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Mike Teel's legacy

(In reference to his mother's rantings) "Now that my father's dead, he's a saint. When he was alive, nothing." - Tony Soprano

The era was a little before my time, but fans now recall Phil Simms with the same kind of rose-colored glasses. Look at his career stats. Simms had some very bad years, and even lost his starting job for two seasons in the early part of the eighties. A good portion of the local fanbase couldn't stand him. Then, he won the Super Bowl, improved in the following years, and was elevated onto the sports pantheon after his retirement. Today, Simms is the gold standard for quarterbacks in the New York City area, and fans are nostalgic about his playing days. The same thing is happening a bit with Eli Manning at the moment.

Rutgers was not an easy sell to high school football players in July of 2003. That moment was months before anyone would see the first real signs of progress from the Greg Schiano era. Mike Teel was coming off a good junior season at quarterback for Don Bosco Prep, arguably the best high school football team in the state at the time. To commit to Rutgers at that point, over an offer from Wisconsin and increased interest from other schools, took a major leap of faith. The Ironmen were even better in 2003, owing in no small part to a big season by Teel. They finished undefeated, their season culminating in a come from behind victory over their archrivals at Bergen Catholic to secure the top ranking in state polls. The symbolism of the #1 quarterback on the #1 team in the state going to Rutgers was enormous, and undoubtedly gave Greg Schiano and staff a lot of credibility on the recruiting trail.

The excuses for Teel's play over the past four years have been myriad. In 2005, he was inexperienced. In 2006, all of the team's receivers were hurt. In 2007, he had a serious arm injury. Those may very well have all been true, but one fact has become abundantly clear: Mike Teel is a very streaky, inconsistent QB. He is as good as any when he is on, but has far too many poor games.

That's not meant as a criticism. Far too many people, both in and outside of the RU fanbase, think of Teel as a terrible quarterback who should have been benched ages ago. That is a ridiculous level of hyperbole. Teel has had his moments at times - against Pitt this year, Navy/Louisville/Syracuse/Ball State in 2007, or the last three games of 2006. In fact, I'm more than happy with the average, interception prone-Teel of the last few weeks, and from the start of 2007.

As much as anyone, I wish Greg Schiano had been quicker to yank Teel in the first half of the season. However, I urge Teel's harshest critics to consider that, for the most part, there has not been a viable challenger at the QB position during the past few years. Jabu Lovelace has proven to be a good scrambler who exacerbates all of Teel's flaws as a thrower. Dom Natale initially had to sit out a year due to transferring, and then was recovering from a serious arm injury last year. Chris Paul-Etienne is a bit of a wild card, but he's still an underclassmen with time to improve, and he fell behind Natale on the depth chart this year. Surely it's the fault of the staff for not bringing a better backup on campus, but I don't see how anyone could argue that benching Teel was a realistic option in 2006 or 2007.

I've tried to not speculate too deeply here about the personal relationship between Teel and the coaching staff, but throughout the season, I've kept coming back to one thought in particular: if they're keeping an ineffective Teel in the game, it has to be for a reason, it cannot be out of pure stubbornness. The fanbase wanted Natale inserted at times to provide a spark, but who's to say he was performing well in practice? That information is mostly kept under wraps (for good reason, even though it's maddening to us).

Maybe there's another layer to it though. Put yourself in the shoes of a prep quarterback. Say you're D.C. Jefferson, or Tom Savage, or part of the class of 2010. Do you look at 2008 and think, "boy, Greg Schiano is going to stick with me through thick and thin"? I lean towards that, even though it comes with the counterpoint that if you're NOT favored by the coaching staff, you might have trouble getting a fair shake.

In a few years time, when the sting of starting 1-5 passes, I do think that Mike Teel will be remembered more positively than not. He was a good ambassador for Rutgers, and by all accounts is a decent, stand-up guy. Yeah, he struggled at times, but he did mix in a couple good games too, with a good chance of holding most of the school passing records. There's nothing sweeter than watching RU's potent passing attack when it's on. A deep pass connecting to a streaking Britt running a go pattern down the sidelines? Oh hell yes. I could replay images of that in my head all day.

At some point next year, when Rutgers trots out a quarterback who doesn't immediately light up the scoreboard, I know what I'll be thinking. "Change is scary. What I wouldn't do right now to have an experienced Teel back for a sixth year."