- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 6, 2007

MIAMI.

It was Wednesday of Super Bowl Week, and Bears general manager Jerry Angelo was holding forth on what it takes to sustain excellence in the parity-pocked NFL. “Well,” he said, “it’s a lot easier to do if you’ve got a Hall of Fame quarterback. I don’t think anybody’s had a real dynasty without one. It’s a key component.”

If dynasty is defined as “back-to-back NFL titles” or “three or four Super Bowl appearances in a short span of time,” Angelo has a valid point. About the only exception is the ‘80s Redskins, who made do with the good-but-not-great Joe Theismann and Doug Williams (and won a third championship in ‘91 with the similarly talented Mark Rypien). All the other legendary clubs in the modern era — from the ‘40 Bears with Sid Luckman to the current Patriots with Tom Brady — had a Canton-bound QB.

No one would have blamed Angelo if there had been a certain longing in his voice. After all, he’s still waiting for his Hall of Fame quarterback, his ticket to Dynastyland. Before he came to Chicago, he helped assemble a succession of playoff teams in Tampa, but they were held back by the pedestrian quarterbacking of Trent Dilfer and Shaun King. As fabulous as those Bucs defenses were — and the ‘99 “D” held the Rams’ “Greatest Show on Turf” to 11 points in the NFC title game — the club never made it to the Super Bowl while he was there.

And now Angelo is in the same situation with the Bears. He has a defense stocked with Pro Bowlers but a quarterback who’s merely ordinary … and may never be more than that. The Super Bowl champion Colts, meanwhile, have one of the two best quarterbacks of this generation. That edge — the wide gulf between Peyton Manning and Rex Grossman — had as much to do with Indianapolis’ 29-17 victory Sunday night as anything else.

Which is why teams will be falling all over themselves in a few months to draft Notre Dame’s Brady Quinn, even though his performance in big games should give any GM pause. Quinn might be the kind of quarterback that sets a club apart, the kind that enables it to paper over deficiencies in other areas and continue to contend season after season. There aren’t many shortcuts in pro football, but there is that one: Find yourself a Hall of Fame QB and you can be good for a long time.

Let’s face it, keeping a team together is much trickier these days because of free agency. Ask Colts general manager Bill Polian to compare this Super Bowl club to the ones he built in Buffalo, and he says, “I can’t. The [Bills] teams were before the salary cap, so it’s apples and oranges. If we’d had a salary cap back then, I don’t know how many of those guys would have stayed.”

Of course, even under the old system, a Hall of Fame quarterback came in handy. It’s hard to imagine Buffalo going to four straight Super Bowls with Frank Reich under center instead of Jim Kelly. Nowadays, though, having a Canton-quality QB is even more vital to a club’s long-term health. If you’re lucky enough to stumble across one, you pay him whatever it takes to keep him and hope there’s enough money left over to piece together a championship team. It’s a juggling act under the best of circumstances, but it’s better than having boatloads of cap dollars to spend and no quarterback.

The question is: How do you get your hands on a Hall of Fame QB? College scouts will tell you the position is the hardest to evaluate because of all the things that go into it — especially the intangibles like leadership and toughness. The Colts got Manning in the ‘98 draft with the first overall pick, but if they’d had the second pick they might have wound up with Ryan Leaf, one of the all-time busts. Three years later, Indy was a perennial playoff team, and the Chargers — the club that took Leaf — had the worst record in the league.

On such decisions do dynasties hinge — and Polian has made the correct choice twice. With Kelly, he had the benefit of seeing him play in the USFL, against Actual Professional Competition, before coming to any final determinations. That reduced the margin of error. With Manning, Polian just trusted his instincts. Beyond the arm and the brains and the winning personality, Peyton, he decided, was just born to play quarterback. Heck, he’d been attending the Archie Manning QB Academy from the time he could walk. To Polian, passing on Peyton would have been like passing on Luke Skywalker.

It took a while, but on Sunday night his quarterback finally hoisted the Lombardi Trophy — and the Colts took their step toward being a dynasty. As for Angelo and the Bears, the search goes on for their Jedi, their Hall of Fame QB. He’s out there somewhere. They hope.

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