Photo Credit: All-Pro Reels from District of Columbia, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Here’s the world’s worst kept secret: playing quarterback in the NFL is hard. Thanks to Netflix’s new show, the aptly named Quarterback, throughout the eight episodes we get a closer look than ever at the day-to-day grind of football’s most demanding, most pressure-packed, and most important position – and yeah, it’s no joke. Between the endless studying and preparation, relentless punishment from defenders, and immense expectations from fans, it’s honestly a wonder that anyone puts up with it all – but the hefty compensation is a pretty sweet incentive.
Produced by NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning through his company Omaha Productions, Quarterback follows Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs, Kirk Cousins of the Minnesota Vikings, and Marcus Mariota of the Atlanta Falcons as they attempt to navigate the highs and lows of the 2022 NFL season. Starting in training camp, we get a chance to see these players push themselves to the absolute limit week-in and week-out just to play, let alone win.
So much goes into playing the position that goes unnoticed by the wider NFL fanbase. The copious notetaking, the hours and hours of film, the painful rehabilitation sessions… at times, it feels like every minute of these player’s lives is dedicated to one thing: the game. Friends and family can often fall by the wayside, and the fact that these guys make any time at all for the people most important in their lives is arguably just as impressive as any of their on-field accomplishments.
Kudos to Manning and Omaha Productions, because it would have been hard to top the three QBs that were highlighted for this series. Mahomes, Cousins and Mariota all were in vastly different places to start their seasons, each had a vastly different vibe and tenor of the season, and each had a vastly different conclusion – with Mahomes, in particular, concluding the series by winning the Super Bowl.
Of the many fascinating moments of the series, one that stands out is how different the off-field lives of each of the QBs are. Mahomes, as one of the faces of the NFL, is constantly in the public eye. Of the three, he spends by far the least amount of time at his home. He’s constantly either at the Chiefs facility, working out with personal trainers, or attending events and photoshoots. Cousins and Mariota, meanwhile, have comparatively more time to spend with loved ones, but not by much.
And it’s the off-field moments that really make the series special. Did you know that both Mahomes and Mariota had a child born during the season? Me neither, and the idea that you can somehow be a father and have a job this all-encompassing is really incredible. These guys are so singularly focused when doing their work, but when they get home, they transform into dads. Even after a loss, they still find a way to leave all that negative energy and frustration at the door.
Between the three, the series also does a good job of portraying their career circumstances and the challenges they each face. Mahomes is trying to solidify his budding Hall of Fame resumé. Cousins is trying to silence the critics and doubters. Mariota is trying to make the most of his second chance at being a starter. But, at the end of the day, there’s only one thing on each of their minds: getting to the Super Bowl.
As fun as the series is to watch unfold, it’s hard not to wonder how much knowing the outcome of the season affects the viewing experience. As a rabid football fan, there was very little that happened on the field that surprised me. I knew Mahomes was going to win the MVP and Super Bowl at the end of the year. I knew Cousins was going to have that historic comeback against the Colts. I knew Mariota was going to be benched. It’s a fascinating watch, but also a bit boring and repetitive at times – but isn’t that just the life of an NFL QB anyway? It’s not always a fun job. It requires the discipline to repeat the mundane until you have it down perfectly.
Perhaps more than anything, Quarterback demonstrates exactly why so many highly touted prospects bust at the NFL level. This position has less to do with pure athleticism and talent and everything to do with preparation and execution. A player who can recite the plays correctly has a better chance of being successful than a player who can throw a football eighty yards. It’s the reason Ryan Leaf failed while Peyton Manning succeeded. It’s the work on the margins, in the periphery, out of sight, that matters more than being strong or fast or able to launch a ball – that and being able to take a beating, too.
Make no mistake, being a QB means dealing with pain. The series does an excellent job of demonstrating just how excruciating every sack is. QBs aren’t being brought to the ground softly. Defenders are hitting, smacking, punching, clawing, shoving, and ripping you at every opportunity. As a QB, your job is to stand in there and take it.
Being a Bengals fan, it was admittedly difficult to watch the entire series without grimacing during nearly every scene with Mahomes and the Chiefs. That’s good though. It’s a reminder of why we love this sport so much. The Chiefs may have beaten the Bengals in the AFC Championship Game last year, but it’s made me all the more excited to see the 2023 season play out. Mahomes talked often about how much losing to the Bengals bothered him and how motivated he was to finally break through, and I’m sure Joe Burrow is having similar feelings right now.
As a fan of football and a fan of sports in general, I highly recommend watching Quarterback. It’s a behind-the-scenes look at the gritty, strenuous, and uncomfortable life of an NFL QB. For as much attention the media loves to give them, they really aren’t divas. They’re, for the most part, modest, hard-working men who are singularly focused on the pursuit of perfection. Being an NFL QB is the most-demanding job in professional sports, and thanks to this series, that has never been more obvious.