And now, for your continued viewing pleasure, we delve once more into the most overhyped, overanalyzed, overlionized and overcriticized position in the sports world. As the great T.O. might say: That's my quarterback.
Specifically, those are five of your quarterbacks right there among the 10 most disliked players in football, according to a new Forbes.com finding. Although they don't share the same backgrounds and characteristics, the one thing the Foundering Five surely do hold in common is the position they play. An eminently dislikable position, apparently.
In other words, I'm not sure how much Jay Cutler and Mike Vick might actually have to talk about if you took football out of the mix. But because they're both quarterbacks, we've got ourselves a conversation. And in the world of Forbes, that conversation is bad news.
Forbes.com recently enlisted the Nielsen firm and E-Poll Market Research to answer the age-old question of whom football fans dislike the most. There's no data to indicate that anyone was clamoring for a bad-guy update, but because we have the results, let's roll with them.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the top three spots (or bottom three, depending on your perspective) are held by players whose off-the-field behavior caused the public to turn on them. Vick, according to the poll, is a player whom fully 60 percent of the respondents say they "dislike," "dislike somewhat" or "dislike a lot." (Say, that's rather a lot of dislikes!) It probably doesn't help Vick's case that the poll was conducted among the general U.S. population, not just hard-core NFL fans; many people might know his name only because of the dogfighting case against him.
Can Vick ever fully rehab his image? It's an unknown. But I will say that the true test of whether Vick has changed as a person will come after he is restored to sporting glory or, in this case, handed a second $100 million contract. It's what Vick does from here on out, now that he's getting paid, that will drive future opinion.
After Vick, it's Plaxico Burress, imprisoned on gun-possession charges, then Ben Roethlisberger, a player who became infamous nationally for an investigation into his role in a sexual assault claim. (He was not charged.) So in the case of our first two signal-callers, it stands to reason that a general cross-section of Americans will know them mostly for the negative headlines they've made outside of football.
As for the other quarterbacks on the list, it starts getting a little inside the Beltway. These are sports judgments being drawn. And in each case -- Carson Palmer, Vince Young, Cutler -- the position they play just hideously exaggerates their flaws, both real and perceived. Call it an occupational hazard.
They've all got the chinks in the armor. Palmer held out from his team in Cincinnati. Young ran afoul of Jeff Fisher in Tennessee, to the point that Fisher was willing to lose his job rather than be strong-armed into starting an underperformer. Cutler clashed with folks in Denver, developed a reputation as a me-firster, then was semi-accused of quitting on his Chicago Bears teammates with a knee injury in the NFC title game last season.
Now, Cutler is the same guy leading a resurgent Bears team, and he was the quarterback of record Monday night as Chicago scored a huge victory over Vick's Eagles in Philadelphia. If he wins in the playoffs with the Bears this season, will Cutler come off the Forbes list? My guess is he will. He's not a Vick or Roethlisberger, after all; he's just a guy with a sports knock on him. And winning can rub that away when you're the quarterback.
The most prominent headlines involving Young, now Vick's backup, in the last year or so involved a suit by a Dallas strip club owner who says that Young punched him during an altercation. Primarily, though, Young is known as a quarterback, and he is regarded in football circles as a player of unfulfilled promise. Palmer, meanwhile, came out of his self-imposed exile to be the quarterback for the Raiders after a high-profile trade. Result? Six interceptions in his first six quarters of play.
Inauspicious, both. But if Young comes off the sideline to lead the Eagles to some improbable championship, or Palmer engineers a stunning rescue of the listing Raiders, both men's "characters" will experience a dramatic upgrade. It's as predictable as breakfast.
That old saw about quarterbacks receiving too much credit in good times and too much blame in bad it's every bit as accurate today as when it was first belched decades ago. But it's also true that in a social media age of instant feedback, broader character judgments are drawn just as quickly. Put it this way: I'm still not sure how injured Cutler was in that NFC playoff game, but in the court of public opinion, he was almost immediately declared guilty of jaking it.
That's life under center -- newly refined, but basic at its core. Don't screw up with everybody watching, because when everybody's watching, they're watching the quarterback.
Mark Kreidler is a longtime contributor to ESPN.com. His book, "The Voodoo Wave," is in international release. His work, "Six Good Innings," was named a Top 10 Sports Book by Booklist. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.