Last week, along with most of America, I watched as Kurt Warner completed his rise from grocery store stock boy to Super Bowl quarterback. Warner's fairy-tale season reminded me of another unlikely hero, one who led the Cavalier football team to a 45-38 win over Georgia Tech Nov. 6: David Rivers.
Obviously there's a big difference between winning the Super Bowl and beating the Yellow Jackets, even if Tech was ranked seventh in the nation. But there's another difference between Warner and Rivers. Warner will have the chance to duplicate his heroics next season. Rivers won't. Why? Because the Virginia coaches decided not to invite Rivers, a redshirt third year, back for his final year of eligibility.
With promising first years Matt Schaub and Bryson Spinner expected to push incumbent starter Dan Ellis for playing time, Cav Coach George Welsh said there most likely will be no time for Rivers.
"Here's basically the essence of the conversation [with Rivers]: it would be difficult for me to give him enough work to know whether he could help us or not without taking away from Schaub and Spinner," Welsh said at a press conference Thursday. "I didn't want to take away from Schaub and Spinner."
I'm not surprised Welsh made the decision not to bring back Rivers. But the decision was just another example of the raw deal Rivers received as "reward" for his heroics on that November evening.
Take what happened the week after the Georgia Tech win, for example. The Cavs were playing Buffalo, the worst team in Division I-A, in their home finale. A healthy Ellis led Virginia to a 37-14 advantage after three quarters. Yet Rivers didn't enter the game until the final Cav drive, just in time for a couple of clock-killing handoffs to running back Tyree Foreman.
"I wanted to [put Rivers in], but things were going so well," Welsh said after that game. "Not that he doesn't deserve to play and I feel bad for him, but when things are going so well, you hate to change quarterbacks. If we had shut them down on defense or taken control by the third quarter, I would have put him in."
First, I fail to see how a 37-14 lead doesn't display some sort of control over a game. Second, if things were "going so well," why take Thomas Jones out of the game for the majority of the fourth quarter, much less remove him three yards short of the Virginia record for rushing yards in a single game?
Rivers got squeezed out against Buffalo, and now he is squeezed out of the program. Looking at the situation on paper, it makes sense that Rivers is the odd man out on Virginia's quarterback depth chart. Ellis ranked among the nation's leaders in passing efficiency and Schaub and Spinner are two promising talents with all four years of eligibility at their disposal.
But what if things go bad?
If there's one thing I learned from watching Ellis for a whole season, it's that he is very inconsistent. One week, he might lead the Cavs on a last-minute, game-winning drive, displaying poise and heroics worthy of John Elway himself. The next week, he can't complete a pass.
If Ellis shows such inconsistency or gets hurt next season, Welsh won't have the option to run Thomas Jones 40 times a game. He'll have to think about making changes and despite Spinner and Schaub's physical tools, how can we know whether they're mentally ready to play in the ACC?
Whether or not he would have seen substantial time, Rivers deserved to come back for one more season. He earned the opportunity to come back, stepping up against the Jackets when Ellis was out after suffering a concussion against Florida State the previous week. With no Rivers, all the talk of Welsh's precious streak of 13 consecutive seven-win seasons would have ended well before Thanksgiving.
I hope Rivers still will have the memories of his one moment in the sun. I hope he moves on to bigger and better things.
I also hope Welsh doesn't end up regretting the decision to let him go.