Great in New York


I saw a quote on Facebook a few months ago. Went something like this (I’m paraphrasing): “Great quarterbacks don’t lose two Super Bowls.”

It was a shot against Brady.

Now I have several problems with that quote. But the reality is, simple and easy, it’s a stupid thought. Without much research, my initial grasps on the issue quickly came to a few conclusions…

First – I can think of several average quarterbacks that have won a Super Bowl. I can think of more than several that have lost a Super Bowl. But I don’t know many average quarterbacks that have led teams to more than one Super Bowl appearance.

Second – Granted, losing two titles does damage any person that wants to name Brady the greatest quarterback ever. Multiple titles and no championship defeats serves Joe Montana well in the debate. But getting to five Super Bowls and winning three kind of makes a career pretty special, even with two losses.

The more I thought about the idea, the more I was reminded a story…

A friend of mine was participating in a class-like discussion about baseball. As I recall, it was sort of a history class. And one day, the instructor posed a challenge to the class: “Define great.”

My friend quickly responded: “Good in New York.”

We’ll come back to this. For now, let’s get some information out there that will be valuable to our exploration. It’s a chart of the past fifteen Super Bowls, featuring both teams and the starting quarterbacks.

Winning Team Winning Quarterback Losing Team Losing Quarterback
New York (Giants) Eli Manning New England Tom Brady
Green Bay Aaron Rodgers Pittsburgh Ben Roethlisberger
New Orleans Drew Brees Indianapolis Peyton Manning
Pittsburgh Ben Roethlisberger Arizona Kurt Warner
New York (Giants) Eli Manning New England Tom Brady
Indianapolis Peyton Manning Chicago Rex Grossman
Pittsburgh Ben Roethlisberger Seattle Matt Hasselbeck
New England Tom Brady Philadelphia Donovan McNabb
New England Tom Brady Carolina Jake Delhomme
Tampa Bay Brad Johnson Oakland Rich Gannon
New England Tom Brady St. Louis Kurt Warner
Baltimore Trent Dilfer New York (Giants) Kerry Collins
St. Louis Kurt Warner Tennessee Steve McNair
Denver John Elway Atlanta Chris Chandler
Denver John Elway Green Bay Brett Favre

Now, here are two things that stand out to me on that chart.

First… it’s been nine title games since the last “not great” quarterback won. That would be Brad Johnson with Tampa Bay. Before that it would be Trent Dilfer with Baltimore.

I deliberately went back fifteen years instead of ten so we could get Kurt Warner onto our chart as a winner… because he’s twice a loser, and we are talking about a “great quarterbacks not losing” theme as the basis of the column. (Plus he’s also so wonderfully intertwined in the development of the Giants and their two championships when you think about it.) The funny thing that happened as a result was adding Trent Dilfer… and John Elway. See, Dilfer drops the 90% great margin down to 85%. But, once you see Elway’s name there, you begin to realize even more strongly that the past decade… two decades… three decades aren’t exactly rigged results in favor of great winners. The five winning quarterbacks before Elway include Brett Favre, Troy Aikman and Steve Young. Losing quarterbacks in the past twenty-five years bring in those four appearances from Buffalo and Jim Kelly. Plus… before winning his championships, I think we all recall the reputation Elway had.

Sure, the longer we go back the more likely we are to get a Mark Rypien as a winner… yet that also leads to the decade dominated by Joe Montana. In Super Bowls twenty-four and earlier we have Montana with four rings, Bradshaw with four, Starr with two and Staubach with two… which is four quarterbacks and twelve titles without getting to a full list of who started and was playing for the losing squads. (By the way… you might want to recall Staubach lost titles as well.)

So I feel comfortable saying that more often than not, especially when discussing quarterbacks that have more than one championship -- if you had to bet you should place your money on great quarterbacks winning titles.

Doesn’t answer our original quote though… does it? No… we’ve been told that “Great quarterbacks don’t lose two Super Bowls.” All I’ve done is shown that most great quarterbacks get to… and win… multiple Super Bowls. So…

Second… check out the list of losing quarterbacks in the past fifteen games. I would say several of the losing quarterbacks qualify for any list of greats. In the past five years Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Kurt Warner have each lost once, and Brady has lost twice. (And, as I sort of noted, Warner also has a second loss outside the recent five-year stretch.)

McNair isn’t great, but he won an MVP award. Toss in Favre with Manning, Roethlisberger, Warner and Brady, and we arrive with a count that shows just shy of half the losers in the past fifteen years are: (1) also Super Bowl winners, and, (2) worthy of consideration as great.

Do we consider Jake Delhomme, Donovan McNabb, Chris Chandler and so on great? Nope… and they also all have in common just a single Super Bowl appearance. They never got a chance to play multiple times in the rarified championship air.

What we have arrived at is pretty interesting…

History shows us that many quarterbacks have made it to just a single Super Bowl. A few of those have victories, and the rest have losses. Most of the starting quarterbacks that have brought a team (or, Warner considered, we need to say teams) to more than one Super Bowl though: (1) have at least one victory, (2) are generally accepted as one of the greatest in history.

So… get a franchise to five Super Bowls with multiple titles… and yeah, I think we can say that a great quarterback has lost two (or more Super Bowls).

Look… you want to argue that Jim Kelly isn’t great… I’m listening. Four Super Bowls and no titles. It’s a Dan Marino type of argument that great doesn’t have to come with rings. Got it.

You could argue that Kurt Warner isn’t great… and once again, I’m listening. Three title games though, with two organizations and some MVP hardware says he was pretty darn good.

Roger Staubach though… he lost twice to Pittsburgh... and I would consider him one of the greatest. (Not top five of all-time greatest if you make the list today… but still one of the greatest.)

The end result is easy to see though… lousy quarterbacks don’t make multiple Super Bowl visits. And when you begin talking about three… four… five opportunities… we are in some rarified air.

Yup, Brady’s legacy does in fact include a missed opportunity at perfection. He has lost his two latest chances at a fourth title. But losing two does not mean he isn’t great. In fact… there’s a good chance it means exactly the opposite. It’s pretty great that he quarterbacked a team to two losses.


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