Excuse us ... mind if we interrupt the T.O. ankle watch for second?
Now, let's talk about what the Super Bowl is really going to come down to -- the men under center. We're about a week, four quarters, one halftime show and 10,000 hours of coverage away from cementing a legacy for Donovan McNabb and Tom Brady.
Will Donovan go down as the next great QB who couldn't win it all? Or will he push King Tom from his throne? Will Brady make the final step from great QB to legend, from "good run" to Dynasty?
Let's take a step back and let the men of Snap Judgment be your guide.
|AUDIBLES FROM OUR QBS|
|Your Super Bowl party: Pizza or wings?||Party? I'll be working; watching Lingerie Bowl II||Pizza, of course||Greek pizza||Chili||BBQ chicken pizza||Pizza|
|The deep ball: Brady or McNabb?||Brady; accuracy over length (insert Enzyte joke here)||McNabb||McNabb||Brady. Did you see the pass to Branch?||McNabb||McNabb|
|The screen pass: Brady or McNabb?||Brady||Brady||Brady||Brady||Brady||McNabb|
|The two-minute drill: Brady or McNabb?||Brady||McNabb||Brady||Brady||Brady||Brady|
|T.O. or no T.O. Which team is hurt more by not knowing his status?||Dunno, but T.O.'s marketing team seems to be doing just fine||Eagles||Pats; team that benefits most: scribes||The Eagles, a little||Eagles||Eagles|
|Worst QB ever to start a Super Bowl?||Trent Dilfer||Kerry Collins||David Woodley||David Woodley||David Woodley||David Woodley|
|Three words or less: What role should the Tuck Rule incident play in the Patriots' dynasty debate?||Ask Al Davis||Sill won two||None||Little or none||Rules are rules||Do not underestimate|
|Perish the thought. But just in case: Koy Detmer or Rohan Davey?||Davey on experience -- namely, I've seen Detmer play, and it's not an experience I care to repeat.||Detmer; experienced||Koy; historical QB bloodline that rivals the Mannings||Detmer||Unless the game is being played in Germany, Detmer||Detmer|
First down: OK, once and for all: Is Tom Brady the Second Coming of Joe Montana? And if he isn't, which Super Bowl quarterback from the past does his play most bring to mind? Bradshaw? Starr? Aikman? Somebody else?
Alan Grant: Should this center on numbers alone, like four Super Bowl championships, the same number won by Bradshaw and Montana, he is a second coming of sorts. Bradshaw was supposedly too dumb, and Montana too weak and spindly. But both, while members of great teams, played their absolute best in the biggest games. Thus far, Brady has done that as well. But in terms of his forensic play, I think he most resembles Troy Aikman. If you recall, in the Cowboys' three victories, Aikman garnered just one MVP. That's because the plan didn't call for the quarterback to win the game with spectacular throws or runs. He simply played point guard in a ball-control offense. Brady does pretty much the same thing.
Eric Neel: Why not. Like Montana, he's got most every throw in the book. Like Montana, he shows preternatural grace under pressure. Like Montana, he can take a hit. Like Montana, he knows his system so well it becomes invisible under his direction. In fact, the only major difference I can see is that, unlike Montana, Brady hasn't had the benefit of playing with someone as supernaturally brilliant as Jerry Rice.
Jeff Merron: Kurt Warner. Montana. Johnny U. Tom Brady. Here's the link: all began their football careers underrated, deemed by the NFL's enormous collective brain trust as young QBs that should be passed on, over, around -- not given the ball to. Warner, legendary grocery boy. Montana, third-rounder. Johnny U, cut by the Steelers, semi-pro player two years before transforming the league into The League. All winners. What's goiing on here? We're talking a span of 50 years in which these guys have slipped under the radar, through the combine, through the Wonderlic, all the way to Elite Status Level of the QB Club.
Patrick Hruby: Honestly, Brady brings to mind Trent Dilfer and Jeff Hostetler. Don't laugh. I'm not talking physical talent -- Brady's touch and accuracy recall Montana -- or even intangibles (Brady is as calm as they come). Rather, I'm referring to Brady's role. New England asks Brady to play mistake-free football, trust his defense and take the downfield shot if and when the opportunity arises. As others have noted, Brady is more conductor than soloist -- he makes everything hum, but if the opposing team shuts him down, the Patriots still have a good chance to win. How many big-name Super Bowl quarterbacks can say the same?
Aaron Schatz: Actually, since only one other quarterback in NFL history has ever marched his team down the field to win the Super Bowl on a last-second field goal, isn't Brady actually the Second Coming of Earl Morrall? I'm kidding, of course he's Montana the Second: high completion rate, great TD-to-INT ratio, ability to run the short passing game like a running game, chill under pressure when leading a comeback, movie star looks, and probably not releasing a gospel album anytime soon.
Skip Bayless: Brady most reminds me of a little bigger and slower Montana, yet Brady is still four or five years (and six or eight great late comebacks) from eclipsing Montana.
Astonishingly, Brady's accuracy has improved to the point he can throw a little harder than Montana did. Brady's accuracy and catchability equal Montana's, as does his soft-shoe movement in the pocket. Yet Brady can't take off and hurt a defense with his downfield speed as Montana did with his 4.5 40 capability. And Brady isn't yet in the same stratosphere with Montana for late-game magic.
Yes, Brady has led to Super Bowl-winning drives, yet they were fairly short and set up 48- and 41-yard field goals. Montana won a Super Bowl and an NFC championship game with late touchdown passes. And as amazing as Brady has been, it shouldn't be forgotten that his "tuck rule" fumble should have cost the Patriots that playoff game and that his interception against Carolina last year allowed the Panthers back into a Super Bowl they tied 29-29 before losing 32-29.
Second down: No Chad Lewis. Probably no T.O. A running game that doesn't exactly elicit comparisons to the Packer sweep of the '60s. Seriously: How the heck is Donovan McNabb supposed to win this game? Or even play well?
Alan Grant: The Patriots won't give him much to hit. In some ways, this defense is reminiscent of Belichick's best defensive unit ever. That of course, was the Giants' defense in the '80s and early '90s. Willie McGinest, used primarily as a rusher, and the more versatile Mike Vrabel, are in essence Lawrence Taylor and Carl Banks. One rushes and the other contains. So the perimeter is pretty well locked down. And with Richard Seymour's return imminent, forget about trying to pound the ball between the tackles. McNabb must draw on his powers of patience. When the Patriots drop a multitude of folks into coverage, he has to run as far as he can. And when they blitz him and by chance one of his guys is hot for a short route underneath, he has to throw it quickly. There won't be too many chances for big plays or knockout blows. This is all about maintaining a steady jab. He does that, he has a chance.
Eric Neel: I reject the premise. Quick outs, deep balls, seven-yard scrambles, balls thrown on the run, balls perfectly-timed on routes over the middle -- he's done all these things before. He's done them a lot this season. It's not impossible he'll do them again. It's not bloody likely he'll do them all against the New England defense, maybe, but he's not helpless, and Reid's no scheming slouch (this team hasn't really missed a step since T.O. went down). With or without T.O., they've got a shot.
Jeff Merron: How were McNabb and the Eagles supposed to win or play well throughout the playoffs without T.O.? The way to do it is to take chances. Play to win, not to not lose. Of course, lots of this is out of McNabb's hands, and up to Andy Reid. But McNabb has some pretty good options at his disposal. He can throw deep. He can run outside and downfield, if he has to. Westbrook's a double threat. Pinkston. There's the inimatible Freddie Mitchell. And so on. I understand why the Pats are favored. They are better. But for the Eagles to win -- it's the very possible dream.
Patrick Hruby: How the heck should I know? I'm not Andy Reid -- and thank goodness, given that frigid Gatorade shower he received during the NFC championship game (there's also the cop mustache thing). But I will say this: more than any creative play call or game plan, the Eagles have to win the one-on-one matchups for McNabb to have a chance. That means the little things: picking up the blitz, getting that extra step of separation, holding a block one more second. The Patriots outscheme other teams, to be sure, but also play better fundamental football. Beat them on the basics, and maybe McNabb can shine.
Aaron Schatz: The Patriots defense has one clear weakness. They've been the best defense in the league against the opposition's main receiver all year long, even after the Ty Law injury. But they are extremely susceptible to big games by the second receiver. Koren Robinson had 150 yards against them, Antonio Bryant had 115 yards, T.J. Whosyourdaddy had 145 yards, Johnny Morton had 107 yards. So the Eagles can win if they get a really big day from their second receiver. And the Eagles' No. 2 receiver is ... uh ... Todd Pinkston. Yep, Donovan McNabb is totally and completely screwed.
Skip Bayless: No talented quarterback I've watched has made such significant mid-career strides as McNabb did this year. He appeared so much more comfortable and confident, and he was so much more decisive and accurate. Some analysts credit Terrell Owens with providing McNabb a big, fast security blanket; I don't. McNabb was at his best without Owens, in the Eagles' two playoff games, when he masterfully ran the NFL's last pure version of the West Coast offense, speed-reading his progressions and involving eight receivers.
McNabb has matured into a Magic Johnson of a leader and orchestrator. Obviously, it hurt to lose a red-zone weapon like Chad Lewis. But without Owens, McNabb's offense could cause the Patriots more problems because it will be so much more diverse and unpredictable. The Patriots would have taken away Owens. Now, McNabb will make them honor every receiver.
Winning will be very difficult. But if McNabb can spread 30 completions without an interception among seven or eight receivers, including eight or 10 screens and swing passes to Brian Westbrook, McNabb could make it close.
Third down: Qualify for us (and quantify, too, if you can) what losing in the Super Bowl means to a quarterback's legacy. What if Jim Kelly had won? What if Fran Tarkenton had won? What if John Elway hadn't finally won? How would life be different if Kerry Collins or Neil O'Donnell or Tony Eason had won? And most importantly, what if Donovan McNabb loses on Sunday and never gets back?
Alan Grant: Legacy is a tricky word. It pertains to one's heritage. Trent Dilfer, by leading the Baltimore Ravens to a title, ushered in this age of decidedly non-franchise quarterbacks and their impact on the game. So I suppose he, and his subsequent "heirs," (oddly enough Tom Brady may be counted among them) will be credited for the rebirth of "team football." While Dilfer is known for this, he still isn't awarded the respect of other past Super Bowl winners, is he? Absolutely not. As it pertains to Collins, O'Donnell, Eason -- it wouldn't make the least bit difference had they won, not unless they had popularized the non-superstar quarterback. But they didn't. They were just journeyman quarterbacks who lost in the Super Bowl. As for Tarkenton and Kelly, I don't know, I think their 0-3 and 0-4 records thrust them respectively into the realm of infamy. And if you're like me, the infamous character is every bit as charming as his more decorated counterpart.
Now if McNabb should fail on Sunday, and never return, his place in history already has already been established. In fact, this place bears not just a name, but a famous one -- Dan Marino.
Eric Neel: If Jim Kelly had won, Michael Irvin would have gotten into even more trouble, and sooner. If Fran Tarkenton had won, Tony Robbins would have been sitting next to Bob Griese on late-night TV. If Elway hadn't won, we'd all have been spared talk of Jim Kelly and Fran Tarkenton. As for the other guys, well, life would feel cheaper, more ordinary, if they'd won, kind of the way it did the day Trent Dilfer won the Super Bowl. Seriously, I don't think losing means all that much. I think winning means a whole lot. If McNabb loses Sunday and never gets back he's pretty much the same quarterback he is right now: very good, but not all-time. If he wins, though, he makes a leap. And if he wins again, he's in "the conversation." That's what he's playing for. He's not playing, forgive me for the cliché to which I am about to resort, "not to lose."
Jeff Merron: Certainly, winning means a whole lot to a legacy. Winning just once is good enough to get you prime time in the two-week gabfest we're going through right now. But consider Tarkenton and Kelly, Hall of Fame QBs with a combined 0-7 Super Bowl record. They simply aren't the first names that come up when we talk about the best of the best. That's because they didn't win the Big One. McNabb: that's a Hubble-like crystal ball you're asking us to look through. He's got another eight or 10 years on him, and who knows?
Patrick Hruby: Depends on the team and the quarterback. The younger Elway nearly willed the Broncos into the Super Bowl on his own; blowouts at the hands of superior teams didn't tarnish his reputation. Similar deal for Collins and O'Donnell. Both were, as Alan puts it, glorified journeymen. No one expected them to win, or even play particularly well. I think a loss only hurts if you're the quarterback of a favored team and lay an egg.
Winning, of course, never can be taken away from a player (note to cliché-loving athletes: who's trying?). Still, I doubt anyone would make a serious argument that O'Donnell was better than Kelly even if the Steelers had beaten the Cowboys.
Aaron Schatz: Hold on a second, I'm still trying to stop laughing at the thought of "what if Tony Eason had won."
OK, I think I'm composed again ... Losing in a Super Bowl doesn't really hurt a quarterback's legacy. Getting clobbered in the Super Bowl is what hurts a quarterback's legacy. People thought John Elway "couldn't win the big one" not because he couldn't win the big one but because he threw three picks in a game Denver lost 42-10 and then two picks in a game Denver lost 55-10. People don't think of Jim Kelly as the guy who lost Super Bowls because of the game where Scott Norwood missed wide right. They think of Jim Kelly as the guy who lost Super Bowls because of the game against Dallas where Buffalo had nine turnovers, and that was just during the national anthem. I don't think anybody says "Steve McNair, can't win the big one" or "Jake Delhomme, can't win the big one" or "Ken Anderson, couldn't win the big one." So if the Patriots win on Sunday, but McNabb doesn't play badly, I don't think it will change the way people remember him 20 years from now.
Oh, and I think I figured it out. If Tony Eason had won the Super Bowl, the road by the Natick Mall would be called "Eason Pass" instead of "Flutie Pass."
Skip Bayless: The more gifted a quarterback is, the more cursed he can be by Super Bowl failure. Fair or not, I will always think of Dan Marino as an extremely gifted quarterback who lost in his lone Super Bowl appearance. Maybe that's unfair -- Marino was never buttressed by a great running game or defense -- but that's America.
This season, fortunately or unfortunately, McNabb has risen into "great quarterback" status. This means he now requires historical validation, and there's only one way to achieve it: Win at least one Super Bowl. To me, Steve Young isn't a first-ballot Hall of Famer, but he'll probably make it on his first try because he got that Super Bowl monkey off his back. If McNabb loses this one and never returns, he'll go down as a great loser -- a guy who lost a Super Bowl and a bunch of NFC title games.
Fourth down: You're writing your game story on deadline from the Super Bowl. Using the two quarterbacks as your focus, give us your first two paragraphs. Remember (for once in your lives) Journalism 101: Who, What, When, Where, Why and Sometimes How. Don't forget the dateline. Oh, and you might want to mention the final score.
Eric Neel: February 6, 2005 (JACKSONVILLE, Fla.) -- It was supposed to be Tom Brady's night. It was supposed to be the night the calm, cool quarterback of the Patriots became a bona fide legend. But Donovan McNabb and the Eagles had other ideas. With 3:32 left in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XXIX, McNabb, standing on his own 28-yard-line, ducked under a Willie McGinest blitz, sidestepped onrushing linebacker Tedy Bruschi, and fired a strike over the middle to a streaking Brian Westbrook, who took the ball 72 yards for the winning touchdown in a 27-26 classic.
Experts predicted New England's defense would frustrate McNabb, but the veteran quarterback remained patient in the early going and seemed, late in the game, to have decoded Bill Belichick and his schemes, connecting on 7 of 10 passes in the fourth quarter, including two for scores. For his part, Brady was every bit as good. In fact, if not for a tremendous, concussive tackle delivered by Jevon Kearse in the third quarter, he might well have finished the game with his own heroics. Instead, the two-time Super Bowl champion Brady watched from the sidelines as Adam Vinatieri's last-second 64-yard field goal attempt fell just inches short.
Jeff Merron: February 6, 2005 (JACKSONVILLE, Fla.) -- In the longest, and certainly the strangest, Super Bowl ever, the Philadelphia Eagles defeated the New England Patriots 26-23 in triple-overtime. David Akers' 59-yard field goal near the end of the third extra period won the bizarre contest.
Terrell Owens and Tedy Bruschi were named co-MVPs, the first time the award has been shared by players on the winning and losing end. Owens caught three passes, including a 79-yard bomb late in the fourth quarter that put the Eagles up 23-21. Bruschi had one interception that stopped a key Eagles drive in the second quarter, made 12 solo tackles, and sacked Donovan McNabb twice, including once with 2:14 remaining to score the safety to tie the game at 23 and send the game into overtime.
Patrick Hruby: February 6, 2005 (JACKSONVILLE, Fla.) -- Terrell Owens' ankle left the New England Patriots out of joint. Passing for three touchdowns, Owens' injured ankle notched a 21-17 Super Bowl victory over the Patriots, becoming the first orthopedic condition to win a NFL championship.
"For the last two weeks, the story has been me," clicked the ankle, which also caught all three of its touchdown passes and was named MVP. "And you know what? For once, the media overkill was justified."
Tom Brady threw two touchdown passes for defending champion New England, which failed to win its third title in four seasons.
"It hurts to lose when you get this close," said Brady, who suffered his first postseason loss. "But give that ankle credit. It played a great game. Who knew a single joint could outperform an entire team? That little bundle of bone and sinew deserves to go to Disneyland, or at least be on the cover of next year's 'Madden.'"
Aaron Schatz: February 6, 2005 (JACKSONVILLE, Fla.) -- Given plenty of time to maneuver, Philadelphia quarterback Donovan McNabb still couldn't find any open receivers. Given far less time to maneuver by the Eagles' pass rush, New England quarterback Tom Brady did a much better job finding his. As a result, Philadelphia must spend the whole offseason wondering "what if" -- what if star receiver Terrell Owens had been able to play at full health? -- and New England gets to spend the whole offseason celebrating what is: an NFL dynasty which won its third Super Bowl title in four years, 31-16.
Skip Bayless: February 6, 2005 (JACKSONVILLE, Fla.) -- A year ago, Corey Dillon was a Cincinnati Bengals malcontent. Now he's a Super Bowl MVP.
With the pregame hype focused on Terrell Owens and Tom Brady, Dillon stole the show by running for 155 yards on 22 carries as New England won its third Super Bowl in four years with a methodical 27-10 win over Philadelphia on Sunday night at Alltell Stadium.
Owens started the game for the Eagles, but appeared to be running gingerly on his surgically repaired ankle as he caught a two-yard pass on the Eagles' first offensive play. Coach Andy Reid took Owens out of the game and didn't let him return. Owens demanded a trade after the game, saying, "If Reid had played me, we would have won."
Alan Grant: February 6, 2005 (JACKSONVILLE, Fla.) -- Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb took just four minutes into the game to make his presence felt. On third down from the Eagles' own 30-yard line, McNabb dropped back into the pocket and surveyed a sparse number of options. The only receiver open was Terrell Owens -- unfortunately he was on the sidelines. McNabb took off, deked Rodney Harrison and cut back through the middle, burning a path to the end zone. That made the score 7-0. The Eagles never scored again.
It took Tom Brady four quarters, eight minutes, and three Super Bowls to become a legend. With seven minutes left in regulation, and the score tied at 7, Brady engineered one of the more brutal, yet elegant, drives in NFL history. Corey Dillon, who ran for 176, helped get the Patriots to the 7-yard line. On third down, Brady carried out a play fake to Dillon on a dive. He took a five-step drop and scanned the end zone for a receiver. For a second, Troy Brown was free on a crossing route, but Eagles safety Brian Dawkins, reading Brady's eyes, dropped Brown onto the turf. Brady tucked the ball and headed up field. At the 1-yard line, he slung himself into the end zone. The 14-7 victory, and that particular play, earned the Patriots their third title and Tom Brady his third Super Bowl MVP award.
Best Super Bowl Pass of All Time
Alan Grant: Bradshaw's perfectly arcing bomb to Swann in SB XIV.
Eric Neel: Montana to Taylor on a slant.
Jeff Merron: Bradshaw to Stallworth, 60 prevent, slot, hook and go, for 73 yards in SB XIV against the Rams. Gutsy call, executed perfectly when it mattered most.
Patrick Hruby: Ditto on Bradshaw-to-Swann. Maybe the prettiest catch, too.
Aaron Schatz: Two: Montana to Taylor for TD and Brady to Brown for FG range.
Skip Bayless: Montana's game-winner to John Taylor.
Worst Super Bowl Pass of All Time (Garo Yepremian's quacker, which is already enshrined in the Bad Pass Hall of Fame, is not eligible.)
Alan Grant: O'Donnell's errant toss to Larry Brown in S.B. XXX.
Eric Neel: Joe Theismann, meet Jack Squirek.
Jeff Merron: Neil O'Donnell's toss to Cowboys CB Larry Brown with four minutes left in SB XXX.
Patrick Hruby: Ditka passing on Walter Payton to give the Fridge a TD touch.
Aaron Schatz: Neil O'Donnell to Dallas CB Larry Brown.
Skip Bayless: Two Neil O'Donnell interceptions making Larry Brown MVP.