I understand that this isn’t a new debate. I know that variations of this post have been written before, several times over. But with Tim Tebow “simply winning” and earning MVP love in the process, I think it’s important that we once again remind everyone that the win column is only one indicator of a quarterback’s success.
The football world has been gripped by Tebowmania for a multitude of reasons. His polarity, he religious outspokenness, his unorthodox approach to quarterbacking, and, maybe most importantly, his penchant for winning football games.
Tebow, of course, is 7-1 since relieving Kyle Orton in Denver. Or, phrased more accurately, the Broncos, of course, are 7-1 since Tebow relieved Kyle Orton in Denver.
I love how, over the years, pundits have been quick to anoint quarterbacks as winners just because their teams are winning. Before Tebow came along, we used Vince Young as our “all he does is win” exemplar.
Despite a 74.4 career passer rating, only 5.8 yards per attempt and more career interceptions than touchdowns, Young is 31-19 as an NFL starter. You may recall that he, too, got the “winner” treatment from the media in 2006, when he and the Titans (see how I included both the player and the team?) won six straight games in a mad-dash playoff run that fell just short.
It helped that the Tennessee defense was giving up fewer than 20 points per game and Travis Henry was one of the hottest running backs in the league. But instead of considering the potential for an anomaly, we chalked it up as Young being a winner.
There are thousands of comparisons that could be made to prove that it isn’t fair to draw blanket conclusions about quarterbacks based solely on wins and losses, but here’s one I dug up today while floating around Pro Football Reference: Ken Anderson vs. Roger Staubach.
Anderson and Staubach played during essentially the same era (both peaked in the mid-1970s), so I believe comparing the two is fair.
Anderson finished his career with an 81.9 rating, a 190-to-167 touchdown-to-interception ratio and a completion percentage of 59.3. He averaged 171 passing yards per game.
Staubach finished his career with an 83.4 rating, a 153-to-109 touchdown-to-interception ratio and a completion percentage of 57.0. He averaged 173 passing yards per game.
Staubach was a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 1985. Anderson still hasn’t been elected.
Why? Because Staubach, while surrounded by as many as five future Hall of Fame teammates, a Hall of Fame head coach and a Hall of Fame president, “won” 85 games and “lost” only 30, winning two Super Bowls in the process.
Anderson, who never played with more than one Hall of Famer at once (Charlie Joiner for four seasons and Anthony Muñoz for three), only “won” 91 games while “losing” 81. He won only two playoff games and lost the only Super Bowl he ever made.
Was Staubach more of a winner than Anderson? Or was he just in a better place at a better time?
Never mind that, in 16 seasons, Anderson’s Bengals were ranked in the top five defensively just once (and top 10 just four times), while Staubach’s Cowboys were in the top five four times during his 11 seasons (and in the top 10 all but three times). Never mind that, despite those discrepancies, Staubach had only five more career comebacks and eight more game-winning drives than Anderson did. Because Staubach was more victorious — that’s why he’s a legend and Anderson is just another really good quarterback from some other era.
This is the ultimate team sport, right? The quarterback is one of 53 on an active roster and one of 11 on the field at any given time. He only plays half of the game, and when he is in the game, he hands the ball off more than 40 percent of the time. That means he’s only a factor about 30 percent of the time. And while that number is higher than anyone else on his team, it doesn’t mean he should be credited with the wins and lassoed with the losses.
He shouldn’t be compared to a baseball pitcher or a hockey goalie, both of whom have much more control over the final result than he does. That’s not something I can say based on quantifiable facts, but rather as a long-time observer of all three sports.
I do understand that, in professional sports, winning is all that matters. But it’s a fallacy that wins and losses can wholly measure an individual’s performance, and it’s naive and lazy to conclude that contributing factors such as the strength of one’s teammates, coaches and opponents are subordinate or irrelevant.
It does take something to be a “winner,” which is why wins and losses are relevant when considering the success of an athlete. But you never hear that all that middle linebacker does is win. Winning percentage should be one of many statistics we use to measure how effective a player is, but it shouldn’t be the be all and end all.
To be ignorant of all the other factors surrounding what makes a good quarterback is disrespectful to both the game and its players, 95 percent of whom are not quarterbacks and yet still manage to contribute to each win and loss.