Several NFL Teams Switch Quarterback Starters

Injury and ineptitude forced several NFL teams to make a change of quarterback this week. Minnesota, Oakland and Washington all have new starters at the position. But the change that has most football fans talking is in Denver. Robert Siegel and sportswriter Stefan Fatsis talk about the NFL — and the Rugby World Cup.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Finally this hour, injury and ineptitude forced several NFL teams to make a change this week at quarterback. Minnesota, Oakland and Washington all have new starters at the position. But the change that has most football fans talking is in Denver. And joining me to talk about that is sportswriter Stefan Fatsis. Hi, Stefan.

STEFAN FATSIS, BYLINE: Hey, Robert.

SIEGEL: That change, of course, involves former college star Tim Tebow, who is starting for the first time for his team, the Denver Broncos, when they play the Miami Dolphins in Miami. Tell us about that.

FATSIS: Yeah. Tebow, second year in the NFL, national icon, not only because of his outstanding college career at the University of Florida but also because of his image of this clean-cut, humble and extremely religious athlete. The Broncos have just one win against four losses. Calls for Tebow to take over - even though he started the year as the number three quarterback on the team - have grown in the last few weeks. One company in Denver actually used a billboard near its offices to call for coach John Fox to start Tebow.

And whether he's ready or not, we're going to see on Sunday. It should be fascinating, Miami reporting thousands of additional ticket sales for the game. And coincidentally, the Dolphins already had planned to honor Tebow's Florida team for their win in the national championship in 2009 in the same stadium where the Dolphins play.

SIEGEL: Now, a few other young and not so young quarterbacks are taking over this weekend. Why the rash of changes this week?

FATSIS: Well, you know, in the case of Tebow and Christian Ponder, who's a first-round draft choice like Tebow, and he'll be starting in Minnesota over the benched veteran Donovan McNabb, this is about teams wanting to see if a young quarterback has the stuff to make it in the NFL during a losing season. You've got different circumstances elsewhere. In Washington, they're three and two, the Redskins, but coach Mike Shanahan is switching from an erratic Rex Grossman to a guy who competed head to head for the job before the season, John Beck.

In Oakland, you've got 31-year-old Carson Palmer taking the field just a few days after he was acquired in a trade from Cincinnati. He had refused to report to the Bengals during the off-season. Now, he's in Oakland, replacing an injured Jason Campbell. The constant in all of these cases is that this is a quarterbacks' league. You need one. If you don't have one, you better keep looking. Sometimes, you look for a long time. In Washington, John Beck will be the 21st starter in the last 19 seasons for the Redskins.

SIEGEL: Wow. Now, tell us about the one quarterback who's being talked a lot about in the NFL, who isn't even there yet. That is Stanford's Andrew Luck.

FATSIS: Yeah. Every few years in sports, you get a situation where one incoming player is so desirable that the speculation begins that teams are losing deliberately in order to acquire him. And this year that's Luck. He's a senior, 6-foot-4, cannon arm, very smart. He is so good, in fact, that fans in Miami and Minnesota and St. Louis and even Indianapolis, they're rooting for teams to - cover your ears, Robert - suck for Luck.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SIEGEL: OK. Now, I'm told that you want to talk about rugby, which is fine, because it gives me an excuse to play this wonderful piece of sound.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALL BLACKS TEAM'S HAKA WARRIOR DANCE)

FATSIS: That would be the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team, Robert, performing their Haka warrior dance, this tradition that the New Zealand teams do before athletic matches.

SIEGEL: It beats the Laker Girls.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

FATSIS: Yes.

SIEGEL: You've been watching the rugby games, the World Cup of rugby?

FATSIS: You know, I have been. I have watched a few games. I'm still flummoxed by some of the rules. But when the ball gets moving in rugby, it is a pleasure to watch: speed, agility, brute power, like in football, our football, without the pads and the constant stoppages in play. I love that small countries like New Zealand and Wales and Fiji are competitors in rugby. In the World Cup, the U.S. did play. They were eliminated in the first round. They did win a game. Now, on Sunday, we've got the finals. We'll get to hear the Haka with New Zealand taking on France. The game will be shown in the United States on tape delay on NBC Sunday at 3 o'clock Eastern.

SIEGEL: OK, Stefan, thanks. Stefan Fatsis joins us most Fridays to talk about sports and the business of sports. He is the author, most recently, of "A Few Seconds of Panic: A Sportswriter Plays in the NFL."

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