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."
"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.
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.
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