Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Manning & Brady

A little divergence from Syracuse basketball for the next day or so.
Congratulations to Peyton Manning and the Syracuse Four (Marvin Harrison, Dwight Freeney, Josh Thomas and Ryan LaCasse) for making the Super Bowl. I had meant to write this article prior to the Colts beating the Pats, but the content is still relevant.

From my perspective, there is a difference between the statement “which player had a greater career” and “which was the greater player”? The former focuses on what was accomplished, and latter on who was the best. They could be the same, but just as often, it could be different answers.

There is no doubt that at this point, Tom Brady has had a greater career than Peyton Manning. Brady has won three Super Bowls, and Manning none. They play the game to win, and Brady clearly accomplished more. However, the Super Bowl Championships does not mean that Brady is the better quarterback, they guy that you want leading your team over all others. Sure it's evidence to support that position, strong evidence, but it’s not the definitive evidence that many fans issue.

I'll start this by saying I think Tom Brady is a great quarterback. Possibly the best of our era; definitely one of the best. Amazing under pressure; an outstanding leader and an uncanny knack to make the big play at the right time. Like most fans out there, I also think that Bill Belicheck is a great coach, one of the best defensive minds out there. And I think Adam Vinatieri is a great kicker.

And that’s where I have an issue with pointing at championships as the definitive measure of how great a player is. Team sports are won by teams, not by individuals. It is a collective triumph, a collective failure. If all the players don’t work together, the big stars aren’t in a position to win the game when it matters. The big stars have to come through when it matters, but they also have to be given that opportunity.

Let’s follow the assumption that Belicheck is as great a defensive coach as we credit him to be. When the Patriots beat the Colts in past seasons in the playoffs, wasn’t it more of an issue of Belicheck vs Manning, not Brady vs Manning? I’ve never seen Tom Brady intercept a Manning pass, or sack Manning, or force Manning into a rushed pass. So Manning struggled against the greatest defensive minded coach of our era; and he looked bad doing it. How many times in his career has Tom Brady faced a Bill Belicheck defense? Zero. How would Mr. Brady do against a Bill Belicheck defense? I doubt we’ll ever know the answer to that question. For you devout Patriot fans, what would the answer be? I’m curious.

Adam Vinatieri is considered the greatest clutch kicker of our generation, if not of all time. He earned the reputation by repeatedly proving himself in clutch situations in January games. It begs the question then: if the Patriots had such a great defensive team, lead by the greatest defensive minded coach of our era, and the best quarterback of our era, how come they often had to find themselves in a position for their field goal kicker to win them games?
If they had a lesser kicker, the assumption is they would have lost those games (because the implication is that Vinatieri is a great kicker because he made the clutch kicks that most other kickers wouldn’t have made… otherwise, what was so great about it?) Would Brady have been any lesser of a quarterback because a lesser kicker had missed the field goal, and thus cost the Pats the titles? That would seem absurd, right? Yet, isn’t that really the argument people are making?
I think back to the great Miami / Boston College football game where Doug Flutie won the shootout with the Hail Mary at the end. Was Bernie Kosar any less of a quarterback because Flutie made that pass, forcing Kosar to lose? Would Flutie have been any less of a quarterback if Phelan dropped the ball in the endzone?

It is fair to say that Brady succeeded in the opportunities he was given, where historically Manning came up short. Very relevant arguments that need to brought into the discussion; but not the definitive answer. It is a team game. It takes 53 guys to win. 53 to lose.
My intent here is not to choose one of these quarterbacks over the other. I'm not trying to make an argument for one or for the other. I just want to challenge the thinking of many of you out there; I think falling back on who won more is the easy way out, and leads to biased results. But I think it would be gutless of me to write an article, and not state some conclusion.

I would take either guy to quarterback my team, and be very happy with it. I just have a sense that Peyton Manning does more to help a team win, that he is more important to the success of the Colts than Brady is to the success of the Patriots. I also think Manning is more instrumental in the Colt losses than Brady is in the Patriot losses. In my opinion, the Colts have been more dependent on Manning playing well than the Pats on Brady.

For that reason, I’ll take Mr. Manning. But Mr. Brady can still play for me any day!

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