Buffalo Bills faithful, I’m not sure you’re appropriately enthused about your Kyle Orton signing. Maybe it’s because it was announced late on the Friday night of a three-day weekend, as though they thought none of us would notice (that’s so Kyle). Maybe you’re not familiar with the man, the myth, the legend. Allow me to introduce you.
I’ve been enjoying the Kyle Orton experience since 2001, when we were both students at Purdue University (note: I’ve never met him, just watched a lot of snaps). Orton inherited a team that Drew Brees took to the Rose Bowl. That’s a tough act for anyone to follow, and we never quite forgave Orton for not being Brees, even though Orton led his teams to higher national rankings across his four years as a starter. For whatever reason, we always seemed to be asking, “Isn’t there someone else?”
As a rookie, Orton was shoved into a starting role with the Chicago Bears after Rex Grossman went down injured. A fourth-round draft pick, Orton started fifteen games, went 10-5, and led the Bears to the playoffs. Then Grossman returned and led them to a first round exit because, again, for some reason they assumed someone else would do a better job. Chicago never really gave him another chance. Instead they traded Orton and three draft picks for Jay Cutler. I enjoy Jay Cutler as much as the next Chicagoan, but that’s still pretty insulting.
Orton’s career took another weird turn in 2010 with the Denver Broncos, where he was cast aside in favor of the Tim Tebow phenomenon. Now you start to see the pattern? That’s ten straight seasons of his own fanbase asking, “Isn’t there someone else?” It’s like Orton has some enchantment around him that prohibits us from seeing him properly. Or maybe in a previous life he was some black-hearted despot and now he’s paying penance. Last season ended with Orton filling in for injured Tony Romo with a chance to take the Dallas Cowboys to the playoffs. The Cowboys lost, but it’s horribly unfair to say it was Orton’s fault.
I can’t explain what inspires this “isn’t there anyone else” emotional response, though I felt that way for a long time. Buffalo will also, surely, fall under this spell, but I implore them to see past it. After watching him for thirteen years, I can vouch for his competence. He’s underrated. I’m thrilled that he’s back in the league, even if it is under wacky “I just can’t stand the idea of being a Cowboy anymore” circumstances. It’s not hard to imagine an alternate universe in which his career unfolded completely differently. He was never going to be a Manning or a Brees, but couldn’t he have been a Joe Flacco or Matthew Stafford?
According to the NFL Players Association, the average football player’s professional career is three years. Orton is entering year ten. He’s still not Drew Brees, but it takes a special player to last a decade. Enjoy your Kyle Orton experience, Buffalo, and don’t take him for granted. He’s better than you think he is. Please be good to him; he’ll be good to you.