Saturday, August 21, 2010

I Was Going To Write About My Top 5

The Quarterback is the most important position in football. The greatest football teams of all time are built around their QB. The Pittsburgh Steelers had Terry Bradshaw in the 1970s and Ben Roethlisberger today. The Dallas Cowboys had Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman. The New England Patriots had Tom Brady. The San Francisco 49ers had Joe Montana. All of these players were the centerpiece to their respective championship runs.

There is no debate about who the Lions greatest QB of all time is: Bobby Layne. Layne led the Lions to three NFL championships in the 1950s. He was subsequently traded in 1958, where legend has it as he left Detroit he muttered "this team won't win for 50 years." Known as "The Curse of Bobby Layne," the Lions did not win another NFL championship and have never been to the Super Bowl. In the half-century since, the Lions have won only a single playoff game, in 1992 against the Dallas Cowboys before being routed by the Washington Redskins at RFK Stadium. The 50-year curse culminated in 2008, with the Lions being the first team ever to go 0-16.

When I was a kid, I didn't follow the Lions because I had heard all they ever did was lose. And when you're watching the Tigers and Pistons win (late 1980s), why bother with a game you didn't understand. All of that changed in 1991 when Detroit went to the NFC Conference Championship. Ever since, I have been hooked to the Lions. Like all other Lions' fans, my hopes have risen and fallen with promise and disappointment.

Like everyone else, I watch the QB most of all. The Lions have tried everything. Whether drafting a QB with their 1st Round pick (Chuck Long, Andre Ware, and Joey Harrington), to taking a later-round pick (Rodney Peete, Charlie Batch, Mike McMahon, and Dan Orlovsky), to bringing in someone via free agency (Scott Mitchell, Gus Frerotte, Jeff Garcia, and Daunte Culpepper), the Lions have had next to no success in finding the right guy to lead them to the Super Bowl.

So it falls on me to ponder who has been the best and why. To me, the best is the guy who wins. The stats, the accolades, are no substitutes for victory. Peyton Manning can win 5 more MVPs, but Tom Brady is still the better of the two because of his Super Bowl wins.

When I originally began thinking about this post, I thought I should just blog about the Top 5 Quarterbacks in the last two decades. Ugh, I couldn't do it. There probably is a "Top 5," but once you get past No. 2, no one really did anything to stand out.

Thus, I'm left to discussing only two QBs, (1) Erik Kramer and (2) Dave Krieg. Is it about winning? Mostly, yes. Could it be about statistics? They help.

Both Kramer and Krieg were somewhat mediocre to slightly above average throughout their careers. Krieg was a journeyman QB who had played previously for the Seattle Seahawks and Kansas City Chiefs. He made the Pro Bowl three times, but his play was marginalized by periods of inconsistency and an apparent lack of appreciation in the Seahawks' front office leading to his dismissal after the 1991 season.

After a 10-6 stint with the Kansas City Chiefs in 1992, the Chiefs signed the legendary QB Joe Montana, who played the final two seasons of his career there. Krieg stayed in KC for one more year before signing with the Lions in the 1994 off season.

Krieg was initially intended to be the backup to newly acquired Scott Mitchell, the guy considered to be the hottest QB prospect of that off season. Mitchell's play was underwhelming, leading the Lions to a 4-5 record before breaking his hand at Green Bay. Krieg took over and almost lead the Lions to a comeback. He would finish the season 5-2 as the starter, and a loss at Green Bay in the post season.

Statistically, Krieg's numbers were the best of any Lions QB ever. His TD-Int. ratio was 14/3, and his QB Rating was 101. Had he thrown eight more passes, he would have been recorded as the highest rated QB of that season.

However, the Lions chose to stick with the youth movement and let Krieg go after 1994. The idea looked smart at first; Scott Mitchell posted a career best 32/11 TD-Int ratio and a playoff berth in 1995. His play subsequently diminished and was replaced early in the 1998 season for rookie QB Charlie Batch.

Meanwhile Krieg went on to play for the Arizona Cardinals, Chicago Bears, and finished his career as a backup with the Tennessee Oilers. While he is considered to be one of the most prolific passers in NFL history, Krieg is not a Hall of Fame member. Despite the fact that he is in the Top 15 for most completions, attempts, TDs, passing yards, and victories, Krieg is a largely unsung hero, and probably isn't remembered much outside of Seattle.

Erik Kramer, on the other hand, is simply the best the Lions have had in the past 20 years. You could make a case for Greg Landry being the best since Bobby Layne left Detroit because of Landry being the only Pro Bowl QB the Lions have had. But Landry doesn't have any playoff victory with Detroit, and thus, didn't come as close to the Super Bowl as Kramer did.

Yes, Kramer did lead the Lions to their one and only playoff victory since 1957. But more than that, Kramer rescued the team twice. The first time, in 1991, was when Rodney Peete went down with a season-ending injury and Kramer stepped in leading the Lions to their best regular season ever, a 12-4 campaign. His play earned the Lions their first NFC Central Division Championship since 1983, the first playoff appearance since 1983, and more importantly, gave Lions fans a reason to believe.

What was Kramer's reward for proving himself? The following season Coach Wayne Fontes named Peete the starter. On top of playing behind Peete, Kramer also played behind former Lions' No. 1 pick, Andre Ware, a player largely seen as one of the Top 10 busts of all time.

Even though Peete was later benched for Kramer midway in 1992, at that point, the Lions were out of playoff contention. Kramer's performance that year mirrored the disappointing campaign, throwing 4 TDs to 8 Ints. He was later replaced by Andre Ware who finished out the season for the Lions in their final three games.

Kramer bounced back in 1993. After fumbling around with QBs between Peete, Ware, and then back to Peete, Coach Fontes finally gave Kramer the nod in the final four games. Kramer went 3-1, salvaging Detroit's second NFC Central Title of that decade, and leading the Lions into the playoffs. It would be their last playoff home game, the last one at the Pontiac Silverdome, and Kramer's final game in Detroit. The Lions were up 24-21 on Green Bay and about to put the Packers away before Kramer through an interception to George Teague in the Packers' end zone, who returned it 106 yards for the TD and 28-24 victory over Detroit.

At that point, Kramer had enough of Detroit, and bolted for Chicago. Kramer played five seasons with the Chicago Bears, and then saw his career curtailed by an injury while playing for the San Diego Chargers in 1999.

Kramer by and large, didn't have a memorable career. Neither did Krieg. But I can say with deep conviction that Kramer was definitely "the one that got away." Comparatively speaking, that is. I don't think he would have led the Lions to the Super Bowl, or a Super Bowl championship. I do think he would have at least won one or two more playoff victories, and maybe another division title.

You can blame Wayne Fontes for the way he handled his QB situation. He spent a 1st Round pick on Andre Ware, but was all about Rodney Peete. This left Kramer the odd man out more than once. Like Terry Foster once said, once Fontes realized Kramer was the guy, he wanted nothing to do with the organization.

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