VINCE Young was never going to be stopped on the final drive in the Rose Bowl, not in a million years and not even in two minutes. Matt Leinart was never going to be stopped going back the other way, except the clock ran out. What a fitting summation of this football season, as the colleges ended Wednesday and the pros dove into the playoffs this past weekend. This year certified that quarterbacks stand astride the earth again, heroes of their teams, symbols of American know-how, inspirations for the nation’s youth. Go back no further than 2000 to find a time when quarterback was the incredible shrinking position. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORECoach Doc Rivers a “fan” from way back of Jazz’s Jordan ClarksonFive years ago, you had Chris Weinke winning the Heisman Trophy and taking Florida State to the championship – and then becoming one in a long line of top college quarterbacks to get slapped down to about No. 100 in the NFL draft. You had Trent Dilfer beating Kerry Collins in the Super Bowl – Dilfer earning such honored status that Baltimore cut him loose before the next training camp. You had only three quarterbacks making Pro Football Weekly’s ranking of the NFL’s top 50 players, only Peyton Manning cracking the top 10. Quarterbacks were reduced to functionaries, steering offenses instead of leading them. Look at them now. You have Texas’ Young and USC’s Leinart as worthy title-game duelists, and Leinart about to join fellow Trojan Carson Palmer in making this the first time ever that two Heisman winners have gone in the draft’s top 5 within a three-year span. You have Indianapolis’ Manning beginning the playoffs favored to unseat New England’s Tom Brady on the way to the Super Bowl, unless Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger does it – not a Dilfer in this bunch. You have eight quarterbacks in Pro Football Weekly’s top 50 last off-season, and that was before Palmer proved himself worthy of the list. Quarterbacks – the men, the myths, the legends – aren’t quite back to where they were before the retirements of John Elway, Steve Young, Dan Marino and Troy Aikman in the last years of the millennium. But they’re within passing range of it. One more example of what’s happening here: Quarterbacks won two Heisman Trophies in the 1970s, three in the ’80s, four in the ’90s. They’ve already won five in the 2000s, taking five in a row for the first time ever before Trojans tailback Reggie Bush got the honor this season. More important for the sport is the feeling, beyond the realm of statistics, that quarterbacks are in charge again. Sons are taught to grip the pigskin by the laces and fire spirals. Kids grow up dreaming of becoming quarterbacks. Nobody ever grew up dreaming of becoming a nickel back or any of the dozens of interchangeable parts that make up football teams in the Era of Specialization. The quarterback is as vivid a symbol of strapping manhood as you’ll see this side of a John Wayne movie. There’s just something about confident, can-do, big-time quarterbacks that football is poorer without. Good to have them back. [email protected] (818) 713-3607 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!