Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Stop, Please, Just Stop

Out of loyalty to the old shop, and because he's an excellent football reporter when the spirit moves him, yours truly joined a few dozen loyalists and turned the car radio dial to ESPN 890 yesterday afternoon to listen to Michael Felger's take on the Super Bowl. I lasted thirty seconds.

Mike and some guest named "Andy, presumably one of the infinite number of ex-NFL players ESPN has on scholarship. were in an intense discussion of the following burning issue: Who's better, Tom Brady or Peyton Manning?

Click. There is apparently a rule in sports talk radio. Only idiocy allowed. Leaving aside the obvious sour grapes context of a Boston show discussing Manning the day after the Colts won an NFL title, Michael knows more than enough football to realize how incompetent, irrelevant, and immaterial the argument was. Deciding which of two Hall of Fame quarterbacks is the better player isn't talking sports, it's theology. Anyway, the correct answer is "both." If either man quarterbacks a team, he's going to make it a potential champion. To win the Lombardi Trophy, his teammates must help a little bit.

At a certain level of excellence, there are no right or wrong choices, merely personal preference. Take top-shelf restaurants. To me, Radius is the best dining experience in Boston. Clio, equally expensive, of equal technical merit, is literally not to my taste. Literally. I'm not a fan of Asian spices in western food. My opinion also rests on prejudice. A former Eliot Lounge regular is never going to be comfortable in the premises of his old haunt.

Choosing among Hall of Famers is no different. Try this scenario for proof.

You and a fellow fan are on a playground with all the players in the NFL. You and he are rival coaches and GMs, picking teams for the ultimate schoolyard football contest.

Obviously you'll pick a quarterback first. If your buddy gets first pick and chooses either Manning or Brady, are you unhappy you snap the other guy? No. In fact, you're delirious with joy you got second pick, because you get third pick, too, and can now choose LaDainian Tomlinson (you'll wind up losing), or Walter Jones (your trophy awaits).

In short, whatever difference there is between Brady and Manning is almost surely not going to be the difference between winning and losing any game. Sure, one will play better than the other, but almost surely not enough to sway the result. Nobody with a brain blames the Pats' AFC championship loss on Brady's last interception. When a team scores 34 points, its quarterback wasn't the root cause of defeat.

Sometimes I think the purpose of American media, not just sports, but all of it, is to actually regress the national dialogue to a series of dopey, point-missing arguments which trivialize both the participants and subjects. It's as if there's a long-range goal to turn us into a nation of 300 million Paris Hiltons.

On Dec. 8, 1940, in what for many years was the most famous pro football game ever played, the Bears and Redskins played for the NFL title. Each team was led by one of the two best quarterbacks in the game, future Hall of Famers Sid Luckman and Sammy Baugh.

Luckman's Bears won by the modest score of 73-0. Know what? Read the Washington papers from Dec. 9 and there isn't one story stating the debacle was all Baugh's fault.

Of course, back then people only turned on the radio to hear Jack Benny.


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