Thursday, November 17, 2005

I don't feel so good

Cody Pickett's from Idaho, but nowhere near Montana

NFL "feel-good stories" don't have much in the way of legs. Otherwise they'd be "feel-good sagas," and there's no such thing as a feel-good saga. Sagas are full of angst and shipwrecks and Cyclopses and meddling gods. Feel-good football stories revolve around guys from tiny colleges who played in weird leagues or worked regular jobs. And those stories usually aren't long ones.

When a player "comes out of nowhere" to "explode on the scene" in "the" (stop me!) NFL, you can expect he'll return to nowhere rather quickly. That's because there's a good reason he was nowhere in the first place. Sure, a player might get on a good roll: The Kurt Warner story met "feel-good" requirements for more than three years before it was stomped to death in the Meadowlands on Opening Day 2003. But the road always leads back to nowhere. Look at Kurt Warner now.

The latest feel-good story to get taken back to the library is that of Cody Pickett, the twelfth-string quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers. Pickett started the past two 49ers games after Ken Dorsey went out with an ankle injury. Dorsey had been playing because No. 1 overall draft pick Alex Smith had sprained some knee ligaments, perhaps by spending so much time on his tippy-toes just trying to keep his head above water. And Smith became the starter, I think, because Tim Rattay was completing too many passes. (To be fair, Down and Distance had argued that if the 49ers were going to be awful anyway, they might as well run Smith out there and see whether he's really worth the $51 million they're paying him. Not that there's much they could do about it if he isn't.) Rattay has since been traded. That'll learn him.

Back to Cody Pickett. He came in after Dorsey was injured in Week 8 against Tampa Bay. Pickett attempted only one pass (complete) and handed the ball off to Kevan Barlow or Frank Gore on nearly every other play. The 49ers won the game for reasons that had nothing to do with Cody Pickett, but the emergency quarterback nevertheless became a 25-watt folk hero. We learned that he had begun the season as the fourth QB on the depth chart and played special teams just to stay on the roster. We also learned that he's a "former rodeo clown." Now, it would be just like Down and Distance to refer to someone as a rodeo clown regardless of his background (come to think of it, let's make that a D and D staple), but doing so with Pickett was just wrong. His dad was a pro rodeo rider, and he was a calf roper in high school. Calling him a clown isn't an insult. It's an honor, one that he hasn't earned. Pooh.

Nevertheless, the "former rodeo clown" angle was one everybody loved, so "former rodeo clown" it was. Pickett had a bad game against the Giants in Week 9, but everyone was still feeling good about the clown story and didn't expect him to win anyway, so they let it go. Last week, however, in the whipping winds of Chicago's Soldier Field, Pickett put up one of those beautifully awful lines you tell your grandkids about, completing just one of 13 passes, plus an interception. And just like that, the feel-good story of Cody Pickett was blown into Lake Michigan.

The 49ers announced Wednesday that Ken Dorsey will start Sunday against Seattle, San Francisco's fourth QB change of the season. Dorsey's story is sort of the reverse of the feel-good arc: In college, he played at perennial national championship contender Miami and was a serious candidate for the Heisman Trophy. Everybody knew who he was and where he was. But after college, he slid into obscurity at the end of the bench on the most dreadful team of the past 10 years.

San Francisco fans will root for Dorsey, or Smith, or whoever the team trusses up and tosses out there as a sacrifice to Kong. But they probably won't feel too good about the story from here on out. Not for a while.

How did Pickett stack up against the other guys who took snaps for the 49ers this year? Here are game lines of the San Francisco starting quarterbacks in 2005. Remember, this is San Francisco. Home of Brodie, Montana and Young:

1Rattay 11-1616520141.9
2Rattay 13-2610703 21.3
3Rattay 21-3426932 91.4
4Rattay 11-2112601 50.9
5Smith 9-23 7404 8.5
6Smith 8-16 9201 79.1
7Dorsey 7-18 4000 47.0
8Pickett12-2110201 50.1
9Pickett 1-13 2801 7.5
TOTAL 102-2011,074513 49.7

When the Seahawks grind Dorsey into paste this weekend, may I make a suggestion? Wide receiver Arnaz Battle. A former quarterback at Notre Dame, Battle threw two passes in the season opener vs. the Rams. He completed both for 27 yards and a 118.7 passer rating. I feel good!

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