Sometime, 10 or 12 years from now, the face will be more chiseled and hewn. It’ll be the look of a man instead of a boy. The care-free smiling will be replaced by looks of introspection. The peach fuzz will be long gone—sandpaper in its place.
Matthew Stafford will find this out, first hand.
The mug of the NFL quarterback who’s been able to survive the league from college to his mid-to-upper-30s is the “after” following the “before.”
They’re handsome and unblemished when they enter the league. Then they leave looking like a tractor wheel drove over their face a few times.
Check out John Elway, 1983, and then compare it to Elway after winning his second Super Bowl in 1999. They could be son and father.
They all had the look.
Dan Marino bounded into Miami from Pitt with floppy, dark, curly hair. He had the looks of someone who should have been on the silver screen, not the gridiron.
Then came 17 years of beat downs from defensive linemen the size of Delaware, and Marino retired with a face that looked like it was morphing into corduroy. The hair wasn’t curly, it was matted.
No wonder defensive linemen love to kill the quarterback. Every one of those signal callers looks like the guy who always gets the girl.
The Lions’ Stafford and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh are cordial because they wear the same colors on Sunday. But make them opposites and Suh would treat Stafford like any other quarterback—with the epitome of rude violence.
Stafford has his good looks and his curly hair and his peach fuzz. And a rocket of a right arm. It’s like going up against an armed and dangerous Doogie Howser.
Stafford is 23 years old and when you gaze at photos of him in 2021, you’ll smirk and remember what a young NFL quarterback looks like before the brutes rearrange him.
That’s OK. The numbers will be enough to more than make up for the loss of looks.
The Lions finally have themselves a quote franchise quarterback. When Stafford gets done, he will have obliterated every team passing record and maybe a couple league ones, too.
Stafford will have thrown hundreds of touchdown passes and for tens of thousands of yards and his No. 9 will go up in Ford Field somewhere. A bust of his likeness will be made ready for Canton, Ohio.
He’ll retire with the face of the wise old quarterback—the one who aged like he spent four years in the White House, not 15 years in the NFL.
The amount of damage that Matt Stafford could leave in his wake is staggering to consider. Especially if he has someone like Calvin Johnson to throw to for most of his years in the league.
This Stafford-to-Johnson connection is in its third year but it seems brand new. Stafford has missed so many games due to injury in his first two seasons that you wonder if Lions coach Jim Schwartz threw an ice-cream social at the beginning of training camp in August to reacquaint his star QB and receiver.
The connection has done its thing for two games in 2011 and already it should be causing defensive coordinators to curl into the fetal position.
It’s not just that Stafford and Johnson connect; it’s in how many ways they do so.
Is there a needle that needs threading? A howitzer that needs firing? A touch that needs to be floated?
You want a five-yard pitch and catch? A 12-yarder at the sidelines for a first down? A 25-yard strike down the middle? A two-yard fade route in the end zone?
And that’s just Johnson.
The Lions have a franchise quarterback but they also have people he can throw to. It takes two to tango in the passing game.
Let me switch gears for a moment, and take you back 30 years.
When Isiah Thomas joined the Pistons fresh out of Indiana University in 1981, he had a concern. And it was a valid one.
Isiah was used to winning, number one. He won an NCAA Championship with the Hoosiers in ’81 as a sophomore. He was surrounded by a talented bunch at the college level.
Then he was drafted by the Pistons—a team that won 16 and 21 games, respectively, in the two seasons prior to Isiah’s arrival.
So Isiah had a concern. He initially kept it private, revealing it only to those in his inner circle.
Isiah Thomas wondered, quite frankly, to whom on the Pistons he’d pass the ball. He wouldn’t exactly be playing with a bunch of future NBA Hall of Famers.
Stafford has no such concerns, playing for the Lions in 2011.
There’s Johnson, of course. Which is like a menu that starts with lobster tail.
But there’s also Nate Burleson—the John Taylor to Johnson’s Jerry Rice.
There’s talented, athletic rookie Titus Young, who comes from Boise State, where they do more passing than on a Florida expressway.
There’s the cache of tight ends—Tony Scheffler, Brandon Pettigrew and Will Heller, who are basically power forwards with hands of Velcro.
There’s a jitterbug of a running back, Jahvid Best, who can catch the football and motor up the field 10 yards before the defenders notice him running between their legs.
Still, it’s Calvin Johnson on whom Stafford will rely most. Which is smart. If I was a quarterback, I’d rely on a skyscraper with hands, too.
Stafford-to-Johnson has the potential to be the best tandem in Detroit since Fisher and Body.
And 10, 15 years from now, after Matthew Stafford has shut people up about a Bobby Layne Curse and has rewritten the Lions record book and has put No. 9 into moth balls forever, we’ll look at him and see, somewhere, that boyish, peach-fuzzed face of 2011.
And the smile—the one he displayed as the NFL Commissioner presented Stafford with the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Don’t snicker. The Lions pre-Stafford are the “before.” Lord knows what the kid will do as he authors the “after.”