Waiting For Quarterback X

Two weeks ago, before the Chiefs hired Todd Haley and no one had a clue who the next head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs would be, Warpaint Illustrated Publisher Nick Athan spoke of a trifecta. With Scott Pioli secured and Derrick Thomas selected, two thirds of Nick's hat trick were in the bag.

The final third, head coach Bill Cowher, never materialized. Nick and the rest of Kansas City's Cowher-lovers may be disappointed, but there's another, far more important trifecta the Chiefs need to complete to move forward as an organization.

Pioli obviously fills the first slot. While Todd Haley is not Mike Shanahan, my own fantasy crafted in the Cowher mold, it's tough to complain about any 41-year old with such a decorated offensive resume. Besides, for all we know, Haley is the next Shanahan (thankfully Clark Hunt is not the next Al Davis).

All that remains is Quarterback X.

No one knows who Quarterback X is. He could be a sophomore in college right now. Maybe he's preparing for the NFL combine. He could even be sitting on some other NFL roster, waiting for his shot at stardom.

But just as no one really knew who Pioli would hire as head coach, Quarterback X remains an equal, and perhaps even more convoluted mystery. When you consider the quarterback history of Pioli and Haley, you are left with a trend that is not a trend. There is no distinguishable pattern.

Starting with his days in Cleveland as a Pro Personnel Assistant, Pioli's quarterback chronology reads as follows: Bernie Kosar, Mike Tomczak, Vinny Testaverde, Neil O'Donnell, Vinny Testaverde, Ray Lucas, Drew Bledsoe, Tom Brady, Matt Cassel. Starting with his days as a wide receivers coach in Chicago, Haley's quarterback chronology reads as follows: Jim Miller, Chris Chandler, Kordell Stewart, Chad Hutchinson, Craig Krenzel, Jonathan Quinn, Rex Grossman, Drew Bledsoe, Tony Romo, Matt Leinart, Kurt Warner.

While the list is comprised of mostly veteran passers, there is the Ray Lucas here, the Tom Brady there, and a Chad Hutchinson thrown in for good measure that makes you wonder just what the hell was going on. When you factor in the most important piece of data – neither Pioli or Haley were the chief decision makers in regards to the quarterback position – it becomes quite clear: it is abundantly unclear who Quarterback X will be, where he will come from, when he will arrive (consider the possibility that Pioli and Haley may not like Georgia's Matt Stafford or USC's Mark Sanchez), and perhaps most importantly, if the average fan will have even heard of him.

What we do know, based purely on the last meaningful NFL game of 2009, is that Quarterback X needs to be more Bledsoe than O'Donnell, more Romo than Kosar.

The Super Bowl taught us that there is no substitute for a great quarterback. Like two great prizefighters, Ben Roethlisberger and Kurt Warner traded blows for four quarters. First it was Roethlisberger, landing a vicious right hook early in the game with 140 yards of offense in two drives. Perhaps staggered, but not to be outdone, Warner rose from his feet and struck back with a touchdown in the second quarter and then dazed Big Ben with a flurry of body shots in the fourth quarter – 151 yards of offense in 10 plays.

Finally, the Two-Time Heavyweight Champion Quarterback of the World, Roethlisberger, landed a knockout punch, concluding the duel of great quarterbacks.

And that's just what Super Bowl XLIII was: two franchise passers, standing nose to nose, giving the other all he could handle. The Steelers and Cardinals combined for 91 yards on the ground and six rushing first downs. Both defenses had their moments, but ultimately failed to do their jobs in the fourth quarter.

Forget all the garbage about defense and running games that Herm Edwards and company spoon-fed Kansas City the last three years. Get a quarterback, or get used to being beaten by teams that have one. By now, Chiefs fans should know this well: Dan Marino, Jim Kelly, Stan Humphries, Jim Harbaugh, John Elway and Peyton Manning. These are the quarterbacks who eliminated Kansas City from the playoffs during the Carl Peterson era, and take one guess what happened to Humphries and Harbaugh in the next round.

Where the Chiefs' great quarterback, their prizefighter, now lurks we leave up to Pioli and Haley, but this much is obvious: he is not on Kansas City's roster. While Tyler Thigpen may have been fun to watch in some ways last season, he should be considered more "ex-quarterback" than Quarterback X.

Ask yourself this question: what does Thigpen do well? All franchise quarterbacks have at least one definable trait that makes every onlooker stand up and say, "Wow." Roethlisberger possesses uncanny ability to improvise. Warner has Hall-of-Fame caliber accuracy and anticipation.

Maybe we shouldn't compare Thigpen to Super Bowl quarterbacks. In that case, look at the AFC West, to Jay Cutler and Philip Rivers. The first has almost incomparable arm strength. The second succeeds despite his relative lack of physical talent, but can still pick a mosquito off KC Wolf from 40 yards out.

Thigpen? We cannot call him accurate, cannot compare his arm to the elite, and cannot call him a winner. His 40 time is impressive for a quarterback, just not impressive enough to win games, evidently.

And we shouldn't soon forget what Cutler did to Thigpen at Mile High last season (32 of 40, 24-17 victory), or what Rivers did in the waning minutes a week later (34 of 48, 22-21 victory), given an opportunity gifted by Dwayne Bowe. The key point – in both instances, while Thigpen did almost nothing in the second half, Cutler and Rivers seized the opportunity and the victory.

Still, you might say, Thigpen's statistics (11 starts, 18 touchdowns, 2,608 yards) compare so favorably to those of the Lombardi winner, Roethlisberger (13 starts, 17 touchdowns, 2,621 yards). Perhaps all that really separates one from the other is the NFL's top-ranked defense?

Perhaps. But then again, there is one more 2008 statistic to consider: game-tying or game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime.

Roethlisberger, six. Thigpen, zero.

Ask yourself one more question: Do you really want to see a Tyler Thigpen-led Chiefs team facing off against Roethlisberger, Cutler, Rivers, Peyton Manning or Tom Brady in future AFC playoff games? Regardless of the strength of the rest of the team, is that really a scenario you feel confident walking into?

If not, wait for Quarterback X, and the completion of the real trifecta.

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