Friday, September 26, 2008

Roger Staubach: Road Warrior

You know whose name never comes up in Greatest QB of All-Time conversations? Roger Staubach. But why shouldn’t he? He won two Super Bowls, played in two more, and retired as the NFL’s most accurate passer. Staubach clearly earned the “quarterback of the decade” honor for the 1970’s. His only other rivals for that title would be Fran Tarkenton and Terry Bradshaw. And while Tarkenton’s career stats dwarf Staubach’s he never won a title and Bradshaw won twice as many Super Bowls as Staubach but he never came close to Staubach’s accuracy or consistency.

Quarterbacks from each decade's NFL All-Decade Team are candidates for greatest QB of all-time except for the 1970's. Baugh in the 40’s, Graham in the 50’s, Unitas and Starr in the 60’s, Montana in the 80’s, Favre in the 90’s. But no Staubach. Of course Staubach’s left out in the cold because of his relatively short career and because he “only” won two Super Bowls. As to the former, that happened because Roger the Dodger did not dodge military service in wartime and fulfilled his four-year commitment to the United States Navy after his college career ended. He’s got to get some credit for the stats he might have put up if wasn’t busy serving his country. Staubach was good enough to play until he was 38 and he was still playing at a very high level when he retired. As for winning just two championships, Staubach did make it to four total Super Bowls, as many as anybody ever has, but had the misfortune to twice face maybe the greatest team ever, and both games were four-point nailbiters.

Maybe he didn’t play as long as other great quarterbacks. Maybe other great quarterbacks won a few more championships. But Staubach did something no other great QB can match. Check out his 5-1 road playoff record!


Only three of the 19 men on this list even have winning road playoff records, and Starr and Brady are “only” 2-1 (and who knows if Brady finishes his career over .500). Staubach blows away everybody. Five and One! Incredible. Montana didn’t come close to Staubach. Neither did his Super Bowl nemesis Terry Bradshaw. Steve Young never won a playoff game on the road. No, Staubach’s the NFL’s greatest postseason road warrior. Two of those games were the very biggest road wins you could have: conference championship games.

On the downside, Staubach’s home playoff record appears a tad subpar compared to most of the other top QB’s of the past several decades. Staubach lost three playoff games at home and must take some blame for losing those games. The first was the 1973 NFC Title Game against Minnesota where Staubach’s four interceptions helped doom his team. In the other two, Roger’s Cowboys were knocked out by the Rams. Interestingly Staubach beat, crushed really, the Rams on the road in both the 1975 and 1978 NFC Championship Games, but each time the Rams got their revenge the following season by edging the Cowboys in their first-round matchups in 1976 and 1979. Staubach tossed three picks in the earlier matchup and one more in the latter one (his final postseason game). Dallas lost by two-point margins in both games so Staubach’s picks hurt his team badly. He probably cost himself a chance at one or two more Super Bowl appearances. And with one more big game win he’s probably in all the conversations about the best ever.

But he did what he did and if he wasn’t the best he’s in the Top 10 for me. Classic comebacks. An accurate arm. Great mobility. Consistent success. Multiple Championships. And deadly on the road. Roger Staubach—The Road Warrior.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Starr, Staubach, Elway, and Brady

The 19 QB's in the chart below are the greatest QB's of the Modern Era (post-1960). Of the former players on that list, all are in the Hall of Fame but Ken Anderson and Ken Stabler and both men have good cases for enshrinement (at least Anderson does in my opinion). Of the three active players, Favre, Manning and Brady will all be in the Hall one day.

Despite the collective greatness of these 19, we see how very difficult it is to win road playoff games. As a group these 19 QB's won barely a third of their road playoff games. Only four of the QB's have at least a .500 winning percentage in their road games: Starr, Staubach, Elway and Brady. And Starr has a unique accomplishment among QB's of the modern era: his two road wins both came in NFL Championship Games! Starr (my pick for the greatest QB of all-time) is the only QB of the modern era to win two championships on the road (at New York in 1962 and at Dallas in 1966).

Of course, no QB today could hope to match that accomplishment. Since 1970, all NFL Championship Games have been played on neutral sites. You may have heard of a little game known as the Super Bowl. So the next closest thing a QB can do to match (or better) Starr would be to win two conference championship games on the road. And strangely enough, the other three modern-era QB's with winning road playoff records have all done just that. Staubach beat the Rams in Los Angeles in both the 1975 and 1978 NFC Championship Games while Brady beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh in both the 2001 and 2004 AFC Championship Games. It's interesting that each man's second road triumph came three years after his first with the same opponent serving as his repeat victim. Elway took a more unique path, beating Cleveland in 1986 (the Drive) and then beating Pittsburgh eleven years later. Pittsburgh sure seems to have lost an unusual number of AFC title games at home.

If we include QB's of the pre-modern era, we do find one other QB who matched Bart Starr's accomplishment. Chicago Bear great Sid Luckman won NFL titles in Washington in 1940 and in New York in 1946. Let's see Kyle Orton do that!