Wednesday, March 5, 2008

No silverware or shoelaces on the Madden Cruiser today

Let me tell you a thing or two about being The Man. Not The Man as in He who keeps us down, but The Man in the National Football League. The Man in generally a quarterback, but not always. The Man wins championships. And, most importantly, there can be only one The Man - there doesn't have to be a The Man, but there cannot be two. So since there is a debate about whether Peyton Manning or Tom Brady is The Man, neither is.

The last time the NFL had a The Man was January 3, 1999. Brett Favre had won the NFL MVP from 1995-97, with the Packers going 37-11 over those three seasons, in each of which Favre led the league in passing touchdowns, winning a Super Bowl in 1996, but losing by a touchdown in 1997 to the Broncos. The Broncos' Terrell Davis won MVP in 1998, rushing for 2008 yards. Favre led the 11-5 Packers into San Francisco, where they lost an emotional game on a Terrell Owens catch with seconds remaining. The Broncos went on to win their second consecutive Super Bowl, putting Davis in the discussion for being The Man, and Packers coach Mike Holmgren left Green Bay for total control in Seattle. Since then, Favre hadn't reached the same level of dominance until this year, and there hasn't been a consensus as to the best player in the NFL.

Favre established himself as The Man after leading the Packers to their first Super Bowl win in nearly 30 years after the 1996 season, a season he began in rehab. The two years prior and the three ensuing years, his last five seasons with Holmgren as head coach, were one of the greatest runs in NFL history. Take a look at an average season for these five Hall of Fame quarterbacks from 1994-98:

TDs Ints Yards Comp % Super Bowl Record
Brett Favre 35.2 15.8 4054.6 61.54%
Steve Young 24.8 9.0 3355.6 66.76%
John Elway 23.4 11.8 3445.8 59.32%
Dan Marino 22.0 13.4 3638.6 60.43%
Troy Aikman 14.4 9.8 2943.8 61.60%

All five of these guys were still near their prime and played five relatively healthy seasons from 1994-98, and Favre's numbers leap off the page.

Not included in that run is Favre's performance in the playoffs after the 1993 season, where Favre notched his first playoff win in Detroit on perhaps the greatest throw in NFL history.

The legend goes that Sterling Sharpe was hurt, and since he wasn't running full speed he was able to drag his feet in the back of the end zone. Lions defensive backs stopped covering Sharpe since there's no way anyone can throw the ball over 50 yards upfield across his body. Just an impossible throw.

I still view the Packers as the favorite in the NFC next season, if for no other reason than that they face a far easier path than the teams in the NFC East. Favre's successor Aaron Rodgers shredded the Cowboys secondary last year to the tune of 18-26, 201 yards, and 1 TD, and the offense will likely get more carries for Ryan Grant, the NFL's second leading rusher over the last 10 games of last season. Packers fans are reportedly apoplectic about Favre's retirement, but it shouldn't have a huge effect on how competitive the Packers are next season.

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