Stay-at-Home Nerd: If my life depended on it I would choose…
Michael Wilbon of Pardon the Interruption fame has often said since Big Ben won his second Super Bowl that if his life depended on it and he needed one quarterback to win one game he would take Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers. I have no idea why his life would ever depend on such a thing, but I guess it’s more interesting than saying I would pick Ben first.
Sports talk is filled with such hyperbole, of course. Expressions like if I was starting a team, if I was GM, if I could have only one player, if I could trade for anyone and the like are part of the ritualistic canon that go on to become the water cooler talk and sports bar smack for those of us relegated to fandom. It’s become so ridiculous that the most trusted of news sources has now started it’s own sports network simply referred to as The Onion Sport Dome with the sole purpose of elevating such hyperbole to … what? Parody? I have no idea.
There isn’t room in my mind for a show that already does what I regularly do with my friends, which is to take today’s sports topics and turn them into spirited conversations and drunken exhortations. Nowhere will be this more on display than this Super Bowl Sunday, the forty-fifth and perhaps finest. You see I am a Cheesehead, yes one word. I’m from Milwaukee, but that’s not why. My father wasn’t into the Packers or the NFL or me for that matter. Watching the NFL and specifically the Packers on Sunday was my escape.
It started with James Lofton. The Pack wasn’t any good, but that Lofton guy was brilliant. God, he made it look it easy. I suffered through the Randy Wright years, but was rewarded with a Majikal 1989. The Green and Gold went 10-6, losing a playoff tiebreaker to the purple pansies to the north. Don Majkowski was the QB and Heart’s “Magic Man” played non-stop on the radio. He led the team to 4 1-point victories, including a last second touchdown pass to Sterling Sharpe (who would’ve been the greatest receiver of all time had his career not been cut short by injury) against the much-hated Chicago Bears with time expiring. I’m told the Chicago Bears have an asterisk in their media guide for this game because Majik might have crossed the line of scrimmage before the throw. Instant replay, then in its infancy, overruled the on field call and the game was won.
It wasn’t the wins that made that season great. It was the hope. The Packers are one of the greatest franchises in sports history, but they were in a funk. The people own the team. I could fill a book with all of the rational reasons that Green Bay is the best team in pro sports. But this isn’t about facts and figures. Anyone can find those. This is about passion. The question Michael Wilbon poses for himself is just a starting point for a broader discussion. Who would you take to play quarterback for one game if you’re life depended on it? Who would I take?
Big Ben is 10-2 in the playoffs and already has 2 Super Bowl rings, half as many as Terry Bradshaw and twice as many as Brett Favre. Ben is considered clutch for throws like the first down completion against the Jets in the AFC championship game last week, the heave on 3rd and 19 down the sideline against the Ravens the week before that and most famously for the touchdown strike to Santonio Holmes to win the Super Bowl two years ago. I would counter that The Waterboy could’ve won that first Super Bowl and that Ben and Pittsburgh barely beat the Arizona Cardinals who rode an incredible hot streak to get to the big dance in the first place. Of course it’s not Ben’s stats that have ever really impressed anyone; it’s his winning.
Ben isn’t only clutch, though. He’s dumb. Not good dumb like Terry Bradshaw plays brilliantly, but bad dumb like getting in a motorcycle accident without a helmet on and getting suspended 4 games for making the NFL look like it employs thugs who do bad things to women in bathrooms instead of highly trained, highly disciplined, highly paid athletes capable of immortality. That’s why I wouldn’t take him. You just can’t trust him. Besides, he’s the enemy.
If I could only take one quarterback because my life depended on it I would take Brett Favre or Aaron Rodgers. I like to think it’s a coincidence that the two greatest quarterbacks of the last 20 years happen to play for my favorite team, much as I imagine the fans of the Niners felt fortunate after Young took over where Montana left off. Brett Favre is the gunslinger’s gunslinger. He plays quarterback the way I want to play quarterback; the way kids play quarterback, the way children just play. He plays for fun. Don’t get me wrong, he plays to win and he’s as competitive as they come, but he’s not one to slide, sit down or hold onto the ball. He plays QB to throw the ball and he can throw it where others can’t.
Last year at age 40 he posted his single best season statistically speaking in his entire career. That’s remarkable. It makes you wonder why the Packers traded him away in the first place, but I’ll save that for later. He’s thrown touchdown passes with both hands and underhand and he even shot putted one in against the Lions a long time ago. He completed his first pass to himself. He replaced Don Majkowski after Majik got injured against the Bengals in ’92 and threw a 35-yard TD pass to Kitrick Taylor with 13 seconds left on the clock to win the game. He started and beat Pittsburgh the next week and then started every game for Green Bay for 16 years after that. He has more TD’s, more wins, more consecutive starts and more yards than any other player to ever play the game. He ran for a 38-yard touchdown, the longest of his career, against the Bears in Soldier Field on Halloween in 1994 wearing a throwback uniform. I split 7 pitchers of beer and 100 chicken wings with my friend Dan Sherlock that night. I missed 4 live televised games during that span; two for weddings, one with a hangover in Vegas and another for work – that job wasn’t worth it. When Al Michaels exclaimed “He did what?” after Antonio Freeman caught a miraculous TD pass from Favre on Monday Night Football I laughed. When he threw for four touchdowns and 399 yards against the Oakland Raiders on MNF the day after his dad died I cried. It’s safe to say that I spent a good deal of my late teens, twenties and early thirties in love with this man and his style of play.
But, if I had to choose one quarterback to win one game because my life depended on it I would choose Rodgers. Rodgers hasn’t won a ring, but he’s 3-1 in playoffs and owns records for QB rating, yards and touchdowns. At least I think he does. It seems like he should after annihilating Atlanta this year and going toe to toe with Arizona last year in his only playoff loss. I do know for a fact that Aaron owns the highest QB rating ever for a starter over his first three years. He also was 78 yards shy of passing for 4,000 yards in his first three years. Only two quarterbacks have even thrown for 4,000 in their first two seasons: Rodgers and Kurt Warner. I don’t care about stats, though. As Raheem Morris said, “stats are for losers.” What I care about is heart, preparation and winning.
You see Brett Favre wanted to win. He definitely had heart. He was prepared. In the end, though, he wasn’t willing to do what it takes. Against the New Orleans Saints last year in the NFC championship he should have thrown the ball away or tried to run for a first down. He’s not immortal and throwing back against the grain is almost never a good idea. In the last 5 games he played for the NY Jets he tossed 9 picks costing them a playoff spot and Coach Mangini a job. Against the NY Giants in the 2007 NFC Championship game in Green Bay he should’ve thrown the ball away. He didn’t and was picked. His last pass in a Green Bay uniform was a season ending touchdown for the other team. In 2004 Brett Favre ended Green Bay’s season with a toss up interception to the Eagles in overtime. Are you noticing a pattern?
When I was scrambling around the schoolyard as a kid I would huck and chuck the ball anywhere. The stakes were small and the chance to make a great play was much too good to pass up. I never made a great play. Hell, I rarely made a good throw. But, I could pretend to be a gun slinging QB with all the talent in the world. Now, Brett Favre had all the talent in the world, he just didn’t know when to hang onto it.
It’s true Aaron Rodgers fumbled away the ball in overtime against the Cardinals last year and cost us that game. That was also after he threw for over 400 yards and four touchdowns. This season he’s played in 5 must win games in a row and won all five. The difference between Favre and Rodgers is simply that Rodgers is willing to do whatever it takes to win a ball game. If that means handing off 50 times a game he’ll do that. If that means throwing for four hundred yards and 3 touchdowns then he’ll do that. If that means making a game saving tackle against Brian Urlacher, a tackle that had no business being made, then he’ll do that.
Aaron Rodgers is an adult QB. He’s more Joe Montana than John Elway. He’s a surgeon, an assassin. He’s also Houdini. He’s more athletic than Favre ever was – he’s the second leading rushing QB in the NFL behind Vick. He’s got a cannon for an arm. He’s got pinpoint accuracy. And he’s smart with the football. In the first six weeks of this season the Pack was 3-3 and Rodgers had thrown 7 picks. Since then the Packers are 10-1 in games Rodgers has finished and he’s thrown 24 touchdown passes and six picks. After starting 3-3 Rodgers went on to have a weekly one on one meeting with head coach and play caller Mike McCarthy in order to make sure they were on the same page. That’s what someone who wants to win does. That’s what you want a QB to do if your life depends on it. The rest, as they say, is history.
My Game Prediction: Packers 38 Steelers 17