Tom Brady < Joe Montana? Eli Manning > Peyton Manning?
I enjoy sports debates, I really do. Technically there is no right or wrong answers. These are not fact or fiction questions. They are opinions. But what exactly people place their opinions on I think is drifting off-base.
The Super Bowl is important. I could even understand if you say it’s the most important thing, but you don’t believe that either. Unless it fits your argument.
Joe Montana is 4-0 in Super Bowls. But so is Terry Bradshaw. Are they the same? Are those the two best quarterbacks ever because they each went 4-0 in the biggest game?
Is Eli Manning now better than Peyton Manning because he has 2 titles to big brother’s one? Is he equal to John Elway and better than Brett Favre?
The other part that is lost in the conversation beyond the obvious that I point out is that being good and great is more than just the record you have in the Super Bowl. Brady getting to 5 Super Bowls is amazing. Elway getting to 5 is amazing. Joe Montana never advanced his team that far that often. He lost before that final game. He was blown out in playoff games. He lost an AFC and NFC Title game. Why don’t we introduce that into the discussion if we are talking about losing games? Somehow winning more turns the eventual loss into more of black mark against the player. That just isn’t fair.
I think Eli Manning is a great quarterback. I think he is a future Hall of Famer. I think he has a chance to raise his value as it is judged against history over the remainder of his career. Where he will fall in that discussion hasn’t been finalized yet, but he can’t go backward from here. I prefer to judge players at their peaks, when they were at their best, and how that best measured up against others bests. Eli Manning has shown he is in the conversation with 15-20 other quarterbacks as the best any of us has ever seen. How we arrange them is opinions based on well-thought out arguments.
Tom Brady has done it. He doesn’t need to do more at age 35 to prove he’s one of the best ever, but he keep impressing us. He’s lost the last couple of times, but also just ran out of time. That’s how it works sometimes. You just run out of seconds. Kurt Warner, for my money, is one of the best ever. He was great in the regular season, and led 3 game-tying or go-ahead 4th quarter drives in his 3 Super Bowl appearances. That’s pretty damn good. Unfortunately for him, the other team came back and answered twice and he lost. That doesn’t take away from him. Just like it doesn’t take away from Brady that Eli Manning rallied his guys twice against him in Super Bowls.
Football is a team sport. Perhaps the ultimate team sport. So many players have a say in the final outcome. We try to narrow it down to a single guy, a single position, but that is the fan/media trying to make something complicated into something simple.
Brady is an all-time great. So is Montana. And Eli Manning is making his mark and getting better before our eyes.
At our radio stations NFL Draft party in 2004, I stood next to a Giants fan who I worked with. He asked me what I thought after the Giants gave up the kitchen sink to trade up and acquire Eli Manning from the Chargers. I told him the Giants just won themselves a Super Bowl. I thought the kid had that kind of talent from the first time I saw him as a freshman at Ole Miss. Turns out I undersold him. I should have promised more.
Dan Marino, Warren Moon, Johnny Unitus, and Jim Kelly were all-time great players. So was John Elway long before he finally won a Super Bowl. If Tom Brady’s hail mary connected, it would not have made him any better or Eli any worse.
Winning or losing the last game of a season doesn’t define players, it helps define them. Playoffs, seasons, and careers define them.