Pity poor Mark Sanchez, the All-American quarterback from USC with the matinee idol looks who is about to learn how heavy the weight of unreasonable expectations can be. In Sanchez's first day as the new saviour of the New York Jets, the following was written about him in one major New York area newspaper: "Sanchez certainly looked the part of a franchise quarterback on his first day as a Jet. And afterwards, head coach Rex Ryan made it clear he would have no trouble starting a rookie.
"Playing before a packed media contingent on the first day of the Jets' three-day rookie mini-camp, Sanchez threw tight hard spirals (no worries about his arm strength here), was extremely accurate and appeared to be a natural born leader.'' This was written about a kid who started just 17 college football games before turning professional after one NFL practice session in shorts with no contact and no one on the field who had ever played a down in the NFL.
In other words, Sanchez was playing catch with a bunch of kids and the New York media concluded he is a natural born leader whose suspect arm strength was overlooked because he could throw a spiral. He's been a quarterback since he was 10. One would hope he could throw a spiral. This is the kind of pressure Sanchez will be under all season after the Jets traded three veteran players and two draft choices to move up in the draft's first round to grab him with the fifth pick. That is the highest the Jets have selected a quarterback since they took the legendary Joe Namath with the draft's second pick in 1965.
He is also the 19th quarterback drafted by the Jets since, a string of failures in a search that has cost the Jets millions and broken their fans' hearts so many times they have become dark and hard as coal. Now all those years of failure and frustration fall upon the slight shoulders of a 6ft 2ins California kid who has no idea what the East Coast demands of its athletes. Perfection would be the best way to describe it, but that would be understating the expectations.
"I didn't grow up dreaming of being a back-up,'' Sanchez said in one of his first public statements after the Jets drafted him. It was the kind of bold comment they love in New York until you've thrown a few interceptions and lost a few games. Sanchez noted the rookie success a year ago of Matt Ryan, who led Atlanta from the doldrums to the play-offs. He said he thought it showed the possibilities, which is one way to look at it.
"I think that raised a lot of other people's expectations of a rookie quarterback,'' Sanchez conceded this week. "But for me to be successful this year - for this team to be successful - it's about the defence playing well, playing well on special teams and the return game and the offence moving the ball efficiently. It's not just on the quarterback.'' Technically Sanchez is right but that was the analysis of a rational man. American football fans, especially in New York, are the farthest thing from rational. They are ravenous. They want to win now.
If he doesn't, and frankly it seems unlikely the cast around him is good enough in a division with the Patriots and Dolphins, then Sanchez is going to learn a difficult lesson. He's going to learn the only thing laid back about New York is the way the critics lay back and wait for you to slip. Maybe none of that will bother him. Maybe his smile and cocky confidence will carry the day. Those things worked for Namath but only because he won. Nineteen other guys were smiling after their first practice too. Anybody remember them?