Friday, November 03, 2006

Team sports

Comment from my buddy Ryan (a Pats fan) over on TGR:
From a few days ago, Talk pro football with's Andrew Perloff in Huddle Up, a forum to discuss the hottest topics around the NFL:

Sports Illustrated's player poll on the most overrated player in the NFL has touched off controversy around the country -- especially in Dallas and Chicago. Terrell Owens topped the poll of 361 players, and Brian Urlacher was second. Ray Lewis, Michael Vick, Eli Manning, Keyshawn Johnson and Peyton Manning round out the top seven.

I would add Tom Brady to the list.

If the Patriots hadn't drafted Brady, there's no way he'd be compared to Joe Montana and Johnnie Unitas. Would Brady be a Pro Bowler? Probably. He obviously has a ton of talent, but his elevated status has a lot to do with the incredible Patriots' system. It's no mistake the Patriots ran out as a team before they beat the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI. If ever there was a whole bigger than it's parts, it's this team.

Nevertheless, the world has anointed Brady the unquestioned King of the NFL.

I have always thought people overrate players who win championships in every sport. If Derek Jeter is the greatest shortstop of his era because of his rings, does that make Luis Sojo the top second baseman? Same goes for the Patriots. Is Matt Light the greatest tackle of the 2000s because New England won three Super Bowls?

Before you angrily respond, remember this is about perception. I'm not saying Brady isn't a great quarterback. I'm saying the hype has gone too far.

I took a deep breath and decided to respond to the bait:

This comment is absolutely retarded. Sorry buddy, but it's true. The fact of the matter is that one baseball player simply CANNOT win a championship without a great team around him. Pedro Martinez pitched 2 of the most dominating seasons I've ever seen from any pitcher, ever. And those Red Sox teams didn't get past the first round.

Barry Bonds, roids and all, put together a string of seasons that were as good as any of us are likely to see in our lifetimes*. His team made one World Series and missed the playoffs twice!

Football is definitely a team sport, but QB is the most important position. It would be like having a baseball team where the same guy pitched all 9 innings, every game**. So baseball comparisons should be dropped. Permanently.

In the end, a quarterback is more similar to a hockey goalie or an NBA superstar. Sure, they do need help from all of their teammates, but they are judged by championships. Patrick Roy isn't overrated. Bill Russell isn't overrated. And neither is Joe Montana.

Brady is already a surefire 1st ballot hall of famer if he drops dead tomorrow (not sure you could say that about Peyton yet). Remember also, that the Patriots already had a "Pro Bowl" quarterback when Brady jumped in the mix. Drew was decent (59-52 from 1994-2001), but probably was never going to win a Super Bowl. Brady might have to share the credit for that first Super Bowl. But how the hell do you explain the playoff record since then? The seasons (pretty much all of them) with 3000+ yards and 60% completion rate? And the record? 64 wins to go with 21 losses.

If he wins another ring with this Patriots squad and their "devestated" receiving corps (or another 2 Super Bowls at any point) then he deserves to be mentioned with the three guys above. Not just in the debate for hall of fame, but best of all time.

*Seriously, check out Barry from 2001-2004. Four of the top eight seasons for OPS in baseball history and not a single ring to show for it. And the year they did make the WS he hit .471 with an "are you kidding me?" 1994 OPS in the seven games!

**In this scenario, teams would only bring in their "closers" to take a knee and pitch a frame if they were already up 10-1 in the 9th.

This is very much a social science problem. Often times we'll only be able to say that X policy causes 25% of Y, but that it is the strongest effect that we can find. But that doesn't mean that our model isn't valid; only that it is incomplete. Oh well, I'm off to go build a better mouse-trap (model).