Monday, January 17, 2011

Brady vs Aikman

The football world was shocked yesterday when the consensus favorite to win Super Bowl XLV, New England, fell out of the playoffs. The Dynasty in New England must now wait another season to try to grab their 4th Super Bowl title.

I must tell you that I very much anticipated that they would be representing the AFC in the Super Bowl in Dallas, and now everyone is reconfiguring their brackets with both #1 seeds no longer in the tournament.

In the NFL, we are pretty quick to attach meaning to "wins" for a QB. Despite football being the ultimate team game, it would seem that no player has close to the influence of the QB and therefore it is always interesting to see how a QB fares. In fact, Tom Brady received large amounts of recognition and notoriety for being the only QB ever to start 10-0 in the playoffs. An amazing feat that demonstrated Brady understood how to do things in January that others just don't.

But, if that is true, how do we then reconcile this: In his last 9 playoff starts, Brady is 4-5, including now 3 straight losses to Eli Manning, Joe Flacco, and Mark Sanchez.

It obviously does not suggest that Tom Brady is no longer elite. Nor does it suggest that Flacco and Sanchez are better QBs. I think it simply offers conclusions that say 3 things: 1) There is more to football than merely QB. 2) In football there are no best-of-7 series - just 1 game and anything often happens. And 3) Enjoy things while you can, because the worm can turn at any moment and end a dynasty.

Let me elaborate on #3, by discussing a topic that many of you are quite familiar with.

One flaw many of us have when we follow our favorite team is that it is difficult to live in the moment when things start going right. Win a playoff game and you start thinking Super Bowl. Win a Super Bowl, and you can't wait to think repeat. Win again, and all you want is a dynasty. Living in the moment and just enjoying the accomplishment is too much to handle. You want historical immortality. You want to be the greatest ever.

So, when Tom Brady wins a Super Bowl at age 24, 26, and 27, you assume there is no reason he cannot get to 5 or 7 before he is done, right?

Here is a small piece of trivia you may not know: Tom Brady is going through a "ringless drought" right now that is longer than Troy Aikman did from his last Super Bowl (Super Bowl 30) until he retired.

Of course, during that "drought", Tom led the Patriots to a 73-23 regular season record (including a 16-0 2007), 1 Super Bowl, and the playoffs in 5 of those 6 years.

But, like Aikman, the quest for a 4th ring and a place next to Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana in the "4-Ring Club" has been much more difficult than the first 3.

The '01-'04 Patriots and the '92-'95 Cowboys do obviously share many similarities. They are the only two teams during the Super Bowl era to win 3 Super Bowls in 4 years. They did it with an ensemble team that was 45-strong, not led by 1 particluar player who just carried them. And, they did it with a QB who seemed young enough that this dynasty could go on for quite a while.

But, just as you are figuring out where to put a 4th Lombardi Trophy, it stops.

YearAikman AgeRecord, Result
19922613-3, SB Win
19932712-4, SB Win
19942812-4, Lost NFCC
19952912-4, SB Win

HTML Tables

So, with Aikman only 29, Emmitt Smith is 26, Michael Irvin 29, and many others on the team seemingly young and in their primes (Larry Allen 24, Erik Williams 27, Russell Maryland 26, Leon Lett 27, Deion Sanders 28, Darren Woodson 26) it seemed the Cowboys could go on to win at least a few more.

Aikman, unlike Brady, did not experience any 16-0 seasons after the 3rd ring. The Cowboys tried to recapture their stride, but never again resembled the team that they once were. He ended his career with a playoff record of 11-4, after starting 11-1. His final 3 playoff starts were losses to Kerry Collins, Jake Plummer, and Jeff George.

But, 4 years and 10 months later, Aikman was concussed by Lavar Arrington and his career was over. As amazing as his career was, he was unable to get his 4th ring.

YearBrady AgeRecord, Result
20012411-5, SB Win
2002259-7, miss playoffs
20032614-2, SB Win
20042714-2, SB Win

HTML Tables

As of today, Brady has now gone 6 years since his last ring. If he does win another, he will have gone the longest of any QB between Super Bowl rings. Roger Staubach holds that distinction with a gap of 6 years between his wins in Super Bowl 6 and Super Bowl 12 (although Kurt Warner almost eclipsed that mark 2 seasons ago when he was a Santonio Holmes Catch from another ring after a 9 year gap).

Tom Brady will be 34 when the season starts in the fall. Anyone who has watched him play this season knows that he is still quite capable of another run, but for now, his career arch reminds me that as fans of any "super power" in sports, you should enjoy those championships as much as you can while you can. Because there is no promise that those magical moments will ever happen again.

Back to the drawing board for Brady and his Patriots.

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