I should get my biases clear from the start: I am an Oakland fan. As such, I have a deep hatred of everything related to Massachusetts sports. I will never forgive the Red Sox for the Derek Lowe game. I will never forgive the Red Sox fans for going after our aces in a bar before a playoff game. I will never forgive the Red Sox bullpen for taping our starting pitcher’s name to the back of their jerseys to incite the crowd. And I will NEVER, EVER forgive anyone involved in the Tuck Rule atrocity of 2002.
I need to pause for a moment to discuss this Tuck Rule thing because it has basically turned me into Ray Finkle for the last 16 years. I have a theory. A certain event happened on September 11th, 2001. Maybe you heard about it. Afterwards, the nation was grieving. It was in a broken place. We needed something to lift our spirits. Something like having a team called The Patriots pull a Super Bowl win out of their collective sphincters. Then we could all say “YAY PATRIOTS!” and celebrate for a minute. How else can you explain the refs calling something so deep from the rulebook that 97% of America, including the announcers of the game (and probably even the guy who wrote the rule), had never heard of it. A ruling so inexplicable, so at odds with everything everyone watches football understands to be a fumble, that years later the NFL basically said “Yeah, we are tired of trying to justify this stupid thing.” Now, I wouldn’t bet my life that this was a directive from the NFL brass, but I would bet, maybe, Tucker Carlson’s life.
Ordinarily, I would accept a conspiracy like this, since hey, the nation needs to heal. OK that is a lie, I would still be furious, but I would understand. However, most fans don’t really understand how this single event ruined the Raiders, basically forever. Come with me to the parallel universe where this play is ruled a fumble and the Raiders win. They go to the Super Bowl, where they have at least as good a chance to win as the Patriots did, seeing as how they beat the Patriots on the road already two weeks earlier. If the Raiders win the Super Bowl, there is a 0% chance that Al Davis ships Gruden off to Tampa Bay the next year. Even if they lose the Super Bowl, there’s maybe only a 30% chance that he makes that deal with the coach who just made the Super Bowl.
If the Raiders kept Gruden, that means the next year they aren’t playing a Super Bowl against their previous coach. Who had their entire playbook. Who knew all their strengths and weaknesses. Who spent 2 weeks of practice dressing like their quarterback and running their game script. Oh, and their coach probably would not have been actively sabotaging his own team. In short, if not for this one ludicrous call in Foxboro, the Raiders win approximately 1.25 Super Bowls and Gruden becomes the 21st century version of John Madden. Instead, Al Davis shipped Gruden out, the window promptly closed, and the Raiders spent the next 15 years trotting out lame-duck coaches, making disastrous, hyper-short-term franchise decisions, and doing everything he could to undermine his legacy. His last 9 years made Major Kong’s exit look graceful by comparison.
The Raiders had to walk the desert for 15 years to return to relevance, and baby-Davis decides he loves walking the desert so much, he should move the team to Las Vegas. Because revenue was down, I guess. 15 years of losing will do that to you. So rather than sticking around, working on a new stadium deal in Oakland which was definitely on the table, and seeing if the fans – who had basically stuck with them despite their balls being used as a speed bag by the Raiders’ front office for over a decade – would rally around an exciting young team, he grabbed a slightly better offer from Las Vegas and ripped the team away from his fans. Game over. And you can trace everything back to the Tuck Rule.
Now, where was I. Oh yes, I need to address this groundswell to anoint Mr.Gisele Bündchen as the greatest quarterback – and by extension the greatest football player – of all time. I get it, he certainly has the credentials. 5 Super Bowl rings, 4 Super Bowl MVPs, 12 Pro Bowls, 2 MVPs, and 4 facial expressions.
But before we get carried away here, I would like to introduce you to a mystery QB. One shrouded in darkness, who passed by almost unnoticed until I sung his graces today.
This QB only started 19 games but was very successful. He went 13-6, with 4,567 passing yards, 25 TDs, and only 11 INTs. For those too lazy to click on the calc icon, those come out to 240 yards per game with a 2.27 to 1 TD to INT ratio. Not otherworldly numbers but certainly solid. For comparison, the last time Brady played 19 straight games in a season he went 15-4 with 5,030 yards, 43 TDs to 13 INTs for per game values of 265 yards with a 3.3 to 1 TD to INT rate. Better, for sure, but certainly comparable.
Who is this mystery quarterback who has all the ladies swooning, you ask? Why it is none other than Matevimmy Casaopponell – The combined stats of the 3 non-Bradys to start at quarterback for the Patriots since 2001: Matt Cassell, Jimmy Garappolo, and Kevin O’Connell. Matt Cassell parlayed his one season of quality play for the Patriots into a lucrative deal with Kansas City. Two years later he was so bad that Kansas City started talking themselves into saviors like Kyle Orton and Alex Smith. The jury is still out on Garappolo – maybe he is a fine QB – but I would happily short his stock if anyone is offering.
The point is: the greatness we are seeing here is that of the system of one Bill Belicheck. Obviously, there is a shroud of contention that hangs over him for some, shall we say, shady activity under his regime, but personally I feel the same way about that as I did about Barry Bonds: everyone is cheating, he is just doing it better. What is undeniable is that whoever takes snaps in a football game under this version of Belicheck is simply never bad, whether it’s a third string backup or the 199th overall pick out of Michigan.
So who is the All Time Greatest Quarterback? As always happens with questions like this, the answer depends on what you value. Do you care about winning uber alles? Then Otto Graham is your man.He holds the record for the highest career winning percentage for an NFL starting quarterback, at 0.814. Lest you complain that Graham played in a different era where football more closely resembled the South Park pile than modern football, remember that he still holds the NFL record for career average yards gained per pass attempt, with 8.98. He wasn’t just a game manager, he could actually throw the ball, too.
But if all you care about is the ability to heave a football, it is really hard to argue with Peyton Manning. He leads the NFL with 71,940 passing yards, 539 passing touchdowns, and was the first quarterback to ever reach 200 NFL wins. That sound you just heard was 20 million Boston fans yelling “WHERE ARE THE SUPER BOWL WINS?!” but last I checked football is a team sport. Yes, Brady has had better teams than Manning, but Manning was, by any team-independent measure, a better quarterback. Nobody thinks Ben Affleck is a better actor than Daniel Day Lewis just because Argo beat Lincoln for best picture.
The biggest knock on Manning is his less than stellar post-season success, but the fact is he was much better in the playoffs than people remember. He averaged 272 passing yards per game with a 1.6 TD to INT ratio and a QB rating of 87.4. Brady has averaged 267 passing yards per game with a 2.0 TD to INT ratio and a QB rating of 89.0. So if you call their playoff stats a wash, what you have left is the regular season stats and for that, Manning is the gold standard. I will give him the GOAT crown. Derek Carr, you have your work cut out for you.