Sunday, February 11, 2007

Big game quarterbacks: do they exist?

Steve Sailer doubts that they do. He argues that it is wrong to draw conclusions about the post-season records of Manning and Brady because the sample size is too small.

He has point, maybe. The lack of data might make it impossible to say that Brady is better. But it also makes it impossible to say that Manning is better than Michael Vick or Kordell Stewart.

His point about Brady acting like a more decisive leader than Manning is a good one. Obviously, appearance counts (hence the vast attention paid to Vick.) John Elway looked like John Wayne when he walked to the line of scrimmage. Manning, unfortunately, lacks that swagger.

As for Brady, I wonder if this is a case where the eye sees what the mind tells it to see. Neither Brady nor Montana look like Elway behind center, but we know their history as cool winners. So we see a "command presence". If Brady was 7-5 in the play-offs with only one ring, we might not see that intangiable.

Manning is the anti-Elway. Only one other great quarterback looked as clumsy and out of place in the pocket -Johnny Unitas. Unitas, though, possessed two advantages over Manning. First, Unitas burst onto the national scene by winning his big games in 1958 and 1959. So there was no question about his leadership ability. Second, Unitas had a steely-eyed manner with the press that made it impossible to label him "soft". Manning's politeness after those play-off losses worked against him with the media.

It is the same trap that ensnared Bart Starr-another soft-spoken southerner who does not receive his due. While Manning gets most of the blame for the Colts post-season losses, Starr receives too little credit for the Packers's unmatched post-season success. He led them to three consecutive championships, five titles in seven seasons, six title games in eight years. He was MVP in the first two Super Bowls. The drive to win the Ice Bowl was as masterful as anything turned in by Brady, Montana, Elway, or Unitas. Ye, somehow, Starr is often overlooked when the press writes about great quarterbacks. Nice guys may not finish last, but quiet guys will get less ink.

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