(JSG note: I changed the format of the blog and for some reason this post just BLEW UP the font size for some reason…and I can’t fix it no matter how hard I try. So we’re just gonna leave it for now. Sorry, ST! On the plus side, now we can share your post with people all the way across a room! Or with my grandparents from a few inches away.)
Want to have a productive discussion with an NFL fan?? Try bringing up who they think the best quarterback of all time is and why. Their response will inevitably be: “bwuhhhhh who’s won the most Super Bowls again?”
Montana is the best because he has the best record and stats in the big game. Brady is better than Manning because he has more rings. Hell, Eli is better than Peyton because he’s “clutch.” Is there a more asinine reductionist argument than who has won more Super Bowls?
Football is a game played 11 on 11. Teams are composed of 53 players. Every team utilizes three units to win games: offense, defense, and special teams. Most players are exclusive to one of these units. Injuries and substitutions are inevitable. By my count, we are talking a minimum of roughly 33 players contributing to these units, and that is a conservative total. In the modern era of the NFL, starting QB’s only play offense (aside from the occasional placeholder, looking at you Romo). Plays they can personally influence is often far under 50%. Even if you account for the fact that they have the largest effect on a team’s production, a QB can only do so much to “win” the game. So let’s look back at a list of recent Super Bowls since the 2000 season and look at how much the QB truly changed the outcome of the game:
2000: Ravens vs Giants
REALLY this is the game we are starting with? Yes, Trent Dilfer technically won a ring as a starting QB. Never mind he had one of the greatest defenses of all time. Baltimore ran away with this one 34-7 and Ray Lewis (a linebacker) was the game’s MVP. Yea… sorry Dilfer, this one doesn’t count for ya. By the way, Dilfer’s opponent? Kerry FUCKING Collins.
2001: Patriots vs Rams
Oh yes, the game that began the legacy of Tom Brady. The QB who “just wins” big games. Brady led a few good drives throughout the playoffs that were capped off by Adam Vinatieri field goals, but really the Pats were a defense-based team that had no business ever making it to the big game. First of all, this is an incomplete pass. A horrible call led to the Pats getting the ball back on a game-clinching forced fumble by Charles Woodson. The Pats got another shot, and the game was won by Adam Vinatieri on an insane kick into the wind during a blizzard. Vinatieri admitted it was the hardest kick he’s ever made. After this lucky and improbable win, and a win against the Steelers that Brady missed half of due to injury (thanks Bledsoe…you’re cut), the Patriots were matched up against the vaunted “Greatest Show on Turf” St. Louis Rams team. The Rams that year were first in the league in offense, passing yards, yards per attempt, passing touchdowns, rushing touchdowns, and more. So what did Tom Brady do? He held that offense to just 17 points and kicked a game winning field goal! What’s that? His defense and kicker did all that? Brady went 16/27 for 145 yards and 1 TD. Sorry, not giving this one to him.
2002: Buccaneers vs Raiders
Ahhh, a classic and easy example of how the far worse QB can win a Super Bowl over one of the better players in the league. The red-hot defense-led Bucs featured the steady-yet-mediocre hyphen-worthy Brad Johnson facing off against the QB driven Raiders led by Rich Gannon. This article is taking longer than originally anticipated and there isn’t much of a question on this one so I will keep it simple: the Bucs defense scored three touchdowns to Johnson’s two, and this one was a runaway early on. Not a great start to the decade for the Raiders and not a great example of a QB “winning” the game for his team.
2003: Patriots vs Panthers
Hey! The first game where there is a legit argument to be made that the QB won the game for his team! Brady played well in this game, but you know who played surprisingly well? Jake Delhomme. Remember him? Yea, he was a professional athlete. In the second half the Pats and Panthers went back and forth scoring and this game had one of those “the last team that has the ball is going to win” kind of feels. And that’s how it worked out. Last two possessions: Delhomme tossed a beautiful dime to Ricky Proehl with Willie McGinist bearing down on him on an unblocked blitz for a touchdown, giving the Pats one last shot to win the game. Conveniently for Brady, Panthers kicker John Kasay kicked the ball out of bounds on the ensuing kickoff, giving the Pats the ball at the 40 yard line. Brady did a great job putting his team in position to kick a 41 yard field goal with nine seconds left, using their last timeout. However he still had to rely on the oft-mentioned Adam Vinatieri to hit a pressure-packed kick to win the Super Bowl, which was out of his control. Point is, if Kasay doesn’t kick the ball out of bounds, it’s an entirely different game. If we look at small tweaks to a few games, i.e. the “Tuck Rule” game is called a fumble and Kasay doesn’t kick that ball out of bounds, there’s a good chance you’re labeling Brady a choker, not “Mr. Clutch.” We’re talking hairline differences here folks.
2004: Patriots vs Eagles
The Patroits again!??!? This HAS to be all Tom Brady and has nothing to do with having the best coach of his generation (and in some opinions all time), great GM work, an awesome ownership group and team philosophy, Corey Dillon and the running game having an amazing year, or any of that. NO. Tom Brady is the clutchiest slice of perfection that has ever walked the earth. He played a solid game, and did what it took to win. But his team did a huge part of the heavy lifting: the defense picked off McNabb three times, Dillon contributed 75 yards and a touch, and Troy Brown set the postseason record for punt return yardage. A nice team win.
2005: Steelers vs Seahawks
Ben Roethlisberger: 9/21, 123 YD, 0 TD, 2 INT
Antwaan Randle El 1/1, 43 YD, 1 TD, 0 INT
2006: Colts vs Bears
This is a funny game because Peyton Manning was unquestionably the leader of the Colts and if there was ever a player that drove his team (specifically the offense), it’s him. Yet his team won with a substandard game from Manning. His line: 25/38, 247 YD, 1 TD, 1 INT. Now, obviously stats don’t tell the whole story, and based on what we’ve seen from previous Super Bowl winners, this is actually a relatively decent game. But here’s the thing: the Colts defense, despite being the WORST team against the run in the league that year, came on strong in the playoffs. The biggest difference? Bob Sanders came back at the right time, gave the defense a swagger, and what was once a weakness became a strength. In the Super Bowl, the Colts D forced five turnovers, had a pick-six, and made this a game Dilfer, 2001 Brady, Johnson, and Roethlisberger all could have easily won. Oh, and guess who the Colts kicker was that hit three field goals? Adam Vinatieri. We starting to see a theme here?
2007: Giants vs Patriots
Possibly the most ironic, flip-the-whole-Super-Bowl-rings-mattering argument on it’s head game this article could have dreamed of. First of all, this game is basically the 2001 Super Bowl but this time the Pats lost. Number one (of all time) offense against hot defense? Check. Incredibly unlikely plays enable underdog to secure victory? Check. Goofy beanpole of a quarterback that happens to play for the right team at the right time and have one good drive define his legacy? Check. The funny thing here is Brady was CLEARLY a better player in 2007 than any of his Super Bowl years. He directed the offense more, was more accurate, had better weapons, and had developed beautifully as a player. Why no more rings? Well, his defense fell off big time and he didn’t have the magic Super Bowl winning kicker. Brady still likely would’ve won this game, but Eli manning (who to his credit did a great job escaping the pass rush) threw a horribly under-thrown wobbler to David Tyree who made one of the greatest catches of all time. It’s still possible the Giants would’ve won without the Tyree catch, but extremely unlikely. And the only reason Manning was in position to make a game-winning play was his defense held an all-time historic offense to 14 points.
2008: Steelers vs Cardinals
Man was this a great game. Roethlisberger pulled his head out of his ass and had a decent game this time around. Before the areyoufuckingkiddingme? catch by Santonio Holmes, the ‘Berger had a solid completion percentage and 0 TD’s to 1 INT. Definitely not great, but enough to win the game. Kurt Warner of the Cardinals completely choked his team out of a chance to win this game though. He was a paltry 31/43, 377 YD, 3 TD, 1 INT. Yep, he certainly choked that game away. Oh, and that one pick? Yea, Harrison took that back for a 100 yard TD. The ‘Berger definitely got more help than Warner, who no question played the better game, and the Steelers won the game. Man Warner sucks.
2009: Saints vs Colts
Well hey! The first matchup of these examples that was strong, quarterback-driven team with opportunistic defense playing against it’s mirror image. Drew Brees made the Saints go, and the Gregg Williams “Bountygate” defense made big plays in the playoffs. Peyton Manning made the Colts go, and the we-need-to-have-the-lead-to-be-good defense made big plays when playing with… the lead. After watching the Saints’ D publicly maim Brett Favre in the NFC Championship, the Saints D was without question playing out of their minds (and out of the rules). But shit, looking at Brees specifically, he played a great game, didn’t make any mistakes, and won the game. I’ll give this one to him.
2010: Packers vs Steelers
This is another one where the quarterback stole the show. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, but it’s rare and only truly elite players can do it. That’s a short list of current players (Manning, Brady, Brees, Rodgers) and the drop off to the next tier is huge. And in Rodgers’ case, he was immensely aided by having one of the best receiving corps in the league (Jennings, Nelson, Jones, and Driver) and an adequate defense that got hot in the playoffs. Rodgers threw a TD to Nelson early, and on the Steelers’ next offensive play Roethlisberger threw a pick six to Nick Collins. The game was out of hand early and to his credit Roethlisberger played really well down the stretch, erasing a 21-3 deficit and bringing the game to within three in the fourth quarter. In the end a stacked offense and a peaking defense, along with Rodgers playing out of his mind won out. Rodgers finished 24/39, 304 YD, 3 TD, 0 INT with little help from his running game. He gets this one. By my count we are now 2/11 on the “X QB won his team a Super Bowl” scale.
2011: Giants vs Patriots
Lead in to this game: the Patriots beat the Ravens in the AFC Championship on a last second pass breakup that decided the game. Lee Evans almost had a nice catch in the end zone, but the DB broke the pass up to seal it. Brady watched from the sideline as his teammate made the game-winning play. Another example of a slight difference made by a non-Brady player determining “Brady beat Flacco.” Also, the Giants got a ton of help even making the playoffs in the first place. They finished the year 9-7, and in most divisions that means you are watching the playoffs at home, not participating in them. This Super Bowl was fairly similar in nature to the 2007 game. The Giants had a great defense that was peaking at the right time, and the Patriots had a great (not 2007 great, but pretty damn good) offense led by Brady. The main thing here was that two teams were playing that could have just as easily been out of it. Eli had a solid enough game to win, but his defense held a team that averaged 32.1 PPG during the regular season to 17 points and disrupted the Patriots rhythm all game long. They also contributed a safety and a pick. The defense, with a little luck, helped Eli get another ring.
2012: Ravens vs 49ers
Pretty much every champion on this list won the big game with either a dominant defense or an elite quarterback with a streaking defense. One of the best parts of football is the randomness and the Ravens were big beneficiaries of good luck. Earlier in the playoffs, the Ravens beat the Peyton Manning-led Broncos when Manning made a horrible play on the ball while defending Jacoby Jones, the game went to overtime, and the Ravens ended up winning. What’s that? Rahim Moore was the one who lost the ball and fell over in a “what the hell just happened?” play? Oh that’s right. Manning did throw a pick in overtime that helped propel the Ravens to victory, which is part of why many apply the “choker” label to Manning. In reality, he had already had done his part to win the game, and his team blew it. In the Super Bowl, the Ravens were the rare example of a good-not-great offense and a comparable defense both getting hot at the right time. Flacco, a decidedly mediocre quarterback, played out of his mind throughout the playoffs and especially in the big game. Despite his superb game, the game came down to one of the final plays when Michael Crabtree and Jimmy Smith both pushed each other trying to get to the ball. I believe it was a correct non-call, as both were pushing aggressively. But on plays like that, tie often goes to the offense. Give the Niners 1st and goal from the one with their running game? Probably a TD. A ref’s judgement call had a huge effect on the outcome of the game.
2013: Bronkhawks vs Seacos
Looking at the recent trends we’ve seen, this game is shaping up to be similar to the examples above like 2000, 2001, 2002, 2005, 2007, and 2010 games, where the dominant defense with the capable game manager defeats the clearly much better quarterback. Russell Wilson seems like a promising young player and a great person, but at this point his game is a lot closer to Alex Smith than Peyton Manning. The Seahawks are a defense-driven running team. If the Hawks win the Super Bowl, Wilson will likely have a statistically mediocre game, make a big play (or not even have to because his team is playing so well), and proceed to be crowned “OMG IZ DISS DA NEW TOM BRADY LOL?!??!?” when really he’s simply a good decision maker who takes care of the ball.
On the flip side, there’s a chance that this game ends up like the 2006 Colts win, led by some quarterback I can’t remember, where the Broncos defense makes some big plays and keeps their team in position to win thanks to the quarterback who was the biggest factor in getting them there in the first place and probably has a mediocre game compared to his regular season prowess yet still pulls it out. And no that wasn’t a run-on sentence.
The key takeaway here is that if the Seahawks win, it won’t be because Wilson “outdueled” Manning or Wilson is “clutch” or Manning is a “choker.” They both face completely different defenses and one has a tougher job, no question.
The common theme is that the quarterback, while an important part of a team, is just that. Part of a TEAM. TEAMS win Super Bowls. Quarterbacks sometimes elevate their team, get some breaks along the way, and have a solid supporting cast, while others are oftentimes (in these examples most of the time) along for the ride. Yet the number of rings is what people always default to when having the age-old “who’s the better quarterback?” conversation. So next time someone is like “BUT BLUHHHHHH DAN MARINO DOESN’T HAVE ANY RINGS SO HE SUKZZZ” promptly make a bunch of temporary tattoos of this article’s URL and slap it to their forehead so they can read it later. Or something. Thanks.