Last month, Aqua Thirteen published a highly discussed article that the writer of this piece wrote, entitled “Has The Sports Media Been Lying To Us About Tua Tagovailoa’s Playing Ability?” That article was concluded with a declaration that a miracle comeback story has been overlooked in favor of doubting Tua’s quarterback play and criticism of Tua Tagovailoa’s 2020 performance. This piece is the sequel to that article.
As a high school student, Tua Tagovailoa said it all when he tweeted at 2:44 a.m. on Twitter May 17, 2016, “Do not judge my story by the chapter you walked in on..” Little did anyone know that statement in that tweet was a premonition to things to come as a quarterback for the Miami Dolphins. That tweet has never been as relevant to him as it has this year in August of 2021.
Rewind back to November 16, 2019. It was a clear sunny Saturday afternoon in Starkville, Mississippi with a temperature of 46 degrees farenheight (7.7 degrees celsius) at game time when the Alabama Crimson Tide trotted on to Davis Wade Stadium to play the Mississippi State Bulldogs. Those irritating and noisy cowbell sounds being rung by Bulldogs fans were being heard throughout the stadium, which is a Mississippi State football tradition.
There were questions if Tua Tagovailoa was going to play in the game. A few weeks earlier, Tagovailoa, for the second consecutive year had a tightrope surgery on his ankle due from a high ankle sprain he had suffered in a past game. Recovering from the surgery, he missed the next game against Arkansas. Because Alabama was in a playoff race against undefeated LSU, Tagovailoa chose to play the game against the LSU Tigers, not fully recovered from the surgery. By the time he was on the field for the Mississippi state game, he had both ankles taped heavily and wore modified cleats.
With 14 minutes left in the first half, Tua Tagovailoa was 9/9 for 193 yards with 2 touchdowns and no interceptions. ESPN analyst, Brian Greise, whom played for the Miami Dolphins and is the son of former Miami Dolphins, Bob Griese, disagreed with Tua Tagovailoa playing in the game.
After the first quarter, Griese said on air, “I don’t need to see anything from Tagovailoa. I didn’t need to see him play in this game. If it were me, I would have come out with Mac Jones. You need Tagovailoa to be healthy to beat Auburn in a couple of weeks.” Griese went on to say that Alabama played LSU with an injured quarterback, referring to a limited Tagovailoa after his ankle surgery.
What happened later in the game was dumbfounding to a lot of people. Prior to a break, with three minutes and forty-two seconds left in the second half, ESPN analyst commented, “It appears Tua is done for the day. We’ll say hi to Mac Jones at quarterback for Alabama when we come back.” However, upon returning from the break, Tua was still in the game, and everyone watching the game heard, “Alright, we might have jumped the gun a little bit on putting Tua’s day to bed. Tua Tagovailoa still in there.”
The narrative then went to the conclusion that Tua was lobbying to Nick Saban to stay in the game until halftime. Then, seconds before Tua’s awful hip injury, analyst Brian Griese asked on air the eerie question, “When will Tua check out for the afternoon?” After that, with limited mobility because of his recent ankle surgery and trying to scramble away from two Mississippi State linebackers, Tua threw the ball away and was then fell on by those two defenders.
After Tua Tagovailoa went down, Griese said, “This is exactly what you didn’t want to see happen. And sometimes as a coach, you just got to listen to your gut. And I think Nick wanted to take him out and Tua talked him back into it. And hopefully, this isn’t serious.”
But it was serious. It was so serious that it was the last play that Tua Tagovailoa played as a football player in college football. During that play, he suffered a concussion, a broken nose, a dislocated hip, and a fractured posterior wall.
In an ESPN interview with Kirk Herbstreit a month after his hip injury, Tua never said if he lobbied to stay in the game or not. Tua did admit if there was anyone to blame for the injury, it would be his own fault. He also admitted that he only saw the players in front of him but did not see the players behind him. However, he did say after it was decided that he was going back in the game, it was Nick Saban’s decision to do a two minute drill before halftime.
Ultimately, in an ESPN interview a month later with Laura Rutledge, Tua indeed finally admitted that he was the one that actually did lobby to go back in the game. He told Rutledge, “I don’t regret staying in the game as long as I did. Coach Saban I think, wanted to take me out before that two minute drive. And I kind of told Coach Sark, (Steve Sarkisian), let’s go! And Coach Sark was all in…It was just a freak accident. That play could’ve happened the second play of the game. And I will definitely learn from that. If I see someone running for me, you got to throw it away earlier.”
TUA TAGOVAILOA CONTINUES RECEIVING HEAVY CRITICISM
From the time of his injury to the time of the Kirk Herbstreit December 2019 interview, many fans speculated if Tua Tagovailoa would play college football ever again or even pro football due to the seriousness of the injury. There were many that were speculating that his fate could be the same fate as Bo Jackson, whom suffered a NFL career ending hip injury. However, during that interview, Tagovailoa told Herbstreit that his doctor assured him that the injury is not the end of his football career.
And that his situation was totally different than the Bo Jackson injury. What Tua did indicate in the interview at the time was that if he chose to forego his senior year in favor of entering the NFL draft that it would be a family and business decision and not a decision based entirely on the status of his curruent health situation. That business decision was also a concern for his draft status if he returned to college and got hurt again.
Fast forward to August 2021. From the time Tua Tagovailoa entered the draft, was drafted by the Miami Dolphins, and played in the 2020 season until now, he has faced a plethora of criticism from media and fans alike. He has been called a soft-arm, he is a weaker quarterback than other quarterbacks, his GM screwed up by drafting him, he is not as good as Justin Herbert, lacks mobility, is a Check-Down Charlie, he’s to conservative, he’s not the answer, etc…
Even after he has excelled in training camp, now this past week, the same talking heads have come out again against Tua with statements such as “he will regress, don’t let the camp results blindside you, Tua will still be Tua, interceptions in camp will tell the tale,” etc… All of the reasoning behind this has been discussed before. Controversy sells, he set the bar to high, the hate for Alabama, his former head coach Nick Saban, and the constant hearing of the Tua hype, and the faith he boldly discusses.
Unfortunately, out of all of the criticism, the real story about Tua has been totally overlooked. And nothing sums it up better than that high school tweet: “Don’t judge my story by the chapter you walked in on.” Ironically, that is the very thing that has been happening to him as a Miami Dolphin quarterback.
There are Miami Dolphins fans all over the world. There are 130 Division 1 college football programs in the United States. Out of all of the worldwide fans and those 130 football colleges, only Alabama fans would have most likely been the only ones to watch every play of every game Tua Tagovailoa played in for the three years he was at Alabama. That means most of the people in the world didn’t get to see all there was to see about Tua. To get what Tua was like in college, for most people, all they have was maybe an occasional game watched or YouTube highlights.
But that wasn’t everything that Tua had. Film highlights don’t do justice to Tua’s college career. Tua was more than just good at Alabama. Tua was the best quarterback in the 125 year history of the best college football program in America. Mac Jones may have thrown 4500 yards his senior year and broke the single season college passing efficiency rating at 203.1, but Tua holds the college career passing efficiency rating at 199.4 and still had 3,966 passing yards in 47 less passes than Jones did his senior year during Tua’s sophmore year.
Tua Tagovailoa is also the University of Alabama’s record holder for most career passing touchdowns (87), most single season passing touchdowns (43), and most touchdowns in a game (6). And for the record, when Tua went down with his hip injury, he had a 206.9 passing efficiency rating but was disqualified as an official single season leader record holder since he didn’t have enough attempts.
What many people don’t realize is that Tua didn’t play full 60 minute games at Alabama. He was so good that he had Alabama so far ahead in points, that Coach Saban always rested him the fourth quarter. Yet, he still was able to accrue those kind of numbers and that many touchdowns. Another staggering stat is that during the 2019 season, he was throwing so many touchdowns in so few attempts that if he played an entire season, he was on a pace that would gave him about 70 touchdowns.
That would have been an NCAA record, beating Joe Burrow’s record of 60 touchdowns that year. Prior to entering Alabama, Tua Tagovailoa won the Elite 11 MVP award in 2016 as the best quarterback, beating quarterbacks such as Kellen Mond, Mac Jones, Jake Fromm, Myles Brennan, and Sam Ehlinger. Former NFL quarterback, Trent Dilfer said of Tua’s Elite 11 performance, “I could have put him with Andrew Luck’s pro days. That’s how good Tua’s pro day script was.”
If you have not watched a full college season of Tua Tagovailoa play college football, it would be worth finding those games and watching all of them. Those games are the games that outweigh the stats and highlights. What Tua actually did during those games did more justice than just seeing the stats from the games. During those games, Tua threw the ball with such precise accuracy better than any other college quarterback in the game during that time.
Contrary to false reports, Tua had multiple deep balls that he threw that were so beautiful. Tua Tagovailoa was more than great, he was absolutely terrific. It was a display of athleticism by Tua that was a joy to watch. But those are the games that many people around the world missed. Those are the games that non-Alabama fans did not watch. Those are the games that is a chapter in Tua’s life that a lot of NFL fans missed.
Many NFL fans argue that what Tua Tagovailoa did in college has nothing to do with the NFL and they want to see him be competitive at the NFL level. But in Tua’s defense, during his college years, he played in the Southeastern Conference, which has traditionally been considered one of the best conferences in college football because of the high number of National Championships, five star recruits and number one draft picks from the SEC. Matthew Stafford, Cam Newton, Archie, Eli, and Peyton Manning, Joe Burrow were all SEC quarterbacks just to name a few.
Prior to the NFL draft, Tua was in a series of interviews where he said that the timeline for his hip injury was told to him by his doctor to only be at three months. Whether true or not, there were reports by the time of the NFL draft, because of his injury history, at least two NFL teams failed him on a physical. One of those reports were from former NFL executive, Michael Lombardi, whom was reporting that Tua broke his wrist twice as a quarterback at Alabama. Lombardi is only one of the many sports talking heads that are among the Tua train of hate festivals.
Later in the 2020 season, on a profanity filled Tua bashing rant, Lombardi asked what Tua does elitely? He went on to say that all other rookie quarterbacks are playing at a much higher level than Tua.
However, when it comes to Michael Lombardi’s analysis of Tua Tagovailoa, it must be considered that anything he says about Tua or any quarterback must be approached cautiously with credibility questions since Tua never had a broken wrist in college and Lombardi believed Johnny Manziel was the best quarterback entering college since he was the general manager that drafted him at number one. Regardless of what team may or may not have failed Tua on a physical, the Miami Dolphins passed Tua on a physical and drafted him at number five overall.
What came next for Tua during the 2020 season may have been a lackluster performance for fans and sports media compared to what they were expecting. Statistically speaking, Tua’s rookie season was not as good as other rookie quarterbacks in his draft class. But Tua also only played half of the season with limited strength and mobility. After fans have heard all of the hype built up around Tua, without knowing his history of injuries and his excellent performances in college, the questions and statements like “Is this the best he has?” and “I thought he was supposed to be better than this” became repetitive.
Then the criticism began, especially after the Buffalo Bills game where he threw 3 interceptions. Fans became divided to keep Fitzpatrick as a starting quarterback, but quickly forgot that Fitzpatrick once threw 6 interceptions in a game and Dan Marino threw 2 interceptions and was sacked 3 times against the Buffalo Bills as a rookie. Yet, as mentioned before, many people walked in on the latest chapter of Tua’s football playing career, missing the other chapters.
What many don’t realize is that Tua Tagovailoa is the type of person that will play through an injury unless he can’t move or he is forcefully made to come off the field. After suffering a high ankle sprain in the SEC championship game against Georgia on December 1, 2018 during the first quarter, many people thought Tua was just having a bad game because he chose to play on it until the fourth quarter.
AL.com writer, Matt Zenitz tweeted on December 6, 2018, “Tua suffered a high ankle sprain-a bad one-on Alabama’s fourth snap against Georgia, not on the play during the fourth quarter. Frustrating for people at Alabama is that Tua trying to gut it out and stay in the game may end up costing him the Heisman.”
Tua Tagovailoa replied to the tweet with a retweeted quote on the same day, “It was never about that in the first place. We worked to hard as a team to give up on my brothers.” And that is why he played against LSU in 2019, coming off an ankle surgery just a few weeks earlier. That is also why Tua played at only 60% for the Miami Dolphins during his rookie season, and it will be the reason why Tua will continue to play through injuries unless he can no longer do so. Tua Tagovailoa is all about teamwork and toughing it out because of his team. He doesn’t care about the criticism, the hatefest, nor the praises.
As a football player, Tua, in the most selfless attitude possible, only cares about striving to win together as a team and being part of a team. And while many sports analysts and fans are concentrating on personal stats, they have missed that most important attribute that any football player should have, Tua’s team player mentality.
While sports analysts were demolishing Tua Tagovailoa on their sports shows and in their articles for not being as good as the 100% healthy rookies in his draft class, Tua was doing everything possible as a rookie for his team at only 60% health. What people didn’t realize, when they thought Tua was at 100% health to play in the 2020 season because he passed a physical by the Miami Dolphins, was that he was only playing as 60% healthy as has recently been verified by Tua Tagovailoa’s trainer.
Tua’s trainer, Nick Hicks, speaking on The Tobin and Leroy Show on Sports Talk 790 am, The Ticket in June, Hicks said, “When I first started training him (Tua) he was extremely weak. He was a shell of himself of what he is right now ( June 2021). It’s pretty amazing honestly how weak he was. And the level of play asked of him you know. And people say oh he was cleared to play. No, you need to understand that being cleared to play football and being healthy and ready to play football at the highest level is very different when a doctor clears you from surgery or rehab.
“What they are doing is saying that you can now introduce aspects of the sport into your daily regimen. You can start running, you could start lifting, you could start doing these kind of things. So when they sit there and say, oh he was cleared, he was fine, and you know doctors would have never let him be on the field if he wasn’t ready. The doctors don’t know that. The doctors perform the surgery. They hire physical therapists to run the rehab program. Then, once you pass these very basic tests, they say alright bud, you’re good to go man.
“Get back out there and play ball. And you know, Tua is not going to sit here and say he wasn’t ready or that the doctors should not have cleared him or maybe the coaches shouldn’t have played him. Because Tua doesn’t look at things like that. You know Tua takes every day for what it is. And if he’s cleared to play and he’s asked to play, he’s not going to sit back and be like, Oh, I don’t know if I’m ready…He was at 60% health and that’s not an exaggeration. That’s a pretty legit estimation.”
Unfortunately for Tua, what should have been a miracle comeback story of performing at the highest level in the NFL at only 60% health turned into a hate festival because of the lack of knowledge of the other part of Tua’s story. Those analysts and fans that criticize Tua evidently don’t actually know the details behind Tua’s injury, and his struggle to get to where he is today. They don’t know how good he really was at 100% or what he is truly capable of because they have only seen him perform at 60% health for the Dolphins when they believed he was doing it at 100%.
Tua’s trainer, Nick Hicks said it best in the Tobin and Leroy interview when he said, “I think Tua did a great job last year with the hand that he was dealt. You look at his entire journey to his first start, from the injury, to surgery, to pro day prep, to the pandemic, and not even being able to get into the facilities and train with trainers and start building up that strength and that endurance and that speed again.”
In the end, as a comparison to Tua’s old high school tweet, those that have been criticizing Tua are the ones that are judging him and his story by only the latest chapter they walked in on.