New and “Like New”

I was standing in the NASCAR Hall of Fame, refreshing Twitter, when the Bills announced that E.J. Manuel will miss the rest of the preseason. I think I took it pretty well, all things considered.

I was fairly nonplussed when the Bills first drafted Manuel. My default instinct with this team is to doubt everything they do, so my snap judgement probably wasn’t fair to the kid. The further through the summer we went, though, I started to consider how this whole thing could play out. I—dare I say—started to get excited.

With E.J. Manuel, Bills fans finally get to watch a quarterback develop. Truly develop, for better or worse. He will pick up and break bad habits. He will find favorite targets and actually get better at being a quarterback. This won’t just be hoping Ryan Fitzpatrick can throw the ball harder, but actually seeing a young guy—you know, maybe—become a real quarterback.

It’s an exciting concept. I actually started looking forward to it. The brief flash of that concept last Sunday—Manuel running the two-minute drill with apparent ease—made me look forward to watching preseason football. I was excited to the point of almost buying overpriced preseason tickets. Instead, I watched a grainy pirated stream of the game against the Vikings. Even in the middle of August, football felt like it mattered.

What’s most exciting about Manuel is that he’s a rookie, not a reclamation project. The Bills are trying to turn a young man into a starting quarterback in the National Football League. Hoping for Kevin Kolb to work out is essentially trying to repair something. It’s fixing a car that’s a few more dings from totaled. It’s not the same thing as hope. It’s the same thing as most of the guys on this t-shirt.

Preseason football is both pointless and important. It is what you want it to be. But most of all, it’s a chance to get yourself centered before the real start of the season. It’s the place to temper or tempt your expectations. Even with two games of Manuel I wanted more opportunities to figure the guy out. That’s what we’re losing with E.J. going under the knife. We sure aren’t going to learn much about all these rookie receivers with Kolb missing them open in the flat, either. The only thing we can learn from Kolb is which Bills fans are smartasses.

Jesus, watching Kevin Kolb play football is hard work. He makes the job of quarterback look difficult. Too difficult, really, to imagine anyone can successfully manage it. It makes watching football feel like a helpless act of faith, a trust clearly put in the wrong human being. The contrast became clear during the third quarter on Friday night. Manuel came out and engineered a touchdown drive after a hapless Kevin Kolb wasted chance after chance during the first half. While watching Kolb made me wonder what defenses could do to him, watching Manuel on Kids Day made me wonder what he could do to a real first-team defense. Now I’ll just have to wait until September.

This is okay. Manuel’s not dead, and he’s not out for the season. He will play, and it’s likely he will start. Well, he better start. If there’s anything I’ve learned from the first two weeks of preseason it is that I do not want Kevin Kolb in my life. I’ve had enough of that guy and his kind. It may be an unfair bias, but I’m so very tired of mediocre quarterbacks looking to finally catch on and become a real starter. You are no longer welcome in Buffalo, Kevin. We don’t serve your kind here.

What I’m saying is that E.J. Manuel is clearly the future of this franchise. More than that, I want guys like E.J. Manuel to always be the future. If it’s not Manuel, I want another shiny new football player to consider. Buying used is for the birds.