In 1978 author Margot Zemach published a children’s book entitled, “It Could Always Be Worse“. Inspired by a Yiddish folktale, the narrative revolves around the philosophical idea that things in life are not always as bad as they initially seem. Zemach’s book was a massive success, as it was named a Caldecott Honor Book and later served as an educational tool for middle school teachers and parents.
Promoting optimism regardless of circumstance is a powerful message, but it is also not necessarily accurate. It is not humanly possible to determine whether or not the Zemach code is universally applicable, but the Minnesota Vikings have spent over 50 years constructing an air-tight case for the existence of worst-case scenarios, situationally (and geographically) disproving the relevancy of this timeless philosophy.
As it pertains to the NFL at least, it’s certainly difficult to imagine a deeper hole than the one Minnesota fell into this past August. At the beginning of June, the Vikings were viewed as darkhorse Super Bowl contender behind quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. The wide-spread expectation — both internally and externally — that the signal-caller would drastically improve during his third season at the helm served the team well in promoting optimism, but it may also have led upper management to ignore the potential impact of Taylor Heinicke suffering an absurd foot injury ahead of preseason play.
Backup quarterbacks serve a strange role in professional football. It is the only NFL role in which an ideal season may be accomplished without recording a single snap. There are multiple ways to fulfill a backup quarterback contract, but every general manager negotiates with the hope that his substitute signal-caller will serve multiple years as an incredibly well-paid clipboard holder — and nothing more.
These players may be almost universally viewed as insignificant, but the fine print in their job description yields a critically important role — limit the damage caused by an NFL worst-case scenario.