Despite being far and away the most adored and successful sport in America, football has had its fair share of troubles in recent memory. In the last year alone there was the Bountygate debacle, the rising awareness of the league’s concussion problem, and most recently, an inability to keep the lights on at the Superdome. But of all the issues that the NFL is currently dealing with, none is more frustrating, from a pure sports fan perspective, than the unset benchmark of what exactly constitutes a player as elite.
Elite is a five letter noun that serves as an imaginary entrance into a subjective group of players who are regarded as the best in their specific field or craft. This phrase came to the forefront of talking heads around the same time Eli Manning hoisted up his second Vince Lombardi trophy a season ago, thus putting to rest the argument of whether or not you could, in fact, spell “elite” without “Eli.” (Spoiler: you can’t!)
The elite conundrum continued into training camp last August, when Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco prematurely anointed himself as the “best” QB in the league. Of course, that proclamation now seems merited, after Flacco’s incredible playoff run which saw him throw for 1,140 yards, 11 TDs and no interceptions, en route to taking home Super Bowl MVP honors. But at the time everyone was quick to shoot down Joe’s entrance to the elusive elite club.
The thing that makes these elite conversations so frustrating is that each one is essentially just a never ending merry-go-round of opinions. There is no such thing as being elite, because there’s no set rules or stipulations that guarantee you that title. Elite is an imaginary club that only exists in your own mind. Each person gets to govern their members however they please, meaning there’s always going to be some, or many, people out there who disagree with another individual’s rulings.
In the week leading up to Super Bowl XLVII, as with every Super Bowl, players were asked hundreds of questions ranging from obscure to insightful to downright irrelevant. Somewhere in between, San Francisco 49ers’ wideout Randy Moss was asked his thoughts on his former teammate, Titans wide receiver Kenny Britt. Moss pointed out the many similarities between himself and Britt, including how they were both highly coveted wide receivers coming out of college whose draft stock plummeted due to off the field issues. Moss concluded his answer by saying that if Britt can get his act together, he can, “reach (the) elite class (of wide receivers) very quickly.”
This is the type of quote that would routinely get skipped over if there were games to be covered, but since we’re in the midst of a six month offseason, it became front page news.
When you think about it, Moss basically was saying that, “If Britt can do something he previously has not proven to be able to do, then he can reach my imaginary club of elite wide outs.” The reason this is so ridiculous is because the same thing can literally be said about every player in the league.
“If player X gains 50 pounds of muscle and lowers his 40 time by a full second he can reach an elite level!”
“If player Y improves his accuracy and arm strength he can be an elite quarterback!”
When you throw out these hypothetical scenarios, you’re not really saying anything at all.
Right now Kenny Britt is exactly the player we think he is. An injury prone, first round talent with a knack for finding himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. Three years have passed since he’s made it through an entire season unscathed, and to this day he still finds himself in the midst of police investigations. Britt has a lot of things on his plate, but he also has a far way to go, as well as a lot of growing up to do, before he’s mentioned in the same breath as elite.
Let’s just hope that by the time that day comes we’ve found a new, tangible, word to measure success.
Because the way we have it set up now means nothing.
Daniel Chiavetta is a contributor for TDdaily. Follow him on Twitter @Danye33.