I don’t know Locker’s state of mind after a 4-for-20 passing performance against a dominant Nebraska football team on Saturday afternoon.
I don’t know how Locker is reacting as fans and media members debate his future following one miserable outing.
And I certainly don’t know how Locker feels about certain words like “hype” and “Heisman.”
But I do know two things.
One, Jake Locker is a better quarterback than he appeared to be just a few short days ago.
And two, it was wrong of the University of Washington to concern Locker with the unenviable curse of the Heisman propaganda machine when wins — yes, wins, those elusive outcomes that have been hard to come by for the Huskies as of late — were at stake.
Face it. A Heisman trophy winner typically plays for a team that records at least nine wins in a 12-game season. The Washington Huskies are a ballclub that logged all of five victories a year ago. A four-game improvement would be an absolute task, one that would require a Herculean effort from not just the quarterback, but all of his teammates as well. Is it really fair to expect that from a program that, entering 2010, had won just nine games over the entire course of Locker’s three-year playing career? That’s asking a lot from a leader who has given everything to the purple and gold since arriving on campus in 2006.
What hasn’t Jake Locker done for this school or this football program in the past four years? He’s been a name, a face, a piggy bank, a marketing executive’s dream, a stand-up individual, and a politician. He’s gone on nationwide media tours, sat through countless fundraisers and events, weathered the storm of a coaching change, and endured three Godawful years under the destitute guidance of He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named. You could argue that Locker has carried the athletic department on his back since he took his first in-game snap under center in 2007. And no one, absolutely no one, could refute that.
Perhaps that is why this school chose to bless Locker — or handcuff him, depending on your viewpoint — with a full-blown Heisman campaign during this, his senior season. It seems like a nice enough gesture, until you consider all the extraneous factors that come with the surroundings. The unwarranted buildup, the overwhelming attention, the intense media scrutiny. In a word, the pressure. In a sense, you’re asking Locker to go from demigod to Zeus. And frankly, that’s not fair.
Locker would tell you that the pressure doesn’t bother him. And who knows, maybe it doesn’t. But it sure looks like it does. If two subpar performances aren’t evidence of that, then I don’t know what is.
Plus, you have to figure that Locker is at least aware of what’s going on. He has to think about all this recognition at some point. And as a fellow human being — and yes, folks, Locker is a human being — I have to imagine that the Husky signal-caller feels something after being run through the media gauntlet over the summer. He is a person, after all. He does have emotions.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that by pimping Jake Locker to the outside world like a ten-dollar chickenhead, the UW set their quarterback up for failure. Even the greatest of individual performances from game one to game 12 would likely have been marred by a deficiency in team triumphs that ultimately would have kept Locker from taking home the coveted bronze statue. Sure, there was a chance. There’s always a chance. All anyone had to do, however, was take one look at Washington’s schedule to know that nine-plus wins was probably more fantasy than reality. Heck, even the so-called experts pegged an 8-4 season as an absolute coup for this club. So 9-3? That’s pushing it.
Now here we are three games into the season and the Dawgs are 1-2. Locker is coming off the worst performance of his Husky career. The team just got spanked on their home turf, and their next game is on the road at Southern California. A quarter of the way through the season and the Heisman talk has all but subsided. If nothing else, the athletic department can hold off on writing those checks to the ad company that pledged to promote Locker like Sham-Wow. It’s over. It’s done. The trophy has left the building. And now it’s time to focus on the team.
Is this Locker’s fault? Hell no. He didn’t ask for any of this. In fact, I’d say he was loath to the attention. It was the school that put this burden on his backside, and the school that should be wiping the egg off its face.
Unfortunately, the nation is evaluating No. 10 as if he spent the last few months hyping himself, tooting his own horn, and in the end failed to live up to an ever-rising bar. But that couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Jake Locker is a good quarterback. Everyone around him built him up, including me (though I’ll admit I did so in a tongue-in-cheek sort of way). And instead of rushing to his defense as our prognostications have fallen flat, pundits the world around have been quick to condemn the golden boy that was a product of preposterous press and publicity. The only culprits deserving of any blame for these unmet expectations are the University of Washington and the sports media. The buck stops there.
Let’s give it a rest and ease up on Locker. He might not yet be Superman, but damn if he isn’t one hell of a Clark Kent. He’ll find that cape eventually.