By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Everyone loves a good list, right? Nothing gets the debate juices flowing — especially in the middle of March — like a good old-fashioned list. How could you rank this person there? That person’s where?! I am befuddled by your choices!
Lists are the best. ESPN knows that, so in the most recent issue of ESPN The Magazine, there’s a list of “the most formidable, awe-inspiring and downright dominant athletes of the past two decades.” It’s ranked. It uses some methodology and relies on experts and yada, yada, yada.
Long story short: ESPN ranked Peyton Manning at No. 3 on the list, and ranked Tom Brady at No. 20 on the list.
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, your thoughts?
Anyway, to most people, any and all Manning v. Brady debates were settled firmly over the past few years. Manning faded away — albeit while winning a Super Bowl despite not having a functioning throwing arm, which was admittedly supremely impressive. Meanwhile, Brady somehow got better in his late 30s, winning two more Super Bowls, reaching a third, and establishing himself as the greatest quarterback of all time. He even led the league in passing yards and won an NFL MVP Award at age 40 to boot. A Manning v. Brady debate in 2018 feels so … retro.
To be clear, if someone were to rank Manning ahead of Brady, it’s not unreasonable. He was the most prolific passer of all time. He still owns the all-time records for passing yards and touchdowns — though the former will be wiped away by Drew Brees by Week 8 of the upcoming season. There’s no denying Manning’s greatness, and if you are partial to the Tennessee Volunteers or the Indianapolis Colts or even the Denver Broncos, then sure, you’d probably want to rank Manning ahead of Brady.
But to say that Manning was the third-most dominant athlete of the last 20 years while simultaneously contending that Brady ranks 17 spots worse is to engage in what we in the business like to call “slinging cow manure around the pasture.”
There’s a methodology to the ranking system. You can read it if you want. It purports to explain why the man who plays the most impactful position in team sports and has led his team to a Super Bowl in eight of his 16 seasons as a starting quarterback is ranked 20th, behind the likes of Mike Trout (who’s put up Ruthian numbers but whose career began 15 minutes ago), Michael Schumacher (who … races cars … cool), Annika Sorenstam (who retired 10 years ago), and some more people that make you scratch your head. The list also ranks Serena Williams 12th? And doesn’t include Michael Phelps? Barry Bonds ranked 17th??
Seems like a dumb list.
Anyway, it’s good enough to get the folks over at Colts.com to throw a party, which is cool. But there’s one real issue with the big, dumb list. It’s this: “In evaluating players, we considered regular-season stats only, since there’s no good way to compare playoffs across sports.”
Oh. Cool. I mean, technically these guys are playing games, and the whole point of playing games is to win games, and if you win enough games then you win championships. But, well, I suppose if Peyton Manning went from throwing 2.1 touchdowns for every interception thrown in the regular season to throwing 1.6 touchdowns for every interception thrown in the playoffs, and I suppose if Peyton Manning’s passer rating dropped from 96.5 in the regular season to 87.4 in the postseason, and I guess that if Peyton Manning’s win-loss record went from 186-79 (a .702 winning percentage) in the regular season to 14-13 (a .519 winning percentage) in the postseason … well, then I guess I’d have to ignore the postseason stats if I wanted to rank Manning at No. 3. Because as everybody knows, being a dominant athlete is not about winning. It’s about regular-season stats and regular-season stats only. That’s the mark of a truly dominant player.
We would, of course, have to ignore the fact that Brady’s TD-to-INT marks are significantly better, both in the regular season and the playoffs, and that Brady has a better career regular-season passer rating than Manning, or that Brady has won 10 more games than Manning and has lost 24 fewer games than Manning. If Brady can just go out there and lose 24 straight games, then he too can claim to be as dominant as The Sheriff, and our king, a one Mr. Peyton Manning.
In a completely unrelated story, ESPN has reportedly been trying to sign Peyton Manning to work as an analyst on Monday Night Football, going so far as being willing to pay him $10 million per year.