Thursday, January 31, 2013

National Friday League: Another Super Bowl Sunday

If your prime of watching pro football came sometime in the late '60s into the middle of the '70s, you might have started to feel entitled to see the Vikings in the Super Bowl. I came along later (they made their last Super Bowl before I was born), and so the Vikings playing in the Super Bowl is really something that happens only in my dreams and video games. It's two separate worlds that don't end up going together, my watching the Super Bowl and my passionate fandom for the Vikings; I can just watch and enjoy a Super Bowl as if it has nothing to do with the Vikings. It's like being a pacifist but really, really, really loving Star Wars: it's just a separate realm of existence. The Super Bowl is a general historic thing to watch, and the Vikings are a passionate love, and (in my experience thus far) never the twain shall meet (though after traumatic NFC championship games, or when the Packers are in the Super Bowl, the separation is lost, and that's when I don't watch).

It's fun to watch a Super Bowl between teams with a coach and quarterback who have never won the Super Bowl before: legacies will be made, because in sports legacy there's no difference greater than that between zero and one championship.

Neil O'Donnell, Super Bowl Quarterback
Neil O'Donnell played quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1991-1995.  His QB rating in each of those seasons was between 78.8 and 87.7.  The league QB rating during those five seasons was always between 72.8 and 77.5: O'Donnell was always a slightly better than average QB. And the Steelers made the playoffs four straight seasons with O'Donnell as the primary QB, culminating with a Super Bowl appearance in 1995, when the Steelers hung with the Dallas Cowboys (the dominant team of the early '90s) but lost largely because O'Donnell didn't play very well.

The Steelers let O'Donnell go in free agency, and it's not entirely clear whether that was the right move. On the one hand, O'Donnell was never a superstar QB (he had some decent years after leaving the Steelers, but nothing stands out), and the Steelers remained competitive, making the playoffs without O'Donnell in 1996 and 1997. On the other hand, the Steelers spent nearly a decade looking for a legitimate answer at QB, mostly staying competitive but never making it back to the Super Bowl until they drafted Ben Roethlisberger, a real franchise QB. The Steelers weren't made to look ridiculous for letting O'Donnell walk, but they still might have been better if they kept him.

The parallel between O'Donnell and Joe Flacco should be pretty clear. I think Flacco is better than O'Donnell, though Flacco's numbers are arguably closer to league average than O'Donnell's were (I say arguably because while Flacco has yet to miss a game in his career, O'Donnell never started 16 games, which is an argument in Flacco's favor, and makes the direct comparison a little tougher). We'll see how Flacco plays in the Super Bowl, but the idea that he's elite and deserves to be paid as such is pretty ridiculous to me. Flacco is frustratingly inconsistent: every QB has bad games, but if you watch the Ravens play, you see Flacco looking utterly inept more frequently than you'd expect from an elite QB. That doesn't mean that the Ravens wouldn't be better off paying to keep him, anyway.

I keep fixating on the quality of Joe Flacco's quarterbacking not just because he's in the Super Bowl. I'm a fan of one team looking curiously at what makes other teams successful or unsuccessful, what makes them competitive, and what brings them to another level. Not many teams get a crack at elite quarterback play even for a short time: seeing the Ravens continued success without it (see Bill Barnwell at Grantland on Ozzie Newsome's consistent practical brilliance) is something to take note of.

The Vikes have had mediocre to poor quarterbacking in seven of the past eight years. In that time they made the playoffs three times: twice when Adrian Peterson won a rushing title and once in the one year they had elite quarterbacking. So when we ask questions like if/when the Vikings should give up on Christian Ponder, what level of backup QB they should have in the fold, even how to build the rest of the team*, we can look to what's worked and what hasn't worked for other teams.

*they should acquire WRs with the intent to improve a team weakness, not with the intent to try help/support/develop a QB. I think intent matters because focusing on the latter may lead the team to acquire lesser WRs and/or to pass on talent at other positions; focusing on the former means keeping a broader focus on improving the quality of the team.

I'm cheering for the 49ers for a typically inane reason 
I like their uniforms. I've always thought they were great: they look good on the field, they look good in photos. And I don't care for the Ravens' uniforms. Somehow a player becomes 26% more likable in a 49er uniform, and 17% less likable in a Raven helmet (it's math. I did it).

Steeler fans must hate this (or maybe they don't give a crap)
Either their hated rival the Baltimore Ravens win a Super Bowl, or the 49ers tie the Steelers with six Super Bowl wins. These are the things I imagine fans of teams at the top get to think about. Excuse me while I go convince myself that I should feel joy at the Minneapolis Lakers' legacy.


  1. PV:

    For some reason it felt like O'Donnell played for the Steelers for much longer than the period you cited. I don't even remember who he played for after he left the Steelers. The Jets? The Titans? I'm uncertain.

  2. O'Donnell is a great comparison for Flacco and that type of system. He was a good QB for those Cowher teams that always won with defense and a running game. The Steelers wanted him back, and supposedly he wanted to stay, but the Jets just offered too much money. [A little perspective on salaries because I was curious: Jets gave him 5 years, $25 million (Steelers offered $18 or 19 mil) with a $7 million bonus. NFL people agreed it was a terrible contract. Peanuts in today's NFL. Salary cap in 1996 was $40.75 million. Crazy.] He was McNair's backup for awhile in Tennessee.

    While Flacco will never be a Peyton, he has really improved in the last two years. He's not elite by any means, but he's going to get paid and you're right, it's probably worth it for a team like the Ravens. I would kill for Ozzie to trade purple jerseys, sorry Rick, he is the man.

    My spoiled shit of a best friend is a Pittsburgh native. He is whining about not wanting the Niners to get six but his hatred for the Ravens trumps everything. He will never forgive O'Donnell for those two unexplainable picks, but he also laments the great teams they wasted after he was gone with Kordell at QB.

    1. ETR:

      Good history lesson on O'Donnell and digging out the financial numbers.

  3. I feel the same way about the uniforms and will probably cheer for the Niners for the same reason.

  4. Congratulations, Cris Carter! now let's see who is named MVP.

  5. This just in: thr NFL MVP award is honored to have won Adrian Peterson.

  6. It was kinda nice to watch purple and gold confetti. congrats, Birk!

    1. I couldn't watch it. For some reason I did not want Baltimore to win that game.

    2. yeah, I didn't want Baltimore to win either, but I imagined seeing the purple confetti in the future and felt a nice little ray of hope shine on this hard Vikings heart. fortunately I watched the game with some friends and we laughed and joked and ate and dealt with various kid issues that arose. I wasn't emotionally invested, which was nice.