When the New York Jets play the Indianapolis Colts Sunday for the right to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl, I wonder if NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell will root for upstart Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez over veteran Colts quarterback Peyton Manning the way Democratic leaders secretly cheered on Obama. Manning is a lot like Clinton. He, like her, is respected more for his record of accomplishments than for his ability to viscerally connect with or fire up people. He's establishment. He calls a lot of audibles. He doesn't brim with charisma and never seems comfortable under the klieg lights even though he is unquestionably one of the league's marquee faces.
Sanchez, on the other hand, is like Obama on the campaign trail. He's a raw upstart, but he has an uncanny ability to inspire and lead. His teammates want to follow him. He embraces the spotlight and is at ease under it. He's poised and is confident without being cocky.
His marketing potential and reach dwarfs Manning's. And while commentators such as Rush Limbaugh have gotten in trouble for saying what I am about to suggest, that the NFL wants--needs--Sanchez to succeed even more because he's a Mexican-American who embraces his heritage. The NFL has had trouble attracting fans from America's fastest growing minority group, so NFL executives were probably joyous beyond belief at the future when the Jets drafted Sanchez. Surely, the Jets have often won in spite of Sanchez's rookie mistakes.
But fair or not, the NFL is a quarterback's league because quarterbacks become the faces of their franchises. If Sanchez defeats Manning, the future the NFL could only dream of becomes the present, for Sanchez will become one of the marquee faces of the league, having a starring role in arguably the world's biggest showcase sporting event while playing for a team in the nation's media capital. He'll be the NFL's perfect pitch man and ambassador. Goodell must publicly stay neutral, of course, but it wouldn't surprise me if, for the NFL's sake, he is secretly chanting "¡Viva Sanchez!" or "¡Si Se Puede!" (For those who were under a rock during the 2008 campaign, that's Spanish for, "Yes we can!").
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