February 4, 2010

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LONGSHOTS: Peyton’s place in historical pecking order on the line Sunday
by Dave Long

Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan wrote last Sunday that, if I understood it correctly, Peyton Manning is the greatest quarterback of all time. And no matter what he does this Sunday it won’t matter a hoot to his proclamation.

The main premises were that you don’t judge quarterbacks by how many rings they have and in addition to Manning’s celestial game, the physical and intellectual evolution of modern football renders comparisons of quarterbacks from yesteryear moot — which is hard to dispute. But since he humbly said, in ending, that if you challenge it “you’d be wrong,” I think I’ll give it a try.

I agree Manning does play the position better than anyone ever has, for all the physical and intellectual reasons Ryan stated. BUT, while it’s not the only factor, being the best of all time is about winning. And while he’s done it in the regular season and won one NFL title, to this point he’s still a little like A-Rod, a guy with an up and down playoff record. There are some great games like the comeback in the  2006 AFC title game against the Patriots. But there’s also his throwing four interceptions in the 2003 AFC Championship game loss to the Pats, his not even getting a TD a year later in a 20-3 loss when the Patriots’ defensive backfield was wiped out with injuries, and last year, when after winning nine straight to close the season, his team lost to the 8-8 Chargers in round one.

I’m not here to pick on Manning and have no quarrel with anything Ryan said about his brilliance. Plus I’d be a hypocrite to take the other side, since just two weeks ago I made the case he should be the athlete of the decade over Tiger Woods after doing to the NFL record books what Tiger’s doing in golf. And that he hasn’t won as many “majors” because Tiger doesn’t have others around to drag him down — like Mike Vanderjagt choking in the 2005 playoffs by sending a game-tying field goal farther to the right than Rush Limbaugh after Manning put them in position to go to overtime.

But, while this may sound like parsing words, there is a difference between playing the position better than anyone ever has and being the best quarterback of all time. And where I come from, playing big when it counts most and winning when you have the better team or a comparable one counts for a lot in the “who’s the best” debate.

And while it doesn’t alter the size/intellect part of his argument, in talking about the superior numbers of quarterbacks today Ryan did fail to mention other reasons numbers have soared in this era. First, they only played 12 games a season until 1960. It was 14 between 1961 and 1977, after which it went to 16. That cost Fran Tarkenton two-plus seasons of games, and while that’s not enough hold off Brett Favre as the TD pass leader it would’ve gotten him close to 400 instead of the 342 he retired with as the all-time leader. 

Plus ALL the rules are weighted to the passer. They bumped and ran all through every pass route back in the day. Offensive linemen now hold on every play, unless it’s a takedown and the penalty for it is just 10 yards and not the more onerous 15. Rushers can’t smack/punch helmets as Deacon Jones did to linemen all the time. And it’s had as big an impact on passing records as steroids has had on baseball’s records (although legally). The result of that extra help was the empty backfield and five wide out sets of today’s pass-happy game because keeping backs in to block isn’t as essential now. Plus interception rates are way down and completion percentages way up because it’s understood that the vertical game of the days when Lance Alworth and others routinely averaged 20 yards plus per catch is way too risky — which I know makes the case about evolved coaching.

He’s also right that Terry Bradshaw’s four rings don’t make him the best ever, because the Steelers defense was the story in the first two, though he was in the last two. I hate to think what Dan Marino would have done with the running game and defense Bradshaw had. But he didn’t have it and as a result only got to the big game once. He didn’t play great, but he didn’t play bad in losing against a 49ers team that went 18-1. Does that mean he shouldn’t be in the “greatest ever” conversation because his supporting cast just wasn’t as good as Bradshaw and others had? 

So winning the big one can’t be the sole determinant of how good someone is, because it’s more complicated than that. Generally Marino made middling teams better than they should have been, which tells you how good he was. Or how about the early John Elway, who had awful games in his first three Super Bowls when the Broncos got destroyed by better teams? Was he a guy who couldn’t win the big one? Or somebody who got inferior teams past better ones in earlier playoff rounds due to big game brilliance? I always thought it was the latter — even though I know he has a little help from Earnest Byner in 1988. And there’s Brett Favre, whose stunning statistical record was outlined by Ryan (though he didn’t mention the amazing nine seasons with 30 TD passes). He’s won a Super Bowl and has all those records, but he’ll be remembered as much for HUGE picks at inopportune times like in New Orleans this year.

Which brings me back to the notion that winning and playing BIG when it counts matters. I know it’s a different game, but isn’t winning the case for Bill Russell over Wilt — who has all the numbers except the one that matters? The only way anyone can convince me Wilt was better is if they magically switched places and Wilt won 12 times in the same 13 years Russell won 11 titles. And even with all the changes it’s the same in football.

The way I see it there are two best-of-the-best categories: the one whose game is the product of great skill and the evolution Ryan speaks of, and the one who dominated their era better than anyone else. I agree Manning is the winner in the first. And probably will be in the other as well, but he won’t unless he picks up a little more hardware when it’s all on the line like it is on Sunday.

That’s why I disagree with what Ryan said about Manning. Sunday really is important to his legacy and place among the best of the best. Because chances like this are hard to come by and if he throws up a stinker or a mediocre game in a Colts loss it will stick with him.

No matter what the ultimate numbers say.

Dave Long can be reached at dlong@hippopress.com. He hosts Dave Long and Company from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. each Saturday on WGAM – The Game, 1250-AM Manchester, 900-AM Nashua.


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1/21/2010 The 2000s decade gets a last blast from the past

1/14/2010 Patriots marching toward an off-season rebuild
1/7/2010 Questions abound as second season arrives for Pats
12/31/2009 Numbers tell the story for 2009 in review
12/24/2009 Holiday presents for the sports naughty and nice
12/17/2009 Life can be like riding a tiger by the tail
12/10/2009 The mailbag beckons in a busy week
12/3/2009 Is hot stove turning into ho seat for Theo?
11/26/2009 Thanks and turkeys are the usual holiday fare this time of year
11/19/2009 Belichick's fourth-down cal lconfounds Patriot Nation
11/12/2009 the mid-year report for the NFL
11/05/2009 Ducks on the pond as Oregon drowns USC title hopes
10/29/2009 Run for the title looks in store for Celtics
10/22/2009 Mt. Rushmore of Patriots moments
10/15/2009 Changes I'd like to see happen
10/8/2009 Predictable ending to 2009 baseball prediction game
10/1/2009 Bay watch on for Sox MVP
9/24/2009 Pitch count police trigger another dreamlike episode
9/17/2009 The mailbags open for business
9/10/2009 Pats now see more clearly what needs to be done for '09
9/3/2009 On the shrink's couch in a near francoma
8/27/2009 Random thoughts and big refrigerator magnets
8/20/2009 Sixty-one years later and Ruth's still in the conversation8/13/2009 Empire strikes back during annual visit
8/6/2009 Ortiz and Manny's steroid story tests fans as well
7/30/2009 Trading places not as simple as "I'll take the old guy"7/23/2009 Mailbag delivers some interesting questions and answers
7/16/2009 Random thoughts for a lazy summer day
7/9/2009 Season's second half is when it'll get interesting for the Sox
7/2/2009 Declaring independence of how others play the game
6/25/2009 Finding the right plan is as easy as A, B, C with Celtics
6/18/2009 A great experience came in the Knick of time
6/11/2009 Ripping key to Rodney's broadcast success?
6/4/2009 The Mt. Rushmores of the red Sox-Yankees rivalry
5/28/2009 First-place Sox are making the grade
5/21/2009 NBA rivalries have no rival in other team sports
5/14/2009 Lying from baseball's Pinocchio prompts questions
5/7/2009 Celtics bull their way into round two — finally!
4/30/2009 Tanked from the headlines, the Fenway series yanks it back
4/23/2009 Draft winds blow NFL teams to make interesting decisions
4/16/2009 Spring cleaning of a cluttered sports mind
4/9/2009 Red Sox Nation springs back to life
4/2/2009 Climbing sports Mt. Rushmore
3/26/2009 Mount Rushmore offerings and other spring thoughts
3/19/2009 B-Ball, Coach B and Baseball in the mailbag today
3/12/2009 Great talent a rush but not all it's cracked up to be
3/5/2009 In Bill we still trust?
2/26/2009 A mountain over this molehill
2/19/2009 Steroids muscle in on game's strength
2/12/2009 Bonner bombs away on Cs in garden party homecoming
2/5/2009 Nation's angst ends as V-Tek says what the heck and rejoins flock
1/29/2009 Super Bowl Sunday brings to mind past and present
1/22/2009 The elusive quality of greatness is the topic of the day
1/15/2009 Spring cleaning of the sports mind a little early
1/8/2009 Will hall have Rice on the menu come July
1/1/2009 Predictions and wants for the year ahead
12/25/2008 A look in the rear view mirror at 2008
12/18/2008 The Pats' playoff run and new Yankees contracts make big news
12/11/2008 Random thoughts and associations
12/4/2008 Pats should consider options when it comes to Cassel and Brady
11/27/2008 Putting the thanks in Thanksgiving
11/20/2008 News of the week has people talking
11/13/2008 Cassel's in the clouds compared to early expectations11/6/2008 Mail bag delivers some interesting questiont10/30/2008"Yankees Suck" - like mentality fuels political discontent10/23/2008 No ray of hope as season closes in Tampa Bay
10/16/2008 Going to the nines a thing of the past
10/9/2008 C-eeing some interesting stories unfold this week
10/2/2008 "How come?" is the main question of the day
9/25/2008 Observations on baseball in 2008
9/18/2008 If I were a QB, a DB, a stat geek or a soccer mom ...
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9/4/2008 Pats start off with high expectation and some concerns
8/28/2008 A race to the finish to take all month long
8/21/2008 National news items of interest for local folks
8/14/2008 A little of this and that from the good side of sports pile
8/7/2008 Manny happy returns from the Evil Empire
7/31/2008 Manny being Manny - the sequel Part XXXII
7/24/2008 Open the mail bag for some Red Sox questions
7/17/2008 Hall-worthy or not the latest question on Schilling
7/10/2008 Baseball season has actually started
7/03/2008 UL editorial in denial — stop the presses
6/26/2008 Boston turnaround makes NBA green with envy
6/19/2008 Letters from the NBA finals
6/12/2008 A Father's Day letter to dad
6/5/2008 Twenty-one and six are the lucky numbers for the Cs
5/29/2008 Sometimes a bat is just a bat
5/22/2008 Some questions for folks right up there in the front row
5/15/2008 Numbers don't add up to supposed Fenway
5/8/2008 Cavalier attitude nearly derails first meeting with LeBron
5/1/2008 I'm so old,I remember ...
4/24/2008 Sox Line-ups, Celtics and ESPN investigations are in the mail bag
4/17/2008 Show me the way to that All-Star Game
4/10/2008 For C'ing a great time ahead as playoffs arrive this spring
4/3/2008 Bill James and the stats for 2008 — Take Two
3/27/2008 Drowning in the NCAA office pool
3/20/2008 Whether forecast is right or not is the question
3/13/2008 Comment sparks wonder over just what I did
3/6/2008 New hires, new trades in pro sports
2/28/2008 Celtics issues far from black and white in the early days
2/21/2008 Congressional ineptitude muscles in on steroid hearings
2/14/2008 Basketball rounds into form under the cover of Pats football
2/7/2008 A giant win leaves Patriots fans feeling blue
1/31/2008 Foxboro lads earn pats on the back, and old Celtics mystique makes sense
1/24/2008 Mail bag asks about Rice, the hall and wild-eyed liberals
1/17/2008 Peyton manning the fort back home as Pats take on Chargers
1/10/2008 Grumpy old Dolphins are lost at sea on this one
1/3/2008 The primary concern is getting a clear picture
12/27/2007 The annual sports awards close out 2007
12/20/2007 Holiday gifts for the deserving and not so deserving
12/13/2007 Jets land in Foxboro as pat go number 14
12/06/2007 To include or not to include Ellsbury — that is the questione
11/29/2007 Yanked from the sports pages in the Big Apple
11/22/2007 Here's what I'm thankful for at Thanksgiving
11/15/2007 Waiting game leads to a series of random thoughts
11/8/2007 OK — it's week nine and I'm ready to talk
11/1/2007 Finally a little shut-eye for a sleep deprived nation
10/25/2007 A rocky mountain high for Red Sox Nation
10/18/2007 Time to go to the mailbag
10/112007 Who'd more popular, Patriots or Red Sox
10/4/2007 IA weekend chock full of nuts, chokes and great moments
9/27/2007 I hate to say I told you so...
9/20/2007 Media and fan bias shades the severity of sports crime
9/13/2007 All round baseball week starts with a look at leaders
9/6/2007 It's Superbowl or bust for Pats in 2007
8/30/2007 The race is on as baseball enters September
8/23/2007 Spine vs. lack of spine theme for school board debate
8/16/2007 Time for thoughts from the summer mailbag
8/9/2007 Will this three make it big in Boston?
8/2/2007 Trading places all in a day's work for Boston GMs
7/26/2007 Getting out of a slump; an ameteur golfer can feel Sox' pain
7/19/2007 Does second chance guarantee a great outcome?
7/12/2007 Masse still a honeymooner in local baseball culture
7/5/2007 Brown Monster a big Fisher Cat hit
6/28/2007 Rambling along with some random thoughts
6/21/2007 The future is now for the C's come Thursday night
6/14/2007 Homers create bonds among fans for generations
6/07/2007 Sox win by losing two of three this weekend
5/31/2007 Lutz of things to think about
5/24/2007 Down 2-0 M’s for playoff payoff
5/17/2007 Baseballs' conventional wisdom is for the birds
5/10/2007 The Rocket lands in Gotham during Monarchs' playoff break
5/3/2007 Raiders say "No Moss" in fight with talented wideout
4/26/2007 A little history on the ancient Sox and Yanks rivalry
4/19/2007 Lessons to be learned from Robinson, Monarchs and I-Man
4/12/2007 A few questions for the sports gods
4/5/2007 Stanton his case on a variety of current topics
3/29/2007 Sox spring back into action on Monday
3/22/2007 A guide for having fun on NCAA hockey weekend
3/15/2007 The madness of March kicks off on Thursday
3/8/2007 Jumping through hoops after an odd season
3/1/2007 A trip to the mail bag for Hippo Sports
2/22/2007 Six degrees of Muhammed Ali
2/15/2007 Monarchs rule as streak reaches 12
2/8/2007 Talking a good game ahead on all-sports WGAM
2/1/2007 Manning the Super Bowl watch more difficult in '07
1/25/2007 Winning and what else matters in college coaching
1/18/2007 ESPN polls are fanning the flames of national lunacy
1/11/2007 Patriots marching to MIami promised land
1/4/2007 Predictions for 2007
12/28/2006 REcognizing the best on the national front
12/21/2006 Present under the tree for all
12/14/2006 Mailbag open for busines at a time filled with questions
12/07/2006 Lions and Gators and Bears, oh my
11/30/2006 Does Fenway frankness roll to the negative side?
11/23/2006 Turkeys and thanks as the big day arrives
11/16/2006 Green-around-the-gills Celts looking to earn some respect
11/9/2006 Blame game reaches new local low
11/2/2006 A week of highs and lows in sport
10/26/2006 Curses! The U is foiled again
10/19/2006 Time for a trip to the sports mailbag
10/12/2006 U turns Granite Stare around on football
10/05/2006 James' gang riding into town to face the Celtics
09/28/2006 Words to describe a lost Red Sox season
09/21/2006 Football Friday can't stack up to Saturday
09/14/2006 A lesson to be learned in remembering a somber day
09/07/2006 Usual pat choice to win AFC East questioned
08/31/2006 Whining won't yank AL East away from NY
08/24/2006 Spring forward or fall behind for Sox
08/17/2006 Trash talking abounds in the Empire over Sox and Pats
08/10/2006 Monarchs call press conference to crown new leader
08/03/2006 Deadly Fenway duo leave mark on history
07/27/2006 Word of the wise gets lost in sports translation
07/20/2006 Looking beyond the Big Three
07/13/2006 Cream rises to the top of baseball talk at the Dot
07/06/2006 Greetings and salutations toThe Nation at mid-year
06/29/2006 Being dealt is a consequence of the trade
06/22/2006 A year later, Boudreau's cup runneth over
06/15/2006 See dogs and cats battle for a different fan experience
06/08/2006 Not Bad Anymore league makes a comeback
06/01/2006 Luck goes Sox way with Lowell in Massachusetts
05/25/2006 Pitching in to help the Sox trade a few places
05/18/2006 Going to school by cutting Red Sox payroll
05/11/2006 Columnist blows his mind; here are the results
05/04/2006 Yanks stormed Manchester 37 years ago this week
04/27/2006 Regular crowd nowhere to be found come playoff time
04/20/2006 Questions and answers from the mailbag
04/13/2006 Local sports teams spring into action
04/06/2006 Predictable Red Sox season lies ahead
03/30/2006 Analyzing this and that as Pats roster shrinks
03/23/2006 A week of following the bouncing balls
03/16/2006 The beginning of four days of basketball bliss
03/09/2006 Many miss the central point of the story
03/02/2006 Better late than never to jump through local hoops
02/23/2006 Celtic green means raw, not envy as it once did
02/16/2003 An issue that is all black and white
02/09/2006 Nomar curses from the UL's Sullivan
02/02/2006 Super memories from 40 years of watching the big game
01/26/2006 A certain uniformity to the inquiries in the mailbag
01/19/2006 Sudden end to Pats' season leave just one thing to do
01/12/2006 Pats on the back for the football team
01/05/2006 Predictions for Manchester Sports 2031
A lesson for Leo the Lip and nice guys everywhere

Chop House opening is Berra of good news
Event-filled weekend missed en route to evil empire
Hero’s death lays to rest misuse of the word
Saint Theo ascends to new heights in The Nation
Santa sack filled to the brim with sports
Patriots march through injuries toward threepeat
Sports talk should be on the air
Stars shine brightest when winning is in the mix
The Demonization of Johnny Damon
Thirty-seven topics and so little space
Too many holes in Sox for repeat
Trip to the injured list makes it a long weekend for local scribe
Turkeys and giving thanks take center stage this week
Yanked from the edge of your seat