The backup quarterback may be the most under-appreciated position in the National Football League. You never hear organizations talk about a "franchise backup," while the starting quarterback is generally the first position considered when teams begin to map out their short- and long-term strategies.
The salaries reflect the under-appreciation: Ben Roethlisberger's 2009 base salary was $4.74 million dollars, while Charlie Batch was paid $745,000. On teams like the Colts and the Patriots, back-up quarterbacks take home less than one-tenth of the pay of starters Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.
However, teams also know that those backup quarterbacks are just one injury or scandal away from being their starting QB; those guys they need to be ready in a split second to take the field and lead their football team. Backup's need to be full of smarts and confidence, even with only half the practice snaps of the starters.
Mirror file photo by J.D. Cavrich
Charlie Batch played well Sunday.
The success of the Steelers through the first three games of the season without starter Roethlisberger is a credit to the coaching staff and to their stable of reserve quarterbacks, particularly the backup to the backup to the backup, Batch. Whether he is first or fourth on the depth chart, Batch obviously has the respect of his teammates, who seem to step up their play when he steps on the field.
And there is a lot to be learned from a player like Batch. Many factors go into a team's success: good coaching, effective management and talented players, among others. But when it comes to talent, it takes more than just superstars to win a Super Bowl. Sure, teams need guys like Troy Polamalu, Hines Ward and Roethlisberger, but they also need guys like Batch, who goes to practice week after week, year after year, staying in shape, staying sharp, learning offensive schemes and learning about his fellow players knowing he may never see another minute of NFL playing time.
He also knows that if he does get back in the game, it will under a great deal of pressure and scrutiny. Players like Batch know their role and embrace it.
Every successful team has those kinds of role players. They are ones who stand on the sidelines, helmets in hand, knowing they probably won't get in the football game, but who make valuable blocks and tackles in practice making their starters better. They're the players who sit on the very ends of the basketball bench, who earn cheers of appreciation from the crowd when they get into the last minute of a ballgame. They provide numbers in practice and support in the locker room, and in many ways, are just as important as their teammates who earn high school letters or multi-million dollar salaries.
It's nice to see the Steelers 3-0, led by a role-player whose salary is affordable, but whose worth is priceless.
Kellie Goodman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her column appears on Tuesdays.