Thursday, January 18, 2007

Here's the Story of a Man Named Brady . . .

The parallels are hard to ignore. The Winner without gaudy statistics versus the Superstar who can't win. Some of the most talented athletes never reach the pinnacle of competitive achievement. Ah-hem, ARod and Peyton. The idea then becomes: should these star players be blamed or deemed unlucky.

Peyton Manning could retire tomorrow and would be guaranteed a spot in Canton. Alex Rodriguez could do the same and similarly would earn a piece of Cooperstown. Could Jeter or Brady - bereft of their seven championship rings - earn respective HOF enshrinement on their stats alone? I doubt it. They both have very good regular season accomplishments, but Jeter's recent MVP snub implies the lack of statistical awe that an ARod or Peyton breeds.

At times, Rodriguez and Manning are so similar it's eerie. Peyton Manning has two regular season MVP awards and Tom Brady has never come close to one - although he does have two SuperBowl MVPs. Alex Rodriguez has two regular season MVP awards and Derek Jeter's 2006 campaign was the closest he's come - although he does have a World Series MVP. Sound alike?

Alex had a miserable 2006 season in which he exuded mental-instability, but nevertheless collected 30-plus homeruns, 100-plus RBI, a respectable batting average & solid OBP. Culminating in a disappointing first-round playoff banishment at the hands of a crumbling Tiger team, the 2006 Yankees once again became a discussion of ARod's defeatism.

In a sport that requires the least in terms of team-chemistry, ARod's blame has become Bush-like and borders on laughable. However, his decline as far as playoff performance is irrefutable and must have something to do with the elusiveness of championship #27.

Similarly, Manning's histrionics on NFL sidelines parallel the outward frustration ARod expresses on the infield or in the dugout. Maybe not to the same extent as ARod, but Manning projects a certain sensitivity - especially when considering the sangfroid of Brady. As is the case with ARod, Manning's regular seasons are stellar and instantly place him among the top quarterbacks of alltime. The bright lights of the playoffs tend to humble Manning.

Or maybe it's just a defense that can punch him in the mouth. In 2006, Manning was sacked 14 times - which tied him with Steve McNair as the least amount of sacks taken by a "starting" quarterback. To put this in perspective, Marc Bulger was sacked 47 times and Ben Roethlisberger was sacked 46 times.

Since McNair does not throw the ball nearly as much as Manning, suffice to say that the Colts QB averages the least sacks per pass attempt in the entire NFL. He was sacked 17 times in 2005, 13 times in 2004, and 18 times in 2003. The only "feature" quarterbacks sacked less during this four-year period was Brett Farve in 2004 and Joey Harrington in 2003.

Manning does deserve some credit for the low sack total - because of his quick-release and ability to feel pressure and avoid it. But, fair or unfair, these stats paint Manning as an unscathed athlete who folds under pocket pressure - see his playoff games against the Patriot & Charger defensive fronts.

Manning has taken his team to the playoffs seven out of his eight years with Indianapolis, but has thrown only 16 touchdowns to 13 interceptions in those eleven postseason games. Whereas Brady is defined by winning or losing, Payton's lack of postseason success means that "the numbers" dictate how good he is in the playoffs.

The TD:INT ratio is the most glaring postseason stat because Manning still has a completion percentage over 60% with an average of 263 passing yds. per game in those eleven starts. Brady's postseason statistics look like this: 230 passing yds per game, a completion percentage over 60% and a TD:INT ratio of 19:8. Remember that three of those picks came last week against the Chargers.

Following last year's playoff loss to the Steelers, Manning threw his offensive line under the bus saying, "I'm trying to be a good teammate here... let's just say we had some problems with protection." Peyton was sacked five times in the loss but broke the quarterback's unwritten law: you never question your O-line and never ever in the press.

The aloofness of Alex Rodriguez was never more noticeable then following Tom Verducci's strange SI cover-story in which ARod only accomplished further scrutiny. There is also the infamous Esquire Magazine piece that had Rodriguez dissing Jeter as an unimportant piece of the Yankee championship puzzle:

"(Derek) Jeter's been blessed with great talent around him," Rodriguez said, ". . . he hits second - that's totally different than third or fourth in the lineup. You go into New York, you wanna stop Bernie and O'Neill. You never say, Don't let Derek beat you. He's never your concern."
That statement has come back to haunt him ten-fold. Baseball fans continuously see Jeter elevate his game during the postseason as ARod's playoff regression reaches catastrophic levels. Referencing poor starts by (Athletic's thirdbaseman) Eric Chavez does not win you any love in the league. Nor do proclamations like "I can't help that I'm a bright person."

Regardless of your opinion on Alex Rodriguez or Peyton Manning, I can say with 100% certainty, these guys are dying to win the big one. They are not the stereotypical athletes who could care less about their place in history, desiring only bulging bank accounts or $200,000 automobiles.

They work tirelessly to get better. Hoping to find that microscopic weakness in their opponent that they had not yet uncovered. Consulting every possible preparation - mental or physical - in order to somehow earn "the win" is a commendable attribute. But, it seems no matter how tight this twosome clutches for the championship trophy, the unforeseen always snags glory first. Peyton's next date with destiny comes Sunday night against the one, the only, the Brady bunch.

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