McFeely: Not since Maris has a North Dakota sports star seen scrutiny and criticism like Wentz
Former Bismarck Century, Bison star's fall from NFL pinnacle has been historically precipitous
To call Carson Wentz's benching in Philadelphia a fall from grace isn't quite accurate. That phrase implies a personal or moral failure, such as what happened to Michael Vick when it was discovered he was involved with dogfighting. Wentz is in the middle of the national media meatgrinder because of his failings on the field, nothing more.
That doesn't make what's happened to the former North Dakota State star and Bismarck Century product a great deal less stunning. When Eagles head coach Doug Pederson pulled the trigger in Sunday's loss at Green Bay and replaced Wentz with rookie Jalen Hurts, a move that appears likely to keep Wentz on the sideline the rest of the season, it signaled a twist of fortune for the former Bison that nobody saw coming a year ago.
This is new territory for an area athlete who made it to professional sports: Withering criticism, exhaustive scrutiny, grueling questioning. Not since Roger Maris tracked down Babe Ruth has a North Dakota hero been in the crosshairs like Wentz is now. That was 1961, and Roger's critics were mostly some newspaper writers in New York City. In this Internet age, everybody is unloading on Wentz.
There is one key difference, of course. Maris took shots because of what he was accomplishing while Wentz is taking hits because of what he is not.
The criticism is mostly deserved. Wentz has been awful for the Eagles, who three years removed from a Super Bowl victory look more like the Cleveland Browns than the Cleveland Browns. What's happening in Philly is a trainwreck and will likely cost Pederson and others their jobs.
But Wentz is not completely to blame. The Eagles signed him to a $128 million contract extension over four years, an average of $32 million per year, and then failed to provide him with any support. Philadelphia has no offensive line, no competent receivers, no running backs for whom you'd trade a used Buick. The Eagles are a bad football team. Period.
That doesn't change the end result. Wentz, once the conquering hero of one of America's great sports cities who the NFL marketed as a sure-fire national star, now looks like a broken shell of his former self beset by multiple injuries, a lack of confidence, a bad team and a rudderless coaching staff.
What was once so promising for one of North Dakota's feel-good stories looks like it's been reduced to an ash heap. Before he was injured late in the 2017 season, Wentz was headed to an NFL most valuable player award. Now analysts are wondering if the Eagles would be wise to unload the quarterback, or if his gargantuan contract would even allow it.
It's like watching the destruction of an icon in real time and Pederson seems aware. Asked Monday about his multiple comments over the years that the coach's and Wentz's fates are "married" to one another, Pederson didn't disagree.
"You're absolutely right. We are married to this. It's something that I pride myself on and we are definitely — he and I are definitely in a situation that we've got to work ourselves out of," Pederson said. "My job is to help him and to help him improve and get better and to help this football team win."
There is a belief in Philly, voiced most recently in a post-game column by David Murphy in the Philadelphia Inquirer, that the Eagles royally messed up their franchise and their franchise quarterback by drafting Hurts in the second round last spring. It was an illogical move based on what they'd invested in Wentz, both financially and otherwise.
All it could do, barring near-perfect play from Wentz, was lead to a quarterback controversy.
That is the point that's been reached. The only redemption the Eagles may find is if Wentz's medical situation prompted them to take Hurts as insurance. Could a concussion Wentz suffered in last season's playoff game against Seattle be more serious than he and the team have let on, perhaps to the point the Eagles believed the injury jeopardized the quarterback's future?
That is something we'll not learn until Wentz departs Philadelphia or retires. For now, North Dakota and the NFL are left to watch what unfolds with the one-time sure thing whose fall from the pinnacle has been historically precipitous.
Wentz has said all the right things, including that criticism and scrutiny come with the territory of being a highly paid NFL quarterback. He's right. It's part of the gig. That doesn't make it any less uncomfortable for those back home.
Readers can reach Forum columnist Mike McFeely at email@example.com or (701) 451-5655