Renner a victim of circumstance
Posted November 8, 2013
Chapel Hill, N.C. — In Malcolm Gladwell’s most popular book, Outliers, he touches on an oddity in the world of hockey. Gladwell noticed that players born earlier in the calendar year tended to be more successful throughout their careers. It seems that the randomness of one’s birth drastically affected the type of team one played with when they were young, and the attention they got from their coaches.
The details of why this was happening are interesting but not as important as Gladwell’s overall point: it’s possible that our successes and failures in life are much less under our control than we’d like to think.
In general, people don’t like this idea — especially in sports. It’s convenient to see why wealthy families stay wealthy and why most Irish grow up Catholic. But not with sports - and not with individual success.
Fans want to imagine that their MVPs and Hall of Famers got there from hours spent perfecting their craft — not because Wayne Gretzky was born in January instead of November.
Fans have to believe Michael Jordan would have won six titles regardless of whether or not Jerry Krause (Jordan’s arch-nemesis) had drafted an obscure lanky forward from Central Arkansas by the name of Scottie Pippen (thereby inventing Jay Bilas’ two favorite draft terms: wingspan and potential). They have to believe that Tom Brady wins three Super Bowls even if Mo Lewis doesn’t burst a blood vessel in Drew Bledsoe’s chest in 2001.
Fans won’t easily admit it, but it’s possible that nowhere are people more a victim of circumstance than in the world of sports; the precise place they want to pretend it doesn’t exist.
We’ll never know if Eli Manning would be as “clutch” if David Tyree didn’t have Stick-um on his helmet, just like we’ll never know if Bryn Renner would have broken most of UNC’s quarterback records had he not suffered a shoulder injury against NC State.
Renner’s career is not over, but it is at UNC. The play that did him in was a 3rd quarter scramble that ended with the quarterback sandwiched between two State defenders. There’s been discussion over whether the hits were late (they were, but not “dirty” or uncommon in a football game by any means), but most fan-talk has revolved around the records Renner was closing in on as one of the most prolific passers in UNC history.
It seems that Renner’s assault on those records is a victim of circumstance like so many before. But this can go both ways. Renner’s unlucky break this season overshadows his luck from the year before.
In 2012, the quarterback was lining up with perhaps the most talented running back in UNC history, Gio Bernard. Would Renner’s offense have been as potent as it was a year ago had Bernard stayed committed to Notre Dame? Or does Renner shatter UNC season records in 2012 if he doesn’t have multiple All-Americans and future NFL-draftees blocking for him?
T.J. Yates would love to know. Yates owns most of those records Renner was approaching, and Yates spent the majority of his four seasons running for his life behind a makeshift O-line that was more a patchwork than an actual line. Maybe Renner wouldn’t even have had a chance at those records had Yates seen the benefit of James Hurst and Jonathan Cooper throughout his career.
But then again, maybe Yates isn’t even in the discussion if he doesn’t have current NFL starters Hakeem Nicks and Brandon Tate catching his passes.
Fans often think of individual records in a vacuum, as though receivers don’t have to make all those catches for their QBs and linemen don’t have to open holes for a running back to ever gain an inch — just like how Renner might have had an entirely different career had circumstances broken another way.
Renner’s story will always be tough to define. He played under three coaches. He never won a bowl game. He helped obliterate UNC’s single-season offensive marks in 2012. But, his legacy will fall short of any career records.
Maybe that matters. Maybe it doesn’t.
The full title of Malcolm Gladwell’s book is actually Outliers: The Story of Success. And perhaps that’s an important point. One’s success is always part of a story, with plotlines they can - and more importantly, sometimes cannot - control. Renner’s is no different. He was along for the ride, and as anyone close to him will tell you, he loved every minute of it. He loved being a Tar Heel. Regardless of his circumstances, he’ll certainly never consider himself a victim, just another willing participant in the story that is sports.