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Friday, January 25, 2013

'He Can't Win the Big One'

            Last football commentary until Labor Day — I promise. But there’s a certain type of sports bloviating, rampant at this time of year, that annoys me no end, and I need to vent.
            Every NFL postseason triggers a wave of commentary about quarterbacks, more specifically putting them down because their team didn’t win the Super Bowl. A few years into the career of every successful NFL quarterback, that will start to be held against him, as in, “He can’t win the big one.” This year, it’s already being muttered about Peyton Manning, Tom Brady (who’s won three, but they say he can’t do it any more!) and Matt Ryan.
            Horseradish, I say. Quarterbacks don’t win Super Bowls; teams do. A good quarterback helps the team considerably, but rarely can a terrific quarterback take a flawed team the distance. At some point, the weight becomes too much for anyone, no matter how good, to carry.

Which One Would You Pick?

            Any time I hear a commentator opine that a quarterback can’t win the big one, a hypothetical question comes to my mind. If you were building a football team and choosing a quarterback, who would you pick from the following choices: Trent Dilfer, Jeff Hostetler, Mark Rypien, Doug Williams, Dan Fouts, Dan Marino, Fran Tarkenton, or Jim Kelly?
            The difference, of course, is that the first four quarterbacks won Super Bowls and aren’t in the Hall of Fame, and justifiably so. The latter four never did, but are in the Hall of Fame. There isn’t a quarterback in the second group that I wouldn’t pick over anybody from the first group, with no hesitation whatsoever.
            For that matter I’d take Peyton Manning, with his one Super Bowl ring, ahead of Terry Bradshaw (four rings), Troy Aikman (three) and Bob Griese and Jim Plunkett (two). Manning is the better quarterback, but the others had the benefit of playing for better teams (and perhaps coaches), so they carried home more titles. Manning had his team up by a touchdown with half a minute to play against Baltimore this year, when the defense inexplicably gave up a 70-yard touchdown pass. Anyone think a team coached by Don Shula, Chuck Noll or Jimmy Johnson would have done that?

The Necessity of a Star Defender

            Actually, if you look at the history of the Super Bowl, almost every winning team has had at least one Hall of Fame defensive player. The deeper a team goes into the playoffs, the more important a great defender becomes, because the extraordinary things that guy can do will enable his teammates to cover the many threats posed by a strong opponent playing late into the postseason.
            When Joe Montana “won” four Super Bowls, he did it with Hall of Fame defensive players like Ronnie Lott and Fred Dean backing him up. They covered his extremely rare mistakes, and kept the team in the game so Montana’s quarterback play could win it. Tom Brady didn’t have that sort of defensive cover this year, and his team lost to Baltimore, with at least two certain Hall of Fame players on its defensive unit.
            Finally, consider Steve Young. Two years in a row, he took the 49ers to the NFC Championship Game, where they lost to the Cowboys. Commentators were talking. Then cornerback Deion Sanders (now in the Hall) signed up for a season and the Niners won it all. Deion left, and the following year, Young and the Niners lost in the first round of the playoffs. Young is one of the best that ever played, but if not for Deion, they’d still be saying, “He couldn’t win the big one.”