Monday, February 06, 2012

Goodbye Football, Pt. 1

And so the 2011 NFL Season concludes: the New York Giants are the best team in professional football. Super Bowl XLVI ended the same way Super Bowl XLII ended in two ways: Eli Manning leading a TD-scoring drive that included a spectacular catch by one of his wide receivers, and Tom Brady unable to lead the game winning drive.

It was a good game, and a good cap to a memorable season for a Lions' fan such as myself. My team won 10 games! We went to the playoffs. Well, "they" did. Ahh, who cares? We went to the playoffs!

My only interest in the game was to see Tom Brady notch his 4th Super Bowl victory and tie the likes of Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw. To do so would make him the undisputed best QB of his generation (and then another win would make him the best of all time!). I'm a Brady fan because he's a Michigan QB. He's from California, but quarterbacked the team in the two years following the Michigan Wolverines' 1997 Championship season. While he didn't repeat a National Championship, he did play well enough to win a share of the Big Ten Championship in 1998, and two Bowl victories (Citrus Bowl over Arkansas and Orange Bowl over Alabama).

Brady is kind of a local sports "hero" around here. Michigan and Michigan State have proud football traditions, and it's always nice to see players from those schools succeed at the next level. But Brady is different because he's a quarterback. Michigan in the last three decades has had Brady, Jim Harbaugh, Elvis Grbac, Brian Griese, Chad Henne, Drew Henson, Todd Collins, and John Navarre all play the position in the NFL. Of those guys, only Harbaugh, Grbac, and Griese had respectable careers aside from Brady.

Michigan State hasn't had any real tangible starting quarterback in the NFL, despite sending a handful over the last couple of decades: Jim Miller, Tony Banks, Jeff Smoker, Drew Stanton, and Brian Hoyer. None of them have made any significant impact in the NFL, although Miller, Banks, and maybe Stanton can qualify as journeymen, or quality backups.

Who's Ohio State got? Art Schlichter? Bobby Hoying? BAAAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!! No, really, who've they got? (Terrelle Pryor, it's all on you, baby!)

So Brady's been my de facto favorite quarterback while my Lions have wandered for decades in search of "the guy" (and from the looks of things, we've found him in Matt Stafford). While Matt Millen was "brainstorming" on how to put a football team together, I had to root for some team that could actually win, so it was easy to find the Patriots as a logical 2nd choice. They've got Brady, and he's good for the state.

Yesterday's loss doesn't sting as much as the 2007 (technically, 2008) loss. The Patriots were undefeated, they were oh-so-close to capping off the perfect season, and it ended harshly. Think yesterday's game, but with less time on the clock. But the Patriots weren't as heavily favored. Their defense was atrocious, and many predicted that's where the outcome of the game would lie.

I see that Brady's wife, Gisele, is under scrutiny for criticizing his receivers. Of course, she's right; had Wes Welker caught that one pass late in the 4th, they might've scored another TD and put the game out of reach. There were other drops after Welker's, but his was a clutch drop. Now Welker may be developing a reputation for hurting his team's chances when they need him most (he was benched for the opening series against the Jets in the 2010 Wild Card for making references to Jets' Coach Rex Ryan's alleged foot fetishes). Other receivers too, like Deion Branch, had their hands on the ball but were slightly out of position making the ball harder to catch than Welker's pass.

But I digress, Brady's 4th Super Bowl ring eludes him another year. I don't know if he'll get another shot. He's 33, and the Patriots need to retool the defense. Maybe it will become dominant again, but by the time it does, his skills may have regressed to where he's no longer "Tom Terrific."

As for Eli Manning, my hat's off to him. He now has his second Super Bowl victory, one more than big brother Peyton. And Eli won it in Peyton's house, Lucas Oil Stadium (that's home to the Indianapolis Colts to any non-football fan). I'm not a huge fan of the Mannings, but I have to admit: they are good for football. They're clean, they respect the game, and they've expanded the brand.

If there's one statistic that will stand out to me is the fact that Eli Manning has not one, but TWO Super Bowl rings in his first eight years. Peyton Manning didn't make it to his first Super Bowl until his ninth year. No matter how many MVPs, how many All-Pro selections, Pro Bowl invites, or other numerous awards and accomplishments, that will always stand out to me. Peyton won his first Super Bowl just in time for Eli to win his first.

As far as the debate between who's the better quarterback - Brady or Manning? I think the nod once again goes to Brady. For all Manning's statistics, and all his accolades, the game is about winning championships. Brady has three rings out of five appearances; Manning is one for two. Brady has a better playoff record, he does own some single-season records (like the TD pass), and he is catching up in the number of MVP awards.

Brady is a Michigan man. I'm sad he didn't win, but I'm glad he's the best quarterback in his generation.

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