Wednesday, January 19, 2005

A Tale of Two Quarterbacks


That's one word that would adequately describe both Tom Brady and Donovan McNabb. Without question. And, of course, there really isn't a bigger compliment. Peyton Manning may have the records, Steve McNair may have an MVP, Michael Vick may be more hyped, but Brady and McNabb are the preeminent quarterbacks of their generation until somebody proves otherwise.

However, once you look past this quick and easy summation of the two quarterbacks hosting conference championships games this weekend, their careers are remarkably different. One stands upon a pedestal of greatness, while the other is desperately scratching to join him.

Take a look.

Brady is on the verge of entering a pantheon of NFL quarterbacks reserved solely for legends like Johnny Unitas, Joe Montana and John Elway. He's on the verge of becoming more than great, but rather a football God, which a third Super Bowl win in four years would assure. He avoids trouble. He has little ego. He dates beautiful actresses. He's too good to be true, as they say.

McNabb, meanwhile, is on the verge of becoming a tortured tale of near-miss greatness that continually stumbles at the finish line. He's quickly becoming the new Jim Kelly, which is nothing to sniff at, but not the stuff of American legends.

At this point, Brady is almost more than a superstar. He's a burgeoning folk hero. Think about it. The Patriots' first unexpected run to a Super Bowl title came in the months following 9/11. Look, some team was going to win that Super Bowl, but, at the time, it seemed somehow fitting that a team called the Patriots - the Patriots! - did so. They wear blue and red, and have a nickname that conjures up images of Lexington and Concord and the defeated British. The birth of America! Even their helmet logo, which looks more like a flying Elvis than an 18th century revolutionary, was symbolic. What's more American than Elvis?

Let's not forget that the 2001 Patriots were 0-2 at the time of the World trade Center tragedy, at which point they took flight. (Pun intended.) And let's not forget that the Patriots were massive underdogs to the Rams in the Super Bowl.

It was a thrilling and strangely symbolic tale that involved unlikely escapes (against the Raiders in the snow), triumphs in enemy territory (Steelers), and historic upsets (Rams, against whom they were the biggest underdogs in Super Bowl history).

I'm not always convinced that the universe works in mysterious ways (although I tend to lean this in this direction), but somewhere, deep inside, I wanted to believe that a championship by the Patriots- the Patriots! - was somehow magical and preordained. It was destiny and undeniably American.

Look, I'm not a Patriots supporter, but at the time I remember thinking that the Patriots' win was just too fitting. Despite all the sorrow and grief following 9/11, a team whose very image is based on the earliest, most mythical days of American history was celebrating a win in our nation's biggest sporting event as millions of viewers watched in countless countries around the world. It was a blue and red sea of triumph. To hell with our grief for one day - we're all Patriots and the Patriots are champs! I doubt that Muslim terrorists, nor anyone else worldwide who harbors ill will towards us, pay much attention to football, but if they happened to notice, it couldn't have made them feel comfortable to see a team decked in America's colors, and with America's earliest hero on their helmets, celebrating.

Planes? Terrorists? Death? Destruction?

Screw it, the Patriots won. The Patriots! They always do! Take that, you twisted, violent malcontents.

Enter Brady. Just think about his name for a moment. Tom Brady. Tom friggin' Brady. The name itself sounds like an American folk hero, right on par with Johnny Appleseed or Huckleberry Finn. Naturally, Brady was an underdog, an American underdog, an overlooked sixth-round pick who only received his chance to shine when Drew Bledsoe's insides were crushed by the Jets.

Even better, Brady has all the charm and charisma to make his tale even more loveable, even more All-American. He has the looks of a cover model, and the humble, laid-back approach of someone who just doesn't understand all the fuss over him. He's an American dream. Heck, if I was a chick I'd be sending my panties to him in perfume-scented envelopes. And it might help if I was a woman, as he has yet to respond to the boxers I sent him.

The point is, Brady was the perfect hero on the perfect team at the perfect time. It was almost mystical. Prophetic. Am I getting carried away? Maybe, but I'm just throwing it out there.

Think about it.

Brady. The Patriots. Red, white, and Blue. Victory against the odds.


Now here we sit three years later. We're still at war and Brady and the Patriots - the Patriots! - are still on top. Weird.

Meanwhile, McNabb's ongoing legacy hasn't been nearly as smooth. He's had to overcome the stigma of being a black quarterback. He's had to overcome the doubts about whether he'd ever win with his arm, rather than relying on his legs. He's had to overcome the merciless boos from Eagles fans on draft day who wanted Ricky Williams. And he's had to overcome the burden of playing in a town that is championship-challenged.

Now he faces his most daunting obstacle yet - the big game and, more importantly, the securing of his legacy. Three sraight losses in the NFC championship, with another possible on Sunday, will go a long way in soiling one's final and lasting image. Nevermind that he is the cornerstone of the Eagles' continued excellence, and that their success would not have happened without him. (Koy Detmer, anyone?) People only remember the record books, which are written in cold, hard, black and white ink. That's it, nothing else. Memories can be unforgiving. They can't be altered.

McNabb does enjoy one luxury, however. Nobody, at least not yet, lumps him in with the other great quarterbacks who couldn't win the big game. While Peyton Manning is rushing towards a lonely spot in history alongside Dan Marino, McNabb avoids such less than complimentary comparisons. Why? Interesting question. I don't know.

Will it always remain this way? Hard to tell. With Terrell Owens injured, there is a feeling that McNabb will receive a sort of pardon if the Eagles again fall short of a Super Bowl win. Personally, I think this is reasonable. Owens is a huge loss and his absence is monumental. It was about as crushing a blow as one team could take. That may sound like a built-in excuse, but it is what it is. And it's crippling to the Eagles' chances.

McNabb, as will the other Eagles, will talk all week long about how he feels no added pressure. That's a lie. Has to be. By each and every Eagle. They may fight it, but they can't deny its presence. The pressure, lingering, growing, gnawing at their soul. It's there, an albatross. Any team, no matter how good, enjoys its window of opportunity for only so long until it shuts violently and they're left to ponder what might have been. McNabb and Andy Reid and all the other Eagles are wise enough to recognize this.

If McNabb has avoided joining Manning as the Marino of their generation, maybe Kelly would be the best comparison. Despite four straight Super Bowl losses, nobody has ever accused Kelly of being a choke artist. Nobody ever says it was his fault, nor his burden to carry. Rather, Kelly is regarded as a quarterback who was unlucky once (see the Giants game) and simply outmatched three times (see the Redskins and Cowboys debacles). The scars on Kelly's legacy are minimal.

McNabb, likewise. The scars are there, however. And growing.

It would be nice to see Brady and McNabb, pure winners both, collide in the Super Bowl. Their careers have been remarkably similar and all together different at the same time. Few quarterbacks - neither today nor in history - have led their teams deep into the dangerous abyss of the postseason with such consistency, and dare I say, graceful ease.

Of course, should they meet, one would have to triumph, and one would have to lose.

But football fans everywhere would be winners.


Blogger Hoodrow said...

Tom Brady is living such a charmed existence that I was absolutely shocked when things went so horribly awry in that Miami guy. It really was unbelievable.

Anyways, the athlete I always think of when I think of Brady is Derek Jeter (although I do think Brady is the better player). Both get things done very quietly. Both are incredibly clutch. Both are clearly well-raised grounded individuals. Both have the utmost respect of their teammates. And both have matinee idol looks. Both have very tough lives.

As for McNabb, I'm not drinking his Kool-Aid until the Eagles at least get to the Bowl. He's come up pretty damn small in a lot of big games, no?

9:13 PM  
Blogger UnknownColumn said...

Ah, to be Tom Brady.

McNabb was terrible in last year's NFCC loss to Panthers - 0 TD, 3 INT.

If Eagles lose again, people may start looking at McNabb as a guy who can't win a big game. It will be tough without TO.

But Falcons are a dome team, and it might snow, so...

4:32 AM  
Blogger WarriorFive said...

Yeah, Brady is an upstanding guy and all, but I also see him as an intelligent All-American guy that pefected the "awe shucks" charisma in the after-math of the Bledsoe debacle in 2001. It was genuine, it worked, and everyone loved him. But don't believe the hype. I've heard him say he never got a date at all until Tara Reid came calling after the Super Bowl. Come on! He didn't just wake up good looking with a Super Bowl Ring. He wasn't a star at Michigan, but he was on the team, and he was a quaterback. He got laid..plenty! He's mastered his lovable act. He knows what America wants and he feeds it to us in every interview. Better Quaterback than McNabb? 2 rings is hard to argue with, although McNabb is pretty damm impressive!

1:06 PM  
Blogger UnknownColumn said...

Yeah, I'm sure Brady knows what he's doing. He's not dumb. But he strikes me as being a genuine guy. Now Peyton Manning? He strikes me as a straight-up phony, someone who completely turns on the charm when he knows he should. Brady? He seems like he's naturally a good guy and knows it so he makes it work for him.

I like the dude. Not like that. (Not that there would be anything wrong with that.)

5:58 PM  

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