Brian Waters didn't plan it this way, but the contrast is hard to miss.
On Tuesday, the offensive lineman announced his retirement from the game of football. It came on the same day that Wes Welker was suspended, Jim Irsay was punished, J.J. Watt made $100 million, Ray McDonald got spurned, Josh Brent was reinstated, and Michael Sam found a potential new home. In short, it received a slight nod on one of the crazier recent news days in the NFL.
Besides Watt's reward, it was a dramatic laundry load for the NFL's rinse and repeat cycle of over-reporting. Angles are overplayed. Debates are fabricated. The laundry is aired, only to be taken down again for the next day. And one of the game's greats waves goodbye in a news brief. It'd be understandable if you missed the whole thing.
Let's at least get this much straight, one day after the fact: Brian Waters is one of the game's greats. For 13 seasons, he served as an interior anchor for offensive lines in Kansas City, New England, and Dallas. While he played alongside some incredible, Hall of Fame caliber players, he himself can boast of a Cantonesque resume:
- 6-Time Pro Bowl Nominations
- 2 First-Team All-Pro Nods
- 2009 Walter Payton Man of the Year Award (given for charitable work)
- 186 career games (170 starts)
- 1 Super Bowl appearance (Super Bowl XLVI with Patriots in 2011)
"Just a quick recognition to Brian Waters," And Reid said this week. "Anytime you play in this league for 11 plus years, in particular, the 11 years right here in Kansas City, have six Pro Bowls under your belt, and won Man of the Year, you've covered most of the bases. I couldn't stand competing against him because he's a heck of a football player, and I didn't have a chance to coach him. But I know the organization holds him in high regards, in particular, Clark and the Hunt family. He's one of the all-time favorites that they've had here. We, and I, wish him well in retirement and nothing but the best as he goes forward."
Somehow the NFL finds a way to talk too much about most things on most days. Yet on Tuesday, there wasn't room to pay tribute to one of the greatest offensive linemen of his generation. Interestingly enough, the NFL.com story on Waters' retirement includes his two paragraph statement with a simple intro and conclusion that says he started his career with the Kansas City Chiefs. In short, even the short news blurb given to Waters was incorrect, missing the point that he came into the league (and left) as a member of the Dallas Cowboys.
The contrast is not just found in the disproportional news coverage, but it can be felt on a regional level as well. For Chiefs fans who grew up watching one of the best offensive fronts in NFL history, the current bunch can make you uneasy.
There's good reason for that. Some of us grew up with an ability to name all five offensive linemen -- not an easy task for most fans. But most fans aren't watching Willie Roaf, Will Shields, Brian Waters, Casey Wiegmann, and John Tait absolutely dominate up front. When an exemplary offensive line comes together, it's honestly a beautiful thing to watch.
Waters was a big part of that, a performer alongside the league's best for the millennium's first decade, although it took some time to notice. Waters didn't make his first Pro Bowl until he was 27, after 54 career games had already passed. When those paying attention to Roaf and/or Shields finally looked beside him and saw another Pro Bowl player, that's when the mentions came rolling in.
Newer fans these days won't understand what you mean if they never saw that line at work. Four of this year's front five are either new faces or in new places. Rodney Hudson is stable in the middle, but there's no accolades en route just yet. Eric Fisher is linked with injuries more than successful play. Donald Stephenson is suspended. And as for the guards? Jeff Allen, temporary right tackle. Zach Fulton, sixth round pick. LDT, raw Canadian import. Mike McGlynn or Jeff Linkenbach, veteran free agent fodder.
In other words, Waters' exit from the game also served as a contrast for Chiefs fans, who remember when guards were in place for a decade and always on their way to Hawaii.
For Chiefs fans, Brian Waters' retirement reminds us of the eleven memorable years he gave the franchise. From his statement, it appears he remembers those years for the things he was given as well. It's a constrast from the current team, but given the youth and inexperience along the line, there's also hope that the current line can grow to fill those shoes. The contrast is there now, but hopefully it won't be as stark by season's end.
As for the league, the NFL's media machine missed a real opportunity to talk about something substantive on Tuesday. One of the greats waved goodbye, even as few of us waved back.