Now that Super Bowl XLVIII is in the history books, now that Peyton Manning and the Broncos have been dealt another Super Bowl loss, we find people are once again starting to debate the legacy of Peyton Manning and whether or not he should be considered the "greatest quarterback of all times" (or G.O.A.T.). The Water Cooler Quarterbacks decided to chime in on this topic.
At its simplest, we believe that any discussion of Manning's legacy is premature. A legacy, by definition is anything handed down from the past and is used to refer to what a person leaves behind. Hello . . . Manning has not retired yet. Last we heard, he is planning on returning for the 2014 season. It's a little early to start discussing his legacy as if he has already left the game he loves.
The whole G.O.A.T. discussion is even more pointless. If you are going to crown a person the greatest of all time in a sport, it seems to us that you need a level playing field for the discussion. The NFL does not have such a level playing field. Just think of the evolution of the game.
The NFL counts 1920 as its first official season. That year, fourteen teams played anywhere from one game (the Muncie Flyers) to thirteen games (the Decatur Staleys and the Canton Bulldogs). At the end of the season, the Akron Pros, with an 8-0-3 record were crowned the champions of the league. Ninety-four seasons later, the Seattle Seahawks finished their season with a 13-3-0 record, then had to win two post season games to advance to the championship game and win that game to be crowned the champions of the league. A level playing field? Not hardly.
Another issue confronting the discussion is the statistical data used by proponents and detractors in the discussion. The statistics commonly used to evaluate quarterbacks were not officially recorded by the NFL until 1932. How would we compare quarterbacks who have played since 1932 with those who played before that date. It might be helpful to remember that quarterbacks John "Paddy" Driscoll, Jimmy Conzelman, Benny Friedman and Arnie Herber all made it into the NFL's Hall of Fame without having those stats come under scrutiny. The question of statistics raises another interesting point: "Just which stats do we use?"
Games played, Starts and Quarterback Record?
This would seem to be a little unfair since the NFL did not have a set number games for teams to play prior to 1937. From 1920 to 1936, there were as few as one game played in a season by a team to as many as fourteen played by several teams. From 1937 to 1943, the league chose to have its teams play an eleven-game schedule. During World War II (1944-45), that schedule was reduced to ten games. The schedule returned to eleven games in 1946 and was increased to twelve games in 1947. From 1947 to 1960, the NFL played a twelve-game season (though the AFL played a fourteen game season in 1960). From 1961 to 1977, each NFL team played a fourteen-game schedule. From 1978 to 2013, the NFL has run a sixteen-game schedule -- though it should be recognized that 1982 and 1987 were strike years which saw the seasons reduced to nine and fifteen games, respectively.
Why is the number of games important? Consider: Hall of Fame quarterback Sammy Baugh could have only played a maximum of 180 games in his sixteen seasons. Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway could have had as many as 256 games in his sixteen seasons. How can we compare two players when one has had the opportunity to play the equivalent of six extra seasons in careers comprised of an equal number of seasons? Should Baugh be penalized for not having the opportunity to play as many games? Should Elway be penalized for being allowed to play more games?
A corresponding question in this regard is the idea of quarterback record. This was a stat which was not officially recorded until 1950. What do we do with the quarterbacks whose careers fell prior to that time?
Passing Attempts, Completions, Completion Percentage, Passing Yards and Passing Touchdowns?
Here again, we are comparing apples to oranges. First off, none of these stats were officially recorded prior to 1932, so how do we include quarterbacks prior to that time in the discussion. Even more importantly, the NFL has evolved when it comes to the role of the passing game in the offense. Consider this:
NFL average per team per game
|Year||Total Yards||Passing Yards||% of Total Yards|
It's easy to see that the NFL has been steadily evolving into a predominantly passing game. In fact, most discussions regarding a quarterback center on his ability to pass the ball. Tim Tebow, for example, was considered a bust by many because of his inconsistent ability to deliver the ball in NFL games. Even "running" quarterbacks such as Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson are still graded more on their passing abilities than on their running.
Post season play and Championships?
Once again, we are comparing two different types of fruit. From 1920 until 1932, the "champion" of the league was simply the team that finished with the best record. The NFL did not play a "championship" game until the 1933 season. From 1933 to 1966, the NFL played a single post season, championship game. The NFL did not start a divisional playoff system until 1967. So how can we have a valid comparison of quarterbacks' playoff abilities, when for approximately half of the NFL's history there has not been a playoff system in place?
Championships fall in this same category. For the first thirteen seasons of the league, to win a championship, a quarterback simply had to guide his team to the best record in the league. For the next thirty-four seasons, a quarterback needed to win but a single game to win a championship. During Manning's career, a quarterback would have to win a minimum of three games to win a championship. Is it fair to disadvantage a player due to the number of games he had win in order to win a championship?
Consider further: Y. A. Tittle, Frank Tarkenton, Dan Fouts, Dan Marino, Warren Moon and Jim Kelly were all inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame without having ever won a championship.
One of the Water Cooler Quarterbacks shared that he had recently seen an ESPN panel which included former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis had a discussion on the topic of legacies and the G.O.A.T. One of the points the panel ended up making was that it is the NFL Hall of Fame that represents the highest accolade for a player. Once a player is in the Hall of Fame, one of the panel members stated, the discussion is over. In essence, the attitude was that the Hall of Fame players do not sit around debating who's the best in the Hall.
Perhaps a better question than who is the G.O.A.T would be: "Who are the thirty-one quarterbacks who have been inducted into the NFL's Hall of Fame, and how does Manning's career-to-date compare to their's?"
Next time: Manning and the Hall of Fame Quarterbacks.