- The Washington Times - Monday, February 5, 2007

I’ll post my weekly AP basketball ballot on Tuesday morning, bringing the “D-I” aspect back to this blog. But it’s hard to let the Super Bowl pass without some kind of comment, even if I only partially paid attention to it while sitting in Raleigh-Durham International Airport on Sunday night.

The primary storyline, of course, was that Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning finally earned his elusive championship and can now rightfully take his place among the pantheon of great quarterbacks because Josten’s or some other company will be sizing him up for a ring in the next few months.

And that premise is just silly.

Judging the success of individual players — and to a lesser extent, coaches who don’t get much of a say in their personnel — purely in championships is one of the great fallacies in sports, where actually thinking about, questioning and even deconstructing conventional wisdom can sometimes be considered heresy.

Well, it’s better to be a heretic than intellectually lazy.

Slapping appellations of “winner” and “loser” on an individual player usually (though not always) ignores the reality there are several other players who influence an outcome. How is it an ultraproductive player’s fault if he is surrounded by lesser talent than a simply above-average counterpart at the same position and cannot compensate for it by himself (there is the question of a salary cap hit a superstar delivers in many sports, but that’s an analysis for another day).

In baseball, if Johan Santana throws a one-hitter (a solo home run) and strikes out 17, it’s hard to say he didn’t do his job if his team loses 1-0. In football, there are 22 men on the field on each play, and each of them possesses some in how the game unfolds.

(Basketball is a bit tricker, with only 10 players on the court and the ability for one player to have a disproportionate effect on the game. Yet even the greatest players need a couple competent hands to win big in the long term).

Look at it mathematically. Let’s say a team is on offense for 60 percent of its plays for a full season (a high total, no doubt). Then say the team throws on 60 percent of its plays (also an unusually high total; the Colts averaged 34.8 passes and 27.4 runs this year, or a 56 percent reliance on the pass). Even in that tilted scenario, the quarterback is throwing the ball in only 36 percent of plays in a game.

This is, of course, a vast oversimplification. The quarterback is responsible for some aspect of every offensive play, but how much credit should he receive if he hands off to a running back who runs through a giant hole created between the right guard and right tackle? How much blame is pinned on him when a delayed safety blitz is not picked up by a lineman or a fullback?

Back to Manning. Contrary to the belief of many in the sporting illuminati, there is no mystical, magical tome called “Knowing How To Win” a single player can seize and unlock the secrets of securing victory. It is not tucked away on Gandalf’s shelf, just waiting to be discovered by a curious explorer. And, as if the point hasn’t been made clearly enough, quarterbacks help teams win games rather than win them all by themselves.

In other words, Manning didn’t just become borderline great, let alone good, overnight.

Manning was a superb quarterback before Sunday’s game, contrary to the hogwash tossed about in recent years of how “he couldn’t win the big one.” He also is not a markedly better player just because the Colts managed to survive monsoon season in Miami, and not more worthy for mention in a discussion of the greatest quarterbacks ever simply because Indianapolis’ defense showed up in the playoffs more this season than the past.

Manning will receive more than enough credit for the Colts’ title, and he’s certainly due some more respect than he’s received over the years. It’s a shame, though, that too many simpletons value one game over nine seasons worth of work while coming to an obvious conclusion: Manning is one of the top dozen quarterbacks in history.

Anyway, to tie that in with college, Manning became the first starting quarterback on a Super Bowl winning team produced by the SEC since Alabama product Ken Stabler helped Oakland win 30 years ago. Stabler outdueled Fran Tarkenton (Georgia) in that game, and only one SEC product (LSU’s David Woodley for Miami in a Super Bowl XVII loss to Washington) had started in a title game since then.

Just to sate some curiosity, this is the total conference breakdown (this is based on current conference affiliations, not which leagues these guys played in):

Pac-10: 8 (Plunkett 2, Rypien, Aikman 3, Elway 2)

Big Ten: 7 (Dawson, Morrall, Griese 2, Brady 3)

SEC: 5 (Starr 2, Namath, Stabler, Manning)

WAC:5 (Bradshaw 4, Dilfer)

Notre Dame: 4 (Montana 3, Theismann)

Mountain West: 3 (McMahon, Young 2)

Navy: 2 (Staubach 2)

Big East: 1 (Hostetler)

ACC: 1 (Brad Johnson)

Fear not, Big 12 fans. At least the immortal Vince Ferragamo (L.A. Rams by way of Nebraska) started Super Bowl XIV.

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