NFL Playoffs – Where QB Legacies are Forged

Schlosser’s Spotlight on NFL Playoffs

 We love to debate quarterback legacies, and we can do it until we run out of names to throw into the competition, but it all comes back to one thing:

Did you win when it counted?

That’s it. That’s job number one. If you did (Joe Montana), then you get all of the credit in the world for it. If you didn’t, it’s forever held against you. It’s all we care about at the end of the day.

People will deny it and talk about stats and how it’s a team sport and how one guy can’t do it all, and I’m not saying that’s wrong. That’s absolutely true. To ask the cliched question: Was Trent Dilfer a better quarterback than Dan Marino? And the answer is a resounding no. Find me one person who says Dilfer was better, and I’ll be shocked.

"Sure the numbers are great, but where's your ring?"

“Sure the numbers are great, but where’s your ring?”

However, go ahead and mention Marino in the Greatest of All Time conversation, the next time you’re having it. Quote some stats about touchdowns and yards, if you want. You already know that the first thing someone is going to say, the very first thing, is “Yeah, but he never won a Super Bowl…”

And they’ll probably say it like it hurts them, a little bit, because they know how great he was but they know they have to qualify it.

When you’re talking about a quarterback’s legacy, you’re looking at nothing but January. It’s the constant knock against Peyton Manning. He owns just about every record in the books, and he’s still playing. He’s had a better career, in that regard, than anyone else who has played the sport.

But, you know what? Stats are for the regular season. He has a losing playoff record, a losing Super Bowl record, and a reputation for choking in big games. That’s what people will tell you, brushing off the records so quickly. And I get it. I get it. Those are the games that matter. The only ones.

I think Joe Montana was the greatest quarterback of all time. You know why? Four Super Bowls, four wins, and no interceptions.

That’s the high-water mark, in my book. On the biggest stage of all, Joe was flawless. He played perfectly when it counted, and he did it consistently. It’s not like he had one good game. Every time he got to the Super Bowl, he refused to turn the ball over, and he won. 4-0. Case closed.

Was Montana the most prolific scorer in NFL history? No. Was he the best athlete to play quarterback? No. Was he the smartest or the most innovative or the guy with the best intangibles that set him apart? No.

But when you needed him, he was ironclad. Thirty-one times he led comeback drives. That’s almost two entire seasons’ worth of games in the modern NFL. In the NFC Champ Game in 1981, he threw a touchdown at the end to win the game. Fast forward to the Super Bowl. He did it again. Big plays in big moments.

Big plays in January.

You can see the impact with current quarterbacks, as well. It took Manning forever to get his first Super Bowl, and that’s defined him, in many ways, as a guy who can’t get it done. Never mind that he has gotten it done; he hasn’t done it enough. On the opposite end of the spectrum, you have Tom Brady, who won three Super Bowls

Hoisting the Lombardi Trophy cures all in the QB's world.

Hoisting the Lombardi Trophy cures all in the QB’s world.

early in his career. That defined him early and he’s never shaken it. If you win when it counts—or if you lose when it counts—that defines you.

There’s no way around it.

Even throw it back to John Elway. He just got stomped in some Super Bowls. Just stomped. And it did define him, despite his own huge comebacks and excellent passing stats. And then he won back-to-back Super Bowls at the end of his career, and his whole image shifted. He was no longer a guy who lost when it mattered, who couldn’t play on the big stage, but a champion. Twice. It still defines him, and his legacy.

We do recognize consistency. We see that Marino (but…) was great because of his consistent play, though you can’t overlook his lack of rings. We see that Dilfer wasn’t great, despite his ring, because that’s really all he ever did.

But the thing it all hinges on is how you played when most of the league was watching from home. How did you do in the snow and the cold at the beginning of a new calender year? How did you do when the competition was fierce and there were no easy games? How did you do when your team needed you the most, when you really were called upon to step up and be your best? And then to take another step?

How did you do in January?

When you hang up your cleats and the GOAT talk swirls, that’s what people will want to know. That’s where the conversation is bound to settle. We look to the playoffs and the Super Bowl, and everything else pales in comparison. If you want to leave a legacy for the ages, that is when you must be great, because that is all we will remember.


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