Our ancient ancestors believed redheads to be vampires, or witches if you were around in the 15th century. Judas, known famously as the disciple that betrayed Jesus to the Romans, is commonly depicted with red hair. Most barbaric of all, in 2016, they are branded so-so quarterbacks.
When Andy Dalton matched some of the best to ever play the quarterback position his first three years in the league, he still received fan hate. He is, in the eyes of the Bengals front office the future of the franchise, defined best by his current six-year, $115m deal, and is currently on course for his best completion percentage and lowest interception rate of his six-year NFL career. So if the man behind centre is the coolest thing around, why would you rather wear an AJ Green jersey over an Andy Dalton one at Wembley Stadium this Sunday?
It seems for all his regular season accomplishments, the fans continue to see red.
The Red Rifle
On the surface, the idea of asking if Dalton’s value is underappreciated because of the colour of his hair is barmy. Why would and more importantly why should that matter? But as we approach the final International Series game of 2016, it’s important to understand the perception of the man labelled the ‘red rifle’.
Let’s start there. Does he like that nickname?
“It’s ok”, he once said. “People have always liked to come up with things related to my hair. But I’m good with just Andy.”
Just Andy. It sounds like something someone would say about an ex-partner they’d rather forget about. Dalton need not settle for being another ‘just man’; in his first three seasons he had 30 wins. Peyton Manning had 26. Dalton had 80 touchdown passes in that same time frame, Manning 85. Dalton’s quarterback rating was 85.7, Manning’s 85.4.
The latter didn’t win his first playoff game until 2003, his sixth year in the league. This is Dalton’s sixth year in the NFL. The time, it seems, is now, taking into account that that could be said since his second season.
The doubters say he is too passive in the huddle, doesn’t get angry enough on the sideline, lacks the arm strength and pocket presence to take this team further than the wild card round, something the Bengals haven’t done since January of 1991. Granted, none of these deficiencies are linked to having a red haired DNA, but they are seen to have no link to anything higher. Eli Manning also has zero swagger, but owns two Superbowl rings. His brother Peyton, like Dalton, lost his first three playoff games, but countered with an exciting arm similar to that of a cannon and had Papa-John-in-the-making wit. Tony Romo also has the reputation for wilting in the clutch heat (probably requiring a lower sun factor cream in the process), but he’s a Cowboy and the glamour was enough until Dak Prescott came along.
Is this all coming back to the hair?
The history of red
Before Dalton was drafted out of TCU - a college, importantly, that wasn’t relevant for decades before he led the Horned Frogs to an undefeated season in 2010 and a Rose Bowl win over Wisconsin - an NFL executive told Sports Illustrated that they had concerns about the quarterback because of his red hair. The exec wondered whether there had ever been a really good ginger quarterback in this league and whether that should factor into their thinking.
Should it have? A quick look at the Ginger Hall of Fame and it includes two actual Hall of Famers: Sammy Baugh, who also went to TCU, is credited for making the forward pass a thing in the NFL. The other, Sonny Jurgensen, had over 32,000 passing yards and led the league in that category at age 40. Spooky but true, both played for the Washington Redskins, Dalton’s opponent on Sunday and whom sport a name that brings about controversy at the best of times, not to mention that the word red is in there.
If that executive wasn’t satisfied with the above, you could throw in Carson Palmer, Jeff Garcia or Brandon Weeden - yikes! Heck, even Commissioner (Ginger Missioner?) Roger Goodell is making $40m a year. While it is easy for people to dislike the head honcho of the league, it is hard to hate Dalton as a man. It is more about what he represents; a player who has stunk the place out in his four playoff games received a huge payday after the first three; the NFL is lacking for quarterbacks so the Bengals had to splash the cash to keep hold of a competent one. One that will get them only so far.
Why all the hate?
Paul Scholes was a world-class midfielder, yet England clearly didn’t think he could lead them to World Cup success. Bill Walton was one of the best centers to ever play in the NBA, yet his legacy isn’t talked about as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's is. These are not my points of view, merely reality.
Boomer Esiason, Bengals quarterback in 1984 through 1992 and again in 1997, pondered of Dalton, “I don’t get it. Why all the hate?”
Is it simply that Dalton doesn’t appear angry at all the anger pointed towards him? Becoming a Christian at the age of three at The First Baptist Church of Katy, Texas, he has had plenty of practice turning the other cheek and ironically, his hair replicates a fire Bengals fans are desperate to see from their leader.
What you hear, mostly, is that he is ‘good enough’. ‘Not bad’, ‘OK’ or ‘doing a job’. Certainly, a team could do worse than Dalton, but that isn’t what he wants them to say. The closest the Bengals came to winning a wild card game since his debut was last year, an 18-16 defeat to Pittsburgh and a game they should have won. If they had, it would not have been Dalton, who was out through injury, but A.J. McCarron who led them to it. Dalton has lost four playoff games by a combined 60 points. He has thrown one touchdown and six interceptions in those games.
Kiss a Ginger Day falls on January 12th next year, falling right around the divisional round of the playoffs. Andy Dalton is guaranteed to participate in one and would like to be part of both, yet at 3-4 the Bengals have plenty of work to do to get there, starting under the arch. 53 regular season wins in Dalton’s career means nothing so far, as has been proven by the lack of postseason success. It seems silly that the red hair would be a sticking point before drafting him, and still seems silly now.
It’s for you to decide until he does win such a game whether it’s the lack of wins in the clutch or colour of his hair that makes Dalton the maligned man that he shouldn’t be.