By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
At times, Quincy Carter and Anthony Wright look better--even Clint Stoerner throwing practice balls to an inanimate goalpost after workouts looks better--but that has little to do with how the season will open. Banks will be the quarterback. He has to be. There really isn't anyone else. If he flutters a few now, in Wichita Falls, so be it. If he misses high, or behind, or high and behind, that's OK, too. Provided he works out the kinks. Campo and the lot are sure he'll work out the kinks. As he goes, they keep saying, the team will go.
"C'mon guys," Campo hollers in his best coach speak, reminding everyone to be diligent and pay attention to detail. "We've got to win the turnover war. We have to. C'mon."
Banks drops back again. Among other problems, he must be hard of hearing. Oops. This time he forgets the ball. Leaves it on the ground underneath his center. The play is over before it's begun. It's early. It's August. It's going to be a long season.
Maestro, if you would, a little music. Something somber and foreboding would be appropriate.
The clock wound down to zero, just as linebacker Mike Jones made an ultimate, fantastic tackle of Titans wideout Kevin Dyson only inches from the goal line. Just like that, and with a final, deserved sigh, the St. Louis Rams had gone from Perennial Losers to Super Bowl Champions. Balloons were released, fans cheered, Dick Vermeil, then-coach of the Rams, sobbed, as he is wont to do. The scene played itself out again this past January, only without comparable drama. The Baltimore Ravens were never in danger of losing the season's most important game to the New York Giants, but that didn't stop them from celebrating the victory with commensurate zeal, if not with an equivalent amount of tears. Large men with evil stares were reduced to babbling, bubbling children--overwhelmed by being on top, by what they had accomplished.
What binds the two teams--the Rams and Ravens--is the similarity in the path chosen. That is, both went on to win the Super Bowl after making a change. After dumping your new quarterback who, in another life, served as each team's albatross.
"It's going to be a challenge," Jones offers in an unusual moment of candor. It comes as a surprise because, for much of the offseason, and most of camp, the man has been shameless in dispensing propaganda. Even went so far as to tell the press corps he was going to "be sweet" and then launched into how much he loves Wichita Falls, the mayor, the president of MSU, the locals, your mother, his whore, green M&M's and most of the original cast of Cheers, excluding, naturally, Shelley Long. Strange, but when the Cowboys were winning, he didn't gush compliments. The hunch here is that he took too much anesthetic during his makeover. "Anybody understands that, without being set at quarterback, we'll have a difficult time. If we can have Tony Banks be the quarterback here, or any of these guys--Quincy Carter or Anthony Wright--if he can play and establish himself for the next six or seven years, that would be a major happening for this team. We think Tony has the ability. Now he has to show us. He has to evolve."
In St. Louis, the Rams and Vermeil said the same. Gave him every opportunity, but Banks didn't come through. He never realized the potential everyone was so certain he possessed coming out of Michigan State six years ago. A change of pace, his backers trumpeted. That's what he needed. All he needed. Banks' lack of production (he managed only 14 wins in three seasons in St. Louis) had less to do with him than it did the situation. Yeah. That was it.
For a time, after arriving in Baltimore, it seemed as if that might actually be the case. Banks flourished under head coach Brian Billick--who had earned a reputation as an offensive guru by molding Minnesota into the league's premiere passing attack during his stint there as coordinator. In 10 games as a starter, Banks threw for 17 touchdowns against eight interceptions for an 81.2 quarterback rating. It was, and still is, the best QB rating of his career, and it gave hope to legions of purple people who were very nearly suicidal when they learned Banks would command the Ravens. Too bad for them their fears weren't assuaged for long.
Last year, Banks "guided" Baltimore through five dreadful weeks without a touchdown. Billick finally gave up, gave in and turned to much-maligned Trent Dilfer. Most coaches would rather submit to a hot-sauce enema than start Dilfer, which is why he only recently signed with Seattle, even after winning a Super Bowl ring. But, then, with the way Banks was playing, there wasn't any other option.
Today, it's the same tired story for Banks. He has another chance to start, and start anew, despite consistent blundering at previous stops. It's the strong arm and handsome build. It has to be. At 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, and with an able right arm that can unleash long passes to the outer reaches of a field, Banks has the makeup and the mettle, if not the talent, of an NFL passer. At 28 years old, even Banks wonders how long the "potential" tag will last--or how far it can carry him.