Thursday, May 21, 2020

Other 10-part docs I would like to see

I loved the Last Dance. Who didn't. Yes, we should note Michael Jordan was involved in the production and had final rights, but ultimately it was fascinating, entertaining, lived up to the hype, and showcased the best basketball player ever in a way that honored him, and his team (including Phil Jackson who looked golden in this) perfectly.

It did get me thinking what other topics could I do with a 10-part (or even 6-part, like OJ: Made in America) ESPN lens. Some of these are half-baked, or more personally important than culturally relevant, but to me they would all be fascinating.

** Barry Bonds & Roger Clemens

Well, here is one where we definitely can't get Bonds or Clemens to have the same amount of control as MJ did. That said, they need to be interviewed. We need a real story. We also need both to admit they did it (as I'm assuming Lance Armstrong will do in his upcoming 30 for 30), and we need to actually examine the reasons why they did. We also need to get into how damn good they both were, how they were rail-roaded by media and the game, how everyone overlooked the steroid use all around baseball to hyper-focus on these two guys that were all time greats before the time even people think they started to use steroids. In reality, this is an examination of baseball itself, framed around the best two players of their era, adn the best two players of most eras.

** Peyton Manning and the Colts, from Week 16, 2009, through Luck's Retirement

This is a pet dream of mine, because the whole story makes so much damn, harrowing, sense. So it is anchored by the decision for the Colts to rest their starters in Week 16, 2009, when 14-0. Despite it working on its face - a healthy Colts team easily went to the Super Bowl - it was the turning point for the Manning era. The world turned on Bill Polian, and Jim Irsay listened to the world. 27 months later, Peyton was cut, because Irsay so badly wanted to turn the page. He drafts Luck, who has a messy seven year career before his own sudden retirement, in the process torpedoeing a great run. Manning on the other hand rebuilds his arm and his career in Denver putting up an insane four year run. There's so much going on here, the greatness of Manning's whole career; the end of Camelot; the palace intrigue of Manning getting cut after his icy performacne during the Indy Super Bowl, the whole resting the starters saga, the madness of ChuckStrong and the Pagano years. All of it. The Colts entered Week 16, 2009, with the brightest outlook of any team in teh NFL. A decade later it was all in shambles two rebuilds later.

** Federer & Nadal

This is one of the two topics I can actually see getting a 10-part series at some point (though maybe they'll lop in Djokovic as well). Roger Federer won the 2003 Wimbledon. 16 years later, he won nineteen other majors, and Nadal won nineteen himself. They were the greatest of rivals and opposites from 2004-2008, a time period where basically the only time a peerless Federer lost was either to Nadal or some bizarre upset. Then Nadal himself becomes dominant. Then of course there's the career downturn both had to some degree from 2013-2016, before their triumphant return in 2017 with their simultaneous runs to the Australian Open Final, which of course was the kickoff of career renaissances, not nostalgic moments. Federer and Nadal also took their sports to new heights, evolved from rivals to something close to friends, became basically two of the most recognizable sportsmen globally (maybe the most recognizable apart from Messi and Cristiano). For taking their sport to a new level, and playing more memorable matches than you can name - be it the '08 Wimby, or Fed breaking down on the trophy stand in the '09 Oz, to him paying Rafa back in 2017. It was all a dream for tennis fans and sportsmen globally.

** Zidane: The Headbutt through B2B2B UCLs

Honestly, you could do a whole 2-3 episodes on the damn headbutt. I'm shocked it wasn't a 30 for 30. I've long called it the most known sports moment of the 2000s (2000 - 2009) given it happened during a World Cup Final, to an extremely well known athlete, making the final appearance of his legendary career. To many who weren't so soccer literate, he become something of a pariah. In France, there were raging debates on if he was a hero, a martyr, a villain, or all three. What people seemed to forget was he was also a magnetic personality, a sporting genius, and someone who was quiet for a good seven years after the headbutt aside from random Adidas campaigns. And then he was named an Assistant to Carlo Ancelotti. You can tie in the whole chase for La Decima, but that isn't Zidane's story. What is is him becoming something of a soccer-ized Phil Jackson, a master of man management, of juggling dozens of large personalities, and leading his own threepeat. The idea on its face of one of the all time great players doing something in his first three years as manager that no manager had ever done (win back-to-back-to-back Champions Leagues, by the way, no one had won two straight) is astounding. Doing it to someone who was so well known for something else is even more crazy. Zidane's 2006 World Cup, interlaced with his whole career could be episodes 1-4. Then maybe 1-2 on his weird malaise, followed by four straight of him being the greatest manager (for a three year period) in a row. Astounding stuff.

** Tiger Woods 2006-2019

This is also one I assume gets made, probably with the same issue of Tiger Woods's involvement. That is more problematic with Tiger than MJ as there is a lot of baggage to delve into. I'm picking 2006 to start mostly because that is the year his Dad died, which was seen by many as the pivotal tragedy that pushed Tiger in a bad way. That said, you could easily do a whole career retrospective. Anyway, 2006 was peak Tiger 2.0, but the real story is Tiger 3.0, which started Thanksgiving weekend 2009, and then 4.0, 5.0, up to what is like 20.0 now - a triumphant Champion. Tiger Woods was close to MJ in terms of global notoriety but his downfall so much more dramatic, so painful, but also so unavoidably salacious. We can also then tie in celebrity culture, with Tiger's outing as a sex addict being a driving force in TMZ being legitimized. We can loop in the idea of sex addiction itself, of depression and loss (Tiger's hollowness after his father's death, doing things like training with Navy seals). But then there's always the redemption story, coming from the re-rock bottom of his arrest being zonked out on painkillers behind the wheel. To think that man, with that horrible, sad, depressing mugshot, would win the masters two years later was insane.

** Spygate Patriots

Let's save the best for last. At some point we will probably get a Last Dance type look at the whole Belichick/Brady Patriots. Already ESPN announced some vomit-inducing Tom Brady 9 Super Bowl retrospective. Anyway, miss me with all that. We don't need to hear about the souless 2010-2019 Patriots. Let's talk about the team that is still the most notable single-season team in US sports history. Ger your 73-9 Warriors out of here, or 1998 Yankees out of there. The 16-0 (or 18-1!) Patriots were far more captivating, for better or worse. You start with Spygate, and everything around that. Then go through the most dominant 8-game stretch in NFL history, where not only were they blowing teams out, they were rubbing it in, repeatedly keeping starters in, throwing on 4th down in the 4th quarter, doing just ludicrous stuff. Then we get the 2nd half when they finally started playing human, escaping Indy, Philly and Baltimore, but the chase for 16-0 took over football. Week 17 being the coronation, but also the preview of their ultimate failure. The Patriots 16-0 team took over football, even in a year where there would be three other great teams. They looked unstoppable, shrouded in infamy and disdain. The legacy of those Patriots would be how they changed football with an offense so many would try to copy, but so few could match. Everything about that team was dramatic, insane and worth diving deeper into. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

My Top 50 QBs: #10 - Roger Staubach

Roger Staubach Dishes on Current State of Dallas Cowboys and QB ...

#10 - Roger Staubach

Legendary Quarterback Roger Staubach in East Texas on Saturday ...

It pains me a bit to have my highest ranked 70s QB at #10. I'm not a full believer in the distortion of 70s stats and winners and all that bunk, but I do realize also how dramatically different the game was in 1973 compared to 2018. Roger Staubach is the best QB of the 70s in my mind, putting up numbers that would have fit right in in the 1990s, and when you look at his numbers adjusted for his era, they stand out to a ridiculous agree. The real comp for Staubach, to be honest, is Steve Young, a player whose efficiency was far ahead of his time, but also didn't have the volume due to a late start.

Quickly on the numbers. Staubach had years with QB ratings of 84.9, 87.0, 92.3, 94.6 and 104.8(!) in his career. Adjusted for era, all those seasons ended up with a QB rating+ (similar to OPS+/ERA+ in baseball) at 125 or above. That is really good. How good? Tom Brady only has four such seasons in his career (2007, 2010, 2011, 2017). Brees also has just four. Rodgers has three (admittedly, two more at 124). Peyton had five. Now, I don't fully trust these numbers because while Staubach was amazing, the bottom-tier QB play in the 1970s is just so much worse than it is today, it skews downward a bit. That said, Staubach was playing a different sport than most 1970s QBs, and doing it exceedingly well.

Now let's look at the volume side of the equation - Staubach's career only really started at 27, and he didn't become a full time starter until he was 29. He's not alone it that type of late start. Unlike similar players though, while Warner started late because he wasn't all that good earlier, or Steve Young playing in the USFL, Staubach started late because he was serving in the military. I'm not going to give him additional credit for missing years for that, but I will give him all the credit in the world of being a phenomenal human being.

Roger Staubach scores again | Fortune

Roger Staubach was termed Captain America early in his career, and the combination of his military service, his charm, his great looks, and you realize he truly was a quasi-precursor to good ol Cap Steve Rogers. Staubach had personality as well - long contrasted with Joe Namath, given Staubach's status as having married his highschool sweetheart and living a most Christian life, Roger took it on himself during a live TV interview once to proclaim "I enjoy having sex just like Joe, I just do it with one woman"

Staubach was a humbly great player, with a great arm, a scrambler mentality inherited from Tarkenton, and another similarity he shares with Steve Young. Staubach also played a very controlled game, a career interception rate of 3.7% (again, very good for the 1970s - Bradshaw was at 5.4%). Staubach wasn't surrounded by amazing talent, relative to some of his contemporaries, but he had his share of great connections - including Drew Perason, who he memorably found in the 'Hail Mary' origin story.

Roger Staubach is America, but hyping him up as some hero is not doing his actual career justice. He was a hyper-smart QB who was playing a very 1980s-1990s type game in the pit of the deadball era in football. He did well in the playoffs, did well at home or on the road, and did his best work in December (a lifetime 97.3 passer rating in the month). Staubach was just excellent in every way.

Staubach's understated personality may make his legacy and memory more lost over time, but I think he comes out well in the end. He may not be Namath or Bradshaw, but if the alternative is a universally beloved and highly regarded player, a not-too-overblown symbol of Americana, who lived a comfortable family life, and opened a series of real estate operations that netted him upwards of $100m, I think Staubah did A-OK.

Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach to be honored for his ...

Friday, May 8, 2020

My Top 50 QBs: #11 - Frank Tarkenton

#11 - Fran Tarkenton

We like to put QBs in groups. Manning the neo-Marino. Brady the neo-Montana. This makes sense - it is always best to try to explain greatness by comparing it to other greatness. There are many great QBs today who run around throw the ball and 'play the game like a kid out there.' All of those players, whether Favre, or Roethlisberger, or even Tony Romo, are the neo-Tarkenton.

Fran Tarkenton was the bridge, in a way. The last QB to be famous purely for running around and throwing off-balance bombs. Football fans can see that mental image, that grainy black-and-white highlight of some Otto Graham or Norm Van Brocklin highlight of the player rolling around, evading lithe 200-lb 'defensive lineman', running backwards 30-yards to throw it 40-yards - netting just 10 yards, but taking 15 seconds and creating a memorable moment that could be scored to some nice orchestra NFL Films music. Fran Tarkenton was the last of these players. But he was also one of the first to throw more than he handed off, to run a dynamic, vertical offense that was the key to his teams offense. Tarkenton represents the NFL's stylistic turning point.

Tarkenton was also surrounded by a startling lack of offensive talent, both in New York and then in Minnesota - where he also had to compete with outdoor weather and frigid winters. There were real reasons his stats were slightly supressed. But talent wins out - talent that allowed Tarkenton to retire with the records for career yards and TDs.

Tarkenton famously never won a Super Bowl, probably the first player to really have that criticism and label attached to him, weighing his legacy down. Years later, we can see the lack of talent that surrounded him, the three Super Bowls his Vikings did play in (losing each time to All-Time great teams in the 70's Dolphins, Steelers and Raiders). We see the unfortunate loss in 1975 to the Cowboys off of the 'Hail Mary'. We see him wasting his prime (by age) in New York. We understand now why Tarkenton did not win a playoff game - the only person hurt by this delay in Fran himself.

If you see an interview with Tarkenton, he comes across bitter, somewhat jaded, almost unloved - not that you can blame him as he was a player often criticized for what he wasn't rather than what he did. He had the unfortunate luck of being so much better than an Archie Manning he could drag dreadful talent around him to creating a good offense - but not a great one that could win a title. That land in the middle might be worse than being Archie Manning. It is, in a way, easier to mythologize the guy who ran backwards before throwing it when his team goes 5-11 ("What could have been?") than when they go 10-6 ("What should have been?"). Luckily for Tarkenton, enough people opened their eyes to see his extraordinary career - just I wish it was sooner for his sake.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

My Top 50 QBs: #12 - John Elway

#8 - John Elway

Sometimes, you have to just believe when you can't see. John Elway's last game was essentially the first football game I remember watching, his walk-off Super Bowl MVP performance in Super Bowl  XXXIII. I never saw prime John Elway, thing is no one really did.

What is prime anyway? Is it by age, when Elway was between 25-30, from 1985-1990? Or was it when you were actually at your best, at the end of your career in a controlled offense that put up career high numbers? There was no prime for Elway, and maybe that is a problem, but if you believe the reasons, the explanations of why there is no answer, Elway's greatness becomes pretty obvious.

The refrain the Elway backers will chant in unison is the fact that he was surrounded by pure garbage during what should have been his prime. That in that period where he was 25-30, he had no one of note to throw to, even fewer god options to hand off too, and an average line protecting him. It is very easy to be skeptical of this reasoning, but when so many say it so loudly, and the chanting extends beyond the Mile High City, it makes sense to at least start believing it.

To say it plainly, by statistical performance, John Elway is not a Top-10 QB of All Time. He played at a time when Dan Marino and Joe Montana were putting up statistics that consistently beat out Elway's own. Of course, Marino played in Florida and threw to the Marks Brothers. Montana played in a windfarm in Candlestick, but also got to throw to the greatest WR of All Time for a good period. Elway had none of these things. Elway did have legend on his side.

As someone who believes in statistical analysis, it should be no surprise I would be so leery of mythbuilding, especially when at times it seems quite random which player gets built up or put down for similar accomplishments. Elway saw his teams absolutely destroyed in three Super Bowls in a four year span. While the Broncos defenses were busy giving up 42 and 55 points in Super Bowl XXII and XXIV, his offense only put up 10 in both games as well. Most QBs would get rightfully pilloried for that performance. Elway was the lucky one who actually got the deserved excuse of carrying a sad husk of a team to the Super Bowl in the first place.

Mythology is also built off of great moments. Elway, of course, led 'The Drive.' He also had the helicopter play. Of course, these moments were 10 years apart, showing off his underrated longevity. The Drive, a 98-yard slog through the Cleveland defense in Cleveland was rightfully hailed as the stuff of legend. I would hate to limit my opinion of a great to one drive, but it is these mythmaking moments, so hailed by people whose opinions I trust and value that cements his place in my mind.

The final piece of Elway's legacy of course was built out of his final act, his back-to-back Super Bowl titles. Of course, in classic John Elway mythology, his first title is remembered for the Helicopter play, and not the fact that his stats in that game very closely matched Peyton Manning's "winning performance" in Super Bowl 50. OF course, that all was washed away by his admittedly great performance in the final game, his Super Bowl MVP title against Atlanta.

John Elway went out on top, retroactively proving to all those that saw just the stats he put up in his prime years, showing what was possible had he had talent around him his whole career. We can all be leery, but also understanding of that argument, of the evidence he gave us all late in his career, and the large swaths of Football Loving America that believe it already.

My Top 50 QBs: #13 - Bart Starr

#13 - Bart Starr

The reason Green Bay is still a franchise is because Brett Favre resurrected the team along with Mike Holmgren in the early-90's. He rescued the franchise from 20 years of nothingness. The reason the Packers deserved being rescued was because of Bart Starr building that team, along with Vince Lombardi. Bart Starr, the starting QB for the first two Super Bowl champions, the player with the pristine 9-1 record in the playoffs, the man who helped build Green Bay as America's greatest footballing outpost, was easily one of the best QBs in the history of the game even when you strip away legend, mystique and that Lambeau aura.

Bart Starr's career didn't start off with many indications of the legend he would become. It is easy to delineate Starr's career between his struggling pre-Lombardi days (1956-1958), with the post, but while Vince Lombardi's placement in Green Bay led the dynasty, let's not overstate how good Starr was.

Bart Starr's statistical record is stunning for a 1960's QB. Starr's real peak was from 1961-970, a period in which 83-35-4, with a 58.6% completion percentage, an 8.1 y/a, and a passer rating of 86.3 for that 10-year stretch. Add to that his individual great seasons during the period, with passer ratings of 97.1 in 1964, 105.0 in 1966, and 104.3 in 1968. These are numbers completely out of what with what else was going on in the league that that time. He didn't luck into these numbers, throwing a decent amount of passes for QBs of that time - and again playing the winter heaven of Green Bay. Bart Starr was a statistical marvel - one that extended upwards in the postseason.

We often fall on two disparate sides of the road when qualifying the value a playoff win-loss record brings. One side prays daily to that altar, holding up parables like Brady's 22-9 record, or Manning's 9 one-and-done's. The other looks beyond those simple stats and tries to uncover what led to those results, what drove the ultimate score - and yes those people (me included), come to the conclusion that despite the win-loss record Brady and Manning played fairly similarly in the playoffs. Where those two sides can come to a similar conclusion is in the case of Bart Starr, a calming player that can bridge both sides of that battle.

Bart Starr famously went 9-1 in the playoffs, losing his first game - a game he oddly played reasonably well in. And then he never lost a playoff game again, winning his last nine, picking up the last three NFL Championships and then the first two Super Bowls, giving him a nice ring for each finger. Moving past the hilarious coincidence that he played far better in that loss than his first two wins, Bart Starr ended his career with a 104.8 passer rating in the playoffs. In those 10 games, he completed 61.0% of his passes, with an 8.2 y/a, and 15 TDs to 3 INTs. Bart Starr was magic in the playoffs by all measures, whether you want to stop at the Wins and Losses or actually look deeper into how he actually played.

Bart Starr does often get forgotten, lost between the supernova that was Vince Lombardi's legacy on the game (the Super Bowl trophy is, after all, named for him), and contemporaries whose legacies shine slightly brighter (Unitas). Bart Starr played a large part in creating a footballing factory and legacy in Green Bay, a man whose brilliance created a 20-year crater in Wisconsin only filled by a man named Brett. Before we discuss Rodgers taking over Favre's role as the best QB to play in Green Bay, we must first realize he has still some ways to go to pass Starr for the 2nd position.

Along with Unitas and Tarkenton (who are both ahead of him on my list), Bart Starr created a type of QB-ing as well that bridged the gap between the archaic era of the 50's and the modern NFL. For some reason, things went slightly backwards in the 70's, but we can draw the throughline between Otto Graham and Sammy Baugh to Dan Marino and Joe Montana with Unitas and Starr the point in the middle. The fact he happened to also bridge the gap between the regional, small NFL era where the winning team won the simply titled NFL Championship, to the Super Bowl era where the league would grow into the outsized magnet it is now, places Starr at the crux of the league's development. Luckily for us all, he was good enough to merit that spot.

My Top 50 QBs: #14 - Dan Fouts

#14 - Dan Fouts

Dan Fouts was the first futuristic QB. He was the first one to routinely throw for 4,000 yards. He was the first one who led an offense that resembled what we would see today. Dan Fouts, in a way, was way ahead of his time - along with his legendary, visionary coach in Don Coryell. In many ways, Dan Fouts is the QB people think Jim Kelly was. Kelly ran the K-Gun offense, another futuristic offense with the no-huddle that scored oodles of points and gained more yards, but Kelly had more in common with the dead-ball era QBs than he did with Fouts. Dan Fouts was one of a kind.

Dan Fouts threw deep, that much we all know. He had years with Y/A numbers north of 8.0, great numbers for that time. But that belies his accuracy, often a QB with a completion percentage around 60%. These are not normal numbers for those days. The normal QB in those days either met Fouts's Y/A number, or met the completion number. No one did both. Fouts did.

Dan Fouts was more voluminous than any QB who came before him, and most that came after until Dan Marino came about. As much as we like to think of Marino's 1984 season being from a different planet, so was what Fouts did in 1980-1982. In 1982, he threw for 320 yards per game, basically matching what Marino would do two seasons later - the 9-game season hurt his overall stats. Dan Fouts was at his best in those years, but he was failed by the same issues that have failed so many great 'stats' QBs since.

In a weird way, Dan Fouts is the best example of how not winning a Super Bowl, and being clearly not one of teh Top-5 QBs of all time actually helps his standing. Do we ever hear about Fouts not winning in the playoffs? Or how Fouts was not clutch? No, instead we hear about his defense, or the cold, or other factors ruined him. We appreciate Fouts for what he was: a player way before his time.

We don't denigrate Dan for not winning a Super Bowl, nor even reaching one. We don't fault him for being the initial high-profile 'stat' maven that failed once the weather got cold and the defenses he faced got tougher. Almost hilariously, we almost credit Fouts for losing 'The Freezer Bowl' because it was so cold. Instead of saying Fouts and the Air Coryell offense went underground in the cold, we say 'man, isn't in unfortunate they had to play in the cold?!'

And this isn't to take anything away from Fouts. He represents how media should view QBs, should view athletes. Dan Fouts is a legendary player, one that flew easily into the Hall of Fame. He will be forever remembered as the first QB to make breaking the 4,000 yard barrier routine. He started the modern offense in reality. He also never won a Super Bowl, but who really cares about that? Sadly, often times too many do. Fouts escaped that criticism, Fouts escaped it all. I'm not sure why, but I'm just glad someone did.

Dan Fouts really showed that back in the day, the NFL world saw the value of a QB who threw deep, threw accurately, and put up video game numbers. They saw this as something new, something different, something out of another world. What they didn't see was a QB who couldn't handle the pressure - people viewed beyond the lazy tropes and small flaws to see an all-time great play like he did.

My Top 50 QBs: #15 - Troy Aikman

#15 - Troy Aikman

Troy Aikman is an interesting case to review when one cares about statistics. Mainly because his were not that good. Troy Aikman never threw for 3,500 yards in a season, never threw more than 23 TDs, and never had a QB rating above 100. His highest QB rating was 99.0, in a season where he threw 15 TDs in his 14 games that he started. Troy Aikman was a throwback, playing a game that seemed to leave the NFL decades earlier. He was the natural heir to Bart Starr, or even Terry Bradshaw, a player that, from a statistical perspective, was held back by how good his team was. The Cowboys were so ruthlessly efficient behind Emmitt Smith's running and their defense that they didn't need Troy Aikman to throw 40 times or for 300 yards. He just peppered in enough of those to make everyone sure he could if he needed to.

People who disliked Tom Brady liked to call him the next Troy Aikman. Over time, that became an insult to Brady, but the Tom Brady that won his first three Super Bowls probably was not even as good as the Aikman that won his three. Brady was held up by a running game and defense. Aikman was neutured because of it. However, come playoff time, the Cowboys did open it up more, and to great success.

Troy Aikman was quietly a superb playoff QB even when you look behind the glittering rings. His individual performances were great. When your team wins the Super Bowl 52-17, it is easy to obscure how well any single player played, but Aikman's 1992 playoff run should be remembered more than it is - going 61/89 for 795 yards, 8 TDs and no INTs, for a 126.4 passer rating. That is right there with Montana's best, or even Flacco's legendary 2012 run. Troy Aikman put up nice stats in his other two Super Bowl runs. Troy Aikman's playoff brilliance, in a way, retroactively makes his regular seasons more interesting, more impressive, and in a way, more depressing.

Aikman becomes almost a tragic figure because the way he played when the Cowboys opened up their passing game showed a truly remarkable player that should have done more. We can't fault the Cowboys strategy, they were ruthlessly effective in those years running Emmitt Smith 350+ times a year. They didn't need 300-yard passing games. They didn't want them. But when they wanted to really show off, it was Aikman's turn to really star.

Troy Aikman has carved out a great place in the history of the NFL. He is tied to the rebirth of a premier franchise, one that never stopped growing 'bigger' once he took over. He achieved great personal success and is enshrined in the Hall of Fame. His gig with FOX is a spigot pumping out cash that is stuck in the open position. But it really could have been more. Had he been allowed to throw, or been on the Bills or 49ers, teams that embraced the pass and didn't have the one running back that could combine efficiency and volume, Aikman could have been a true legend.

It will be interesting how history remembers Troy Aikman as the decades continue. We are close enough to his career that people have first-hand memory of his playing. We are still in a 'Rings Uber Alles' world where his three championships push him up the lists of great players. We are also in a world more statistically inclined that can push the hardware aside and look at a statistical quandary of a player putting up 1980's efficiency combined with 1960's offensive splits in the 1990's. As we go on, the statistically inclined people will probably push him further back, and the people that care about rings over anything will hopefully be replaced, but neither side quite optimally views the marvel that was Troy Aikman.

In an odd way, Troy Aikman being such a complex statistical study is at odds at what he is. Aikman was a simple, sturdy leader. Who played the role of Star QB about as well as anyone. He was never known for his staid personality, but on a team of Lotharios and Eccentrics, he was laid back and normal - a Staubach-ian like disposition that was very much needed. He was a basic, central cog in an  efficient Ford truck. It's just that he had the same engine and same parts to run a flashy Maserati, but then again, Ford's seem to get the job done just as well.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

My Top 50 QBs: #16 - Ben Roethlisberger

#16 - Ben Roethlisberger

Ben Roethlisberger has had about 4-5 different careers in just over a decade. At first, he was the talented young QB who was on the perfect team to limit has stats, accentuate his features and win a lot of games. Then he became something of a renegade who rode motorcycles and lead dramatic 4th quarter comebacks - the guy who 'plays well when it matters.' Then he came something of a pariah, whether it be his off-the-field issues, or the criticism he got for not being Brady, Manning, Rodgers or Brees. Finally, starting around 2012-13, when the off-field issues, for better or worse, got further away in the rear-view mirror, and the team started to suffer around him and needed Ben's brilliance to get them to .500, he started finally, truly, getting the credit and labels he deserved all along: a fantastic, stellar QB well on his way to the Hall of Fame, someone who combined traditional QB brilliance and a unique style all his own. Ben Roethlisberger is a sure-fire hall of famer; he became that probably around 2011. What he's done since is the icing on a fantastic cake.

To put it this way, Ben Roethlisberger is statistically a better QB than you think he is, and he is all the other things you think he is. He's a perfect intersection of a tough, scrambler, play-maker, who keeps plays alives and plays like we all did in the backyard, and the exacting brilliant mind of the modern QB. You can argue Rodgers is all these things as well, but Roethlisberger, for no real reason, seems to be perceived more on the vagabond playmaker side. Not that I blame people. Roethlisberger was that guy originally. It was hard to initially look past the guy who was built like a TE. When he started in the league in 2004, at 6'5" and 240 lbs., there was no one like him. He wasn't asked to do a lot initially, on a supremely talented team with a great running game, two great receivers and a great defense. Still, add a normal QB to a team with three great areas, and they probably don't go 13-0. What was hidden behind that record, and his style, was a player who was already showing signs of the dominance he's shown since.

In his rookie season, Ben Roethlisberger was a borderline Top-5 QB in the NFL. He had a 98.1 QB rating, a Y/A of 8.9, and completed 66.4% of his passes. Almost every rookie QB suffers in those areas of play. He was an incredibly gifted passer, who yes was asked to throw 25-30 times a game, but so was Mark Sanchez. Ben Roethlisberger as a rookie was in a different time zone. He had the best rookie season for a QB in NFL history, and then went on to have one of the best 2nd seasons if you remove Dan Marino from the discussion. Roethlisberger essentially repeated his rookie season, but this time added some black ink to his resume, leading the NFL in TD%, Y/A (again, at 8.9) and Y/C. Now he was easily a Top-5 QB. Then, somehow, his ability seemed to peak.

We do have to discuss the darker, more mysterious part of Roethlisberger's career. Starting from his motorcycle accident in the 2006 preseason, through his 2008 season that ended in a Super Bowl run, Roethlisberger seemed to go squarely into the direction of 'big, burly playmaker' side. He had a bad year in 2006, the one truly off year of his career. He then had a season in 2007 that looks better on paper than it did in reality (104.1 passer rating, with 32 TDs and 11 INTs, but threw the ball just 404 times), and then had the reverse in 2008. His 2008 season was a strange one. He had the good fortune of playing with the best defense in the NFL, but he also was at the time right before the Steelers became WR heaven again, and the first year his pass blocking was anything other than good. He had a bad year statistically, but made his mark with late drive after late drive.

From there, Roethlisberger let it fly in 2009. For the first time in his career the Steelers defense was something other than excellent. He had some great receivers in prime Santonio Holmes and a break-out Mike Wallace. The running game was transitioning. They had to have Roethlisberger throw. For the first time he threw 500 passes in a season. And as people should have predicted, he did really well, completing 66.6% of his passes, for 4,300 yards, another Y/A over 8.0, and a passer rating over 100. And then came last year, when he did all of that, but even more. Again, gifted with a prodigious WR in Antonio Brown, Roethlisberger threw it even more, this time topping 600 yards, and was arguably the best QB in the NFL in the regular season, with 4,900 yards, with 32 TDs and a passer rating at 103.3. Ben Roethlisberger was, more than ever before, asked to be Drew Brees or Tom Brady or Peyton Manning, and was a Top-2 QB in the NFL.

That's really the hidden brilliance of Ben Roethlisberger. Take away the trappings and size and 'warrior' nature of his game, and what you have is a hyper-efficient player. In his 11 seasons, he had a QB rating over 97.0 seven times (admittedly, that is arbitrary), a Y/A over 8.0 five times, and for his career has completed 64.0% of his passes, with 41,000 yards and a career 94.0 passer rating. That's a profile that compares right there with the top QBs of his era, coming from a guy who has had iffy pass protection for nearly a decade now, playing outdoors city for a defensive-minded team in a defensive-minded division. Ben Roethlisberger has been so much more dominant than anyone really thinks. Yet, for those who have him shoe-horned into this 'clutch', 'winner' and 'non-stats' great, he is all those things too.

The Super Bowl drive is the one that will always be remembered, likely it will be Roethlisberger's A-Block highlight. There's a reason for that. His final throw was thrown with computer accuracy. The drive even started with a 10-yard holding penalty that pushed them to 1st and 20 from the 12. But to me the real signature drive was five weeks earlier, in Week 15, in Baltimore. The Steelers were 10-3. The Ravens were 9-4. The winner had the clear track to win the AFC North. The Steelers were the NFL's best defense across the board in 2008, but this game was in Baltimore and all the stats the Steelers' defense was #1 in, if you limit to just home games, the Ravens were #1. The Steelers took over with 3:30 to go, on their own three yard line, down 9-6. Roethlisberger led a classic drive in the most hostile of environments, for a TD that won the Steelers the game and the division. It was an amazing drive, the winning throw made off a completely busted play when Roethlisberger had no one open, then scrambled left, found nothing, shook off a tackle and then went back right and fired a pass to Holmes. It was an incredible play in an incredible game. It was everything that encompassed Ben Roethlisberger. A winner, sure, but an incredibly patient, prescient and precise QB.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

My Top 50 QBs: #17 - Ken Stabler

#17 - Ken Stabler

Who embodied the Raiders? Sure, the obvious answer is Al Davis. There's no real debate there; how could anyone be a better renegade than a man who successfully sued the league he was a part of. But beyond Al, on the field, it doesn't get more Silver and Black than Kenny Stabler.

There were better players on the Raiders - a franchise with a score of HOFers, including Stabler's own teammates like Jim Otto, Art Shell, Gene Upshaw, Willie Brown and Fred Biletnikoff, but those guys were known more for their ability than their personality. Stabler was the opposite, which made him what the Raiders should be.

There are so many Ken Stabler stories that people don't even know, which is amazing given how many stories there are about his antics and personality and championship-level partying. Ken Stabler was Joe Namath without the press, but with as much game. He was a noted partyer, drinker, and lovemaker. The stores of him in a bar the night before the game, playbook in one hand, and mug of beer in the other. The best part was 12 hours later he was leading a team that all they did was win 10+  games year after year.

Stabler may not have made the Hall of Fame (we'll get to that in a minute), but make no mistake of his deserving case. In his 10 years in Oakland (1970-1979), he went 69-26-1 as a starter, had a Y/A of 7.7, threw TDs on 6.0% of his passes; and had a QB rating of 80.2 with a completion percentage of 59.9%. Those are, given this was the 1970's, outrageous numbers.

For that decade, a decade where the Raiders made 5 AFC Championship Games and won a Super Bowl, Stabler ranked #3 in TDs (behind Tarkenton and Staubach), #1 in Y/A, #4 in passer rating (behind Staubach, Bob Griese and Bert Jones), and #1 in completion percentage. Please, don't tell me he didn't deserve a HOF spot. Maybe he wasn't as good as Staubach, Bradshaw, Griese and Tarkenton, but he absolutely needs to be in the Hall of Fame

Stabler's best season personally also happened to be the best season for the Raiders. After losing three straight AFC Championship Games in 1973, 1974 and 1975, the Raiders entered 1976 with a can't win the big one label. That year, the Raiders went 13-1 and then rolled through the playoffs. They ended the season 16-1, the second best record in teh Super Bowl era at the time. Stabler himself had a season that was basically unheard of in 1976.

In 1976, Stabler completed 66.7% of his passes (basically like if someone went 73% in 2015), with a TD% of 9.3 of his throws (2nd best all time behind Manning in '04), and a passer rating of 103.4. Having someone play the whole season and do that in the 70's was like what Marino did in 1984.

At his best he was that good. At his best he was also that infamous. Yet despite the hard partying, the great play, he was always a bit under the radar. He was not as notable a womanizer as Joe Namath, and not as notable a player as Staubach; but he was the closest anyone came to doing both at the same time. Kenny Stabler had the memorable games, the memorable personality, and the great performance. Can we get this guy in teh Hall of Fame please!

It is amazing that for a franchise with the amount of success as the Raiders, they've never had a QB make it to the Hall of Fame. Stabler should be the first, and he likely is the best QB the franchise has ever had. He was a Raider for life, a guy that Al Davis swore by; that his more talented, lettered teammates revered. Ken Stabler lived a good life, and I wish he rest in peace; or rest in action, living life and having fun like he always had.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

My Top 50 QBs: #18 - Jim Kelly

#18 - Jim Kelly

Jim Kelly had a weird career, he's remembered for being innovative, the QB of the NFL's second modern offense. In a way, all current offenses are combinations of the West Coast Offense, and the no-huddle. Things have been molded and adapted, but the no-huddle influence really stemmed from Kelly and the Bills. Jim Kelly, though, is also remembered for losing, but not in a bad way. No, there is no QB who's career is remembered more fondly for failing. In that way, Jim Kelly has led a blessed life. He's the one QB who was so bad at winning the Super Bowl, people realized just how good you have to be to get there.

We must remember that despite their 'high flying' reputation, the Bills were the tallest midget, or the thinnest kid at fat camp. The NFL in the early-90's was at a new offensive valley. The 80's were a rebellion to the dead-ball era of the 70's, and the 90's was defense getting its revenge. The Bills were the best offense, but that was still a team that ran the ball more than half the time. Jim Kelly never threw for 4,000 yards. He never threw the ball 500 times in a season. Part of this was due to him missing 1-3 games in many seasons, but his numbers look more like a 'game manager' in the 2000s, but that goes to the era he played in.

We don't mentally think that the early 90's need to be looked at a little more closely when judging passing statistics, but they must. Kelly's career 60.1% completion percentage, his four year stretch with an 89.6 passer rating, these are impressive numbers. Kelly played in Buffalo, let's remember as well. Compared to his peers, Kelly was a consistent 10-30% better than the average QB, which in the NFL was a lot.

Jim Kelly got the luxury of having Andre Reed, but it was definitely more the other way around in retrospect. He also took control of an offense with a mediocre offensive line, that played in Buffalo, and made it something special. The Bills was 13, 13, 11 and 12 games in his prime, and for his career, Jim Kelly was 101-59, basically averaging 10 wins a year for a franchise that has gotten to 10 wins just twice since he left. We must also remember that Jim Kelly is missing a good 3-4 years of his career due to his playing in the USFL first.

Jim Kelly was one of the people that legitimized the USFL, along with Steve Young, and while Young outclassed him, Young also had the better versions of everything Kelly did. Young had the best WR of all time, instead of a guy who probably doesn't deserve he Hall of Fame nod he got. Young had the best offensive system, instead of the second best. Steve Young was better, but circumstance and situation elevated him and supressed Kelly.

What Jim Kelly also did was throw deep, going against the natural trend of the league to embrace the West Coast Offense and go shorter and shorter. Kelly did not rely on YAC, he relied on his own brilliant right arm, and the players around him. Of course, he never did win a Super Bowl though.

Again, Kelly, and the Buffalo Bills in general, are the one team to largely escape criticism for not winning a Super Bowl. That's what happens when you do something no one else has - get to four in a row. Jim Kelly probably should have won that first one. Obviously, if Scott Norwood hits a field goal he does. Is his legacy any worse because his kicker missed a kick? No, as it should be. He's just lucky to be the one guy where that is the case.

Jim Kelly was a great QB who ran an innovative offense, but more than that, he's a symbol and a reminder to the more analytically-inclined NFL fans. He's a reminder that the early-90's shared far more similarities to the 1970's than it does the 2000s, and he's also a reminder that there is hope that a QB can be judged not by the hardware on his fingers, but the brilliance of the footballs that spun out of them.

About Me

I am a man who will go by the moniker dmstorm22, or StormyD, but not really StormyD. I'll talk about sports, mainly football, sometimes TV, sometimes other random things, sometimes even bring out some lists (a lot, lot, lot of lists). Enjoy.