There are few moments in life where I find myself upset that the modern sports fan ran the word "class" and all its derivatives so far into the ground that they no longer have any real meaning. Talking about Teddy Bridgewater is the most common of those rare instances.
Bridgewater is why the word existed -- at least the way it existed before it became a hollow battle cry for Internet sports fans looking to claim superiority over another group of people cut from an almost identical mold. Thrust into the public spotlight when he became the starting quarterback at powerful Miami Northwestern High as a sophomore, Bridgewater has gone from there to the NFL without a single negative off-the-field story. He's done this at a time where a high-profile athlete without at least a couple of well-known blemishes on their moral resume is seen about as often as a phone booth.
Teddy isn't the first beloved Louisville athlete, and he won't be the last. Typically though, when you meet these people or someone close to them, at least some of the shine begins to come off. There's a reason the saying "don't meet your heroes" still floats around with free reign. With Bridgewater, however, my personal experience has only reinforced the notion that the actual man is about as close to his beloved public persona as possible.
The following are three quotes about Bridgewater given to me by a classmate, a teammate and a Cardinal athlete from a different program, who will all remain nameless. They were made in the spring of 2013, just a few months before Teddy would begin his final season at UofL ...
"I think he is legitimately the nicest human I've ever met. I can't remember him ever saying one bad thing about another person."
"He seriously doesn't go out. All he does is practice, go to class, do schoolwork and watch film. If it's the weekend or we don't have class, he might play video games."
"I've never known anyone with a clearer vision of what he wants to be in life. The guy is completely, 100 percent focused on his goals and isn't going to let anything or anyone distract him. I've never seen anything like it."
If you're thinking that the behind-closed-doors Teddy Bridgewater sounds an awful lot like the public Teddy Bridgewater, well, there's a reason for that.
Louisville fans respected and cheered for Bridgewater because of what he did on the field, but they adored and loved the quarterback for the way he carried himself off of it. His infectious smile and his incredible relationship with his mother, Rose, will always be remembered in the same light as his record-setting performances in the Russell Athletic and Sugar Bowls.
At some point between 2011 and 2013, Bridgewater became one of Louisville's most treasured sons. And when members of the national media began tearing Teddy down in the weeks leading up to the 2014 NFL Draft, the city reacted as any suitably-protective parent would.
Critics harped on the Cardinal legend's small hands and "skinny knees" (seriously), they questioned whether or not he had the personality to be a franchise quarterback or if he could talk loudly enough to be a leader. They said he didn't have the oft-discussed but ever-mythical "It-Factor." Louisville fans rolled their collective eyes and told them all how wrong they'd ultimately be proven.
On Sunday, Bridgewater began what figures to be a career-long shaming of the critics who caused him to slip to the last pick of the NFL Draft's first round, and the coaches and executives who listened to them. Captaining a Vikings offense missing a number of its most crucial parts, Bridgewater completed 63.3 percent of his passes for 317 yards, a franchise record for a quarterback making his first start. He threw no interceptions and rushed for an 18-yard touchdown in a 41-28 win over Atlanta, a team which had won by 42 points the week before.
Louisville fans celebrated the event accordingly. They held watch parties and packed bars and restaurants wearing equal amounts of Cardinals and Vikings gear, and then made plans to do it all again when Minnesota plays Green Bay on Thursday night. The game did a 26 share in Louisville, which means that 26 percent of the people in the city who were watching television at that time were watching Teddy. That's a ridiculously high number.
The lesson in all of this is that, even in an era where their breed is growing increasingly rare, the nice guy can win. The nice can capture not only the attention, but the hearts of an entire city, simply by being himself. The nice guy can be a franchise quarterback, even if he doesn't have a cool nickname or a girlfriend who regularly appears on "Entertainment Tonight."
The nice guy can be just as successful as the not-so-nice guys who are seen and talked about far too often on television ... even if they have small hands, skinny knees and an it-factor deficiency. On this day, Louisville tips its cap to one of the nicest guys it has ever been privileged enough to call its own.
The previous column appears in this week's issue of The Voice-Tribune