shoulders. All's fair in love and war for the NFL's Maytag Man. "What'd I get today, three touches on the field goal and the extra points?" he said. "At that point in the game I was just trying to do anything to help the team. That's my job really, to find a way, any way, to help the team."

    McCoy did a good job of covering his mouth with his play script, making it impossible for Pederson -- the name's PEEderson, Doug Pederson, and I like my Gatorade shaken, not stirred -- to glean any info that would have helped stop the Panthers. Luckily, Shayne Graham's gimme kick floated wide right.

    As the stadium erupted, Pederson tossed down his binocs and pumped his fists in the air in celebration on the Packers' sideline.

    The crowd just ate it up.

    That is until Favre stepped in front of him, twirling a towel that nearly hit Pederson in the face and backed him up several steps, relegating him, once again, to his all-too-familiar role.

    David Fleming is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. E-mail him at FlemFile@carolina.rr.com. But watch out -- you could be the WHYLO of the Week.



  • Latest Issue


    Also See
    NFL front page
    Latest news from the gridiron

    Previous David Fleming columns


    ESPNMAG.com
    Who's on the cover today?

    SportsCenter with staples
    Subscribe to ESPN The Magazine for just ...



     ESPN Tools
    Email story
     
    Most sent
     
    Print story
     


    Customer Service

    SUBSCRIBE
    GIFT SUBSCRIPTION
    CHANGE OF ADDRESS

    CONTACT US
    CHECK YOUR ACCOUNT
    BACK ISSUES

    ESPN.com: Help | Media Kit | Contact Us | Tools | Site Map | PR
    Copyright ©2002 ESPN Internet Ventures. Terms of Use and Privacy Policy and Safety Information are applicable to this site. For ESPN the Magazine customer service (including back issues) call 1-888-267-3684. Click here if you're having problems with this page.