Pop culture references in sports writing is not a new phenomenon. What might be new, in a sense, is using older movie references to make a point, rather that ripping from the medium of the moment.
As someone who grew up in the 1980s, Top Gun has an oversized place in my heart. My father served in the Navy, and like many kids watching Tom Cruise’s portrayal of a naval aviator left me wanting to be a fighter pilot when I got older.
A fear of heights, and a fear of flying, doomed that from the start.
Beyond the fancy flying, however, Top Gun is the story of Cruise’s character, Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, a fighter pilot whose story arc mirrored many redemption tales previously seen on film. He learns lessons along the way, but in the end he is still perhaps the guy who is going to mostly do things his way, even if he has gotten a bit better at his craft. Take the film’s climactic sequence at the end. In one moment Maverick stays by his fellow pilot Iceman, played by Val Kilmer, declaring that he was “not leaving his wingman” – a callback to a lesson learned earlier in the film.
But moments later there he is, letting an enemy jet come dangerously close, only to engage the air brakes midflight, allowing the jet to rocket past him. This also calls back to earlier in the film, when he used that in training, only to get harshly critiqued by one of his instructors.
The one he was romantically involved with, but that’s a story for another time.
So there you have the duality of a character. Maverick learned some lessons along the way, but he is not going to totally change who he is, and those around him are going to have to just deal with his brash decisions from time to time.
Does that, perhaps, remind you of a certain NFC East quarterback?
There is an expression floating around the Philadelphia area these days, and it has nothing to do with the proper cheesesteak, presidential politics, or wearing a mask.
“Let the bronco buck.”
It has become a hashtag on social media: #LTBB. Ike Reese, a former linebacker with the Eagles who now talks about the team on WIP in Philadelphia, puts that in almost every tweet of his. Like this one in the wake of the Eagles’ Thursday night win over the New York Giants:
— @Ike58Reese (@Ike58Reese) October 23, 2020
Let the bronco buck.
It stands for a simple proposition. Wentz is who he is as a quarterback. It dates back to his time at North Dakota State, when he would put his body on the line as a quarterback, fight for every yard, ignore all the concerns about how to play the position, and do whatever he could to deliver a win.
That extends to his time now with the Eagles.
You can try to tame him, you can try to force him to be more conservative with the football, but you’re just taking away from him what potentially makes him a special player.
That leads to horrific decisions, such as this one earlier in the game:
The Eagles hold a three-point lead and face a 2nd and 15 at the Giants’ 20-yard line. There is no fathomable reason for Wentz to attempt this throw. He gets flushed from the pocket, rolls to his left – away from his throwing hand – and forces a fadeaway throw in the general direction of John Hightower, who is bracketed by two defenders.
Given the situation, this is inexcusable. The quarterbacking equivalent of leaving your wingman.
But if you’re Doug Pederson, and you want to let the bronco buck, you will live with that inexcusable moment, because you do not want to miss out on moments like this:
This comes on Philadelphia’s final drive of the game. Wentz is flushed out of the pocket and attempts a late throw over the middle, committing perhaps another cardinal sin of quarterback play. But it works, as he hits reserve tight end Richard Rodgers for a 30-yard gain.
And as Pederson you certainly do not want to miss out on how Wentz ended the night:
Wentz caps the night by making one of the best throws of his career, hitting running back Boston Scott releasing late on a wheel route for the game-winner.
Playing quarterback is among the toughest jobs in sports. There are many components that go into the position, but one of them is this: You cannot play scared. You cannot be afraid. Otherwise you will miss opportunities that are available to you, and you will not put your team in position to win.
Returning to Maverick in the trailer for a minute, explaining his air brake maneuver to the consultants. “You can’t think up there. If you think, you’re dead.”
Wentz’s style of play might be too risky at times. It might not be for everyone. It might lead to head-scratching decisions such as that interception in the first half. His reliance on “hero ball” might leave many convinced he is not the right man for the job.
But he does not play scared.
He might learn some lessons, but in the end, he is the quarterback that he is. You, Pederson, and anyone else who try are not going to change that. In the end he’ll come back to doing something reckless that he has already done, and like Maverick at the end of Top Gun, it might just work.
Let the bronco buck.