Let's step behind the curtain for a second: we've been doing the 100 Days of Vols for the last 85 days, and there's a little spreadsheet we're using to keep track of who's done what when. Since Will's on vacation (hi Will! Don't read this until you get back!), we had some extra spots, which I grabbed and then promptly forgot when this post was supposed to go up.
In that context, it's only apt that this paean to Tyler Bray showed up a couple days later than expected and completely unrefined, isn't it? His legacy - if there is one, to be fair - will be defined as much by who and what he wasn't as his accomplishments on the field (which are also in part defined by who he wasn't, but we'll get there). Bray was unrefined, flawed if you want to use that word. I'd just cal him a character, no more than the other 84 guys in orange each year he was here. The difference is that we knew he was a character. He was also one heck of a quarterback.
Bray was, hands down, the best quarterback we've seen in orange over the last three years. His career numbers are up there with the Tennessee QBs of yore: 5th in total yards, 4th in total TDs, given basically 2 seasons' worth of stats.
As single-season records go, he's not awful either: 2nd in yards, 2nd in TDs, 3rd in attempts, 3rd in completions. (I'll miss you, Jim Chaney.) He owns the single-season total offense record thanks to his 2012 season: 466 plays, 3,578 yards. He's Tennessee's career leader in passing yards per game (258.5).
Bray was - well, is - good. The numbers bear that out, as does the eye test. Also, just for the heck of it: he also owns single-game records for most completions (38, against Missouri), most passing first downs (23, against Troy), and total yardage (718, also against Troy).
When Bray was on it was pretty, wasn't it? The 2010 coming out party against Ole MIss (just in case you forgot). North Carolina (speaking of things that weren't his fault; if nothing else, Dooley's legacy will be the Dooley Rule). 34/41 for 405 and 4 TDs against Cincinnati. The NC State opener and/or most of the 2012 season, Vanderbilt and Florida excepted. He's better than you remember.
Then again, it's not like we'll define Bray by his career totals; not everyone gets that honor. The problems with Bray, if you think there are problems with Bray, fall into one of two camps: either the team wasn't great or [general immaturity complaint]. There are mitigating circumstances everywhere you look on the former, if you care to look - here's the short version:
- 2010: Matt Simms
- 2011: injuries
- 2012: Sal Sunseri
As far as the immaturity discussion goes, the counter-point there is that he was - well, is - young. You do things like play chicken on jetskis when you're young, live forever, and bestride the planet like a colossus; wouldn't you want the guy taking the snaps for Tennessee to think he's on top of the world? (Also, he won that game of chicken. You want a winner, don't you? While we're here: my only qualm with the beer bottle tossing incident is I want to know what he was aiming at.) Besides, it's not like we couldn't have seen these things coming, you know?
These stories, if you think they're stories, highlight the weird thing about football; the guys are numbers in pads with their faces and personalities safely out of sight most of the time. (When they're not, we remember. See: Chism, Wayne, who never had to be sanitized and we love him for it. Also see: pterodactyl Arian Foster and the newest US Army recruit .) As a result, football, more than most other sports, is subject to the blank slate of character expectation - we want players to be what we think we would be. Whether that's fair is a different story.
These blank slates create character narratives. When guys don't fit these pre-defined narratives, either the narrative changes or there's a rebellion against the person failing to live up to his narrative. Normally, it's the latter - it's easier to want someone to change then recognize the problem may be in the expectations we've created for them. (Johnny Manziel is this problem writ large; how badly would ESPN have beaten that jetski into the ground if Tennessee went 11-2 in 2011?)
This was Bray's issue as much as anything he did on the field, because Justin Worley or Matt Simms weren't going to be his biggest problems. Bray opted to not be sanitized, for better or worse, and be a character instead of an archetype. Whether that's what you want is a matter of preference, but for me? Bring on the characters. You come for the game and stay for the stories and the players and the uniforms, and I want to know who's in those uniforms - or at least, I do.
I want my football in color, and if my quarterback is a massive bro who occasionally does stupid stuff, I want to know. I want my mistakes hilarious, I want my interviews entertaining, and I want my personality evident. It's a shame we don't have video of Bray reprising this after practice.
Shine on, Tyler Bray. May your name guide you both forwards and backwards, because we can't just make one joke about tattooing your name on your back writ in stars.