NFL quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has announced his retirement after a 17-year career. Fitzpatrick was drafted in the 7th round of the 2005 by the Rams, while they were still in St. Louis, after playing college ball at Harvard. He then proceeded to play for nine teams, occasionally being the starter and sometimes having some astonishing games in both directions. He was never a winner–his record is an unimpressive 59-87-1–but strangely, he was.
Ryan Fitzpatrick was one of those quarterbacks who always knew what he wanted to do in any situation, and he always had the confidence to try to do it. He was never once a guy who shrank from the moment. But sadly, he was also a guy who often didn’t have the physical skills–either the arm strength or the speed or the dead accuracy–to make it happen, so the results would sometimes be very, very bad.
With Ryan Fitzpatrick playing, you knew there was potential on every play for something worthy of a highlight reel to happen. Problem was, it could be his team’s highlight reel, or the opponent’s. He might have been a winner someplace, had he landed with a team with a historically good defense–think Jim McMahon or Trent Dilfer–but he also always provided strong leadership and a good presence for the fans. Ryan Fitzpatrick was never great, and everywhere he landed he was generally viewed as the placeholder until the team, whichever team it was, could draft the “Franchise Quarterback”.
That never stopped him, though. Never once did Ryan Fitzpatrick’s confidence flag or falter. Late in his career he played for Tampa Bay (before that team made its own deal with the devil), and he would appear at postgame pressers like this:
But he was also absolutely beloved every single place he went. Nobody ever hated him, and it shows in how he remains beloved in every place he went, after he left. Just this past offseason, Ryan Fitzpatrick attended a playoff game for a team that wasn’t even his, and he took his shirt-off in sub-zero temperatures to cheer the home team, because he had actually played for that particular team ten years prior.
This happened here. Ryan Fitzpatrick played four years with the Bills ten years ago before moving on, and this past year he was with the Washington Football Team…and yet, there he was when the Bills played the Patriots in the wildcard round, shirtless and exuberant:
He never won here, but he did beat Tom Brady’s Patriots here one time, snapping a losing streak to that team that felt like it started in 1938. He had huge plays, and gigantic gaffes. And yet he was beloved, because of stuff like this. He remains beloved, because of stuff like this.
Which is why I think he should be in the Hall of Fame.
I’m being kind-of serious here. I know, I know: the Hall is meant for indisputably great players, and there are statistical thresholds one expects of players in the Hall. And I know, because Fitzpatrick’s stats are hardly gaudy, he’ll never get there. But I submit that it’s the Hall of Fame, not the Hall of Stats. The Hall of Fame does not exist merely to honor numerical excellence. I’m a storyteller, and stories are why I love the Hall of Fame–in fact, stories are what I love most about sports in general. Who doesn’t love sitting with friends around a beer or two, swapping stories about great games and great players or even players who weren’t so great but had some great moments?
We don’t love sports because of stats. Stats help and they’re fun in themselves, but stats aren’t what connect us to sports at the most basic level. Stories are why we connect with sports: stories that we can share, stories that we recall collectively, stories that bind us together in fandom either in love for this team or, yes, hatred for that team or player, the one that always drives in the knife.
I submit that sport is more about story than it has ever been about statistic, and on that basis, I have to say that Ryan Fitzpatrick belongs in the Hall of Fame, because…well, anyone who ever watched him play will have a twinkle in their eye and a knowing smile as they remember his exploits. Sport is compelling because of its stories: its good stories and its happy stories and also its terrible stories, its tragic stories, its sad stories. Numbers are great and important and even essential, but there’s a reason nobody sits around the bar or the campfire with a beer in their hand swapping yarns about the time that one banker did something. There’s no stories in that.
Ryan Fitzpatrick was a great story. There are guys with Hall-worthy stats whom fewer and fewer people will ever talk about again, but I guarantee people will be talking about Ryan Fitzpatrick for a long, long, long time.
That’s a Hall of Famer, in my book.
(I was hoping the Bills would bring Fitz back here for just one season, as Josh Allen’s backup. To see him come back here and maybe get a ring? That would have given his story the sheen of fairy tale, wouldn’t it?)
(And yes, by my definition, my Hall of Fame would have to include Tom Brady. But my Hall of Fame would have a Wing of Pure Evil….)