Column: There's no "win" in quarterback
Published: Wednesday, January 23, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, January 23, 2013 22:01
A couple quick questions for you:
In your esteemed estimation, who’s the better quarterback: out-of-work Vince Young or superstar Drew Brees?
Next up, who between Young and Super Bowl champion Kurt Warner was the better signal caller during his playing days?
Finally, who had the more successful career under center: Young or Hall-of-Famer Dan Marino?
Now, I hope these have been the stupidest questions you’ve faced in quite some time, as any non-Young stalker would choose each second option instantaneously. You’d do so for a variety of reasons, perhaps citing higher career completion percentages, more total yards, touchdowns or the possibility I’m insane for even asking this stuff.
Maybe you’d even point to Brees, Warner and Marino being better “winners” relative to Young.
But, funny story: Vince Young actually owns a better career winning percentage than all three of them. So, what would this mean if you were to compare the three again?
Well, about as much as it would to receive a love note from Lennay Kekua (obligatory Manti Te’o joke - check):
Nil. Nada. Nothing.
The win-loss records generated by the teams Young competed for over his career are no real indicator of his individual performance. Why? Because they’re team results, and he is just one player. These records mean seemingly as much on Young’s resume as they do for the team’s kicker, back-up running back or offensive line.
And the same goes for Brees, Warner and Marino, three of the best quarterbacks the sport has ever seen. But it’s not because of what their teams did while they played; it’s what they accomplished individually, throwing the ball and running offense.
Now, of course, these things helped their clubs achieve their goals and rack up wins simultaneously. But they didn’t do win alone, so you can’t attribute a team’s overall success or failure as a sole product of their efforts. Football is a team game, more so than any other sport.
Think about this: just days ago, Joe Flacco and the Ravens topped the Patriots to go to the Super Bowl. Three years earlier, Baltimore also beat New England 33-14 during the Wild Card round. Do you know what Flacco’s stat line was in that game?
4-10 for 34 yards and an interception thrown. Did Flacco beat the Patriots that day? Hell no, he inhibited the Ravens from blowing them out further. The Ravens as a team won, though. Yet game after game, especially in the playoffs, we tack another “win” to the winning quarterback’s résumé.
Speaking of résumés, lets talk about the quarterback on the opposite sideline both three years and half a week ago - Tom Brady.
Brady is a mainstay in the discussion of the greatest quarterback of all-time because he is one of the most proficient, accurate and tremendous passers ever to hold a football. But another reason too often put forth is his track record in terms of “winning,” particularly in the post-season.
Is Brady a three-time Super Bowl champion today without offensive lines to protect him, receivers to catch passes and the stellar defenses and brilliant coaching that backed him during those Super years? Could he have accomplished all the “winning” that he did and continues to do playing one-on-eleven?
No. There’s a better chance of a given person being thrilled to learn that their parents are porn stars. No one person can win a team game. But we speak and record our football history as though this is possible.
The other present competitor for title of all-time best, Peyton Manning, suffers the reverse of this backwards logic. He’s won just one Super Bowl and endured 11 playoff exits. 10 days ago, after the Ravens miraculously escaped Denver with a win, that’s exactly all you heard about. Manning can’t cut it when it counts.
Never mind the 32 career post-season touchdown passes, 21 interceptions and completion percentage of 63.2. Nor the fact that all those numbers came against playoff-worthy defenses. Nor that the Denver defense, over which Manning has no control, indisputably blew the game with 30 seconds left to go—like it was one of the terrible Colt defenses he played with for 14 years.
Yet you and I continue to hear about “quarterback wins.”
“Brady has moved into 5th all-time for most wins by a quarterback.”
“Flacco has six wins on the road in his post-season career.”
“Manning hasn’t won a game played under 30 degrees, the wind above 15 mph, without Wheaties for breakfast and when Ke$ha was played at least once over the loud speakers during a commercial break.”
So, why is this still a part of our sports culture? Well, as is for most things, there is a variety of reasons.
First, it fits the narrative we as a sports society have constructed about the quarterback position as a leader, superstar, hero and sometimes legend, all rolled into one. Indeed, it is the most demanding, important job in sports. The best in the business are allowed the freedom to change anything about a play while the game is going on. They’re granted the greatest glory and charged with being the greatest goats.
But quarterbacks don’t have enough control to deserve all of the blame or all of the glory for any game's outcome. Each whole team on a football field is only responsible for just less than half of what will go on, with the rest determined by random, uncontrollable events—weather, close referee decisions, injuries, etc.
So how could one person win or lose a game with 22 players on the field at all times? The answer is they couldn’t. But if there was ever a person in sports to do the impossible, it would be an NFL quarterback.
Second, it’s the easy way out. Instead of detailing intricate match-ups in all three phases of the game, coaching decisions, statistical trends and schematic adjustments, we point to things like “turning points” or conclude that “Oh, he just outdueled the other guy and that's why they won”