One of the most frequent arguments I hear against Steve McNair's case for enshrinement in the Hall of Fame is the fact that he lacks what all players strive to achieve; the Super Bowl Ring. Forget for a moment that his stats were maybe worthy of consideration for Canton, let's just assume that he had stats similar to some of history's finest QB's who never won a championship like Warren Moon and Dan Fouts. Obviously, he'd be inducted as both of them have been, yet he still lacks a Super Bowl title, so he'd never be considered for the "all time greats" club" reserved for players who have (oddly enough) lesser stats, but a glut of Super Bowl rings.
Occasionally, we're treated to a special player like Tom Brady, Joe Montana, or Troy Aikman who has the best of both worlds; awesome stats and multiple rings. However, it's come to my attention that a surprising amount of history's greatest "winners" have, at best iffy, at worst pedestrian, statistical outputs.
Let's play player A, B, and C. I'll give you three anonymous stat lines of three quarterbacks, you tell me whose resume is most impressive.
50.1 comp. %, 27,663 yds, 173 TD, 220 INT.
1x Pro Bowler, 2x AFL MVP, 1 Super Bowl win.
51.9 comp %, 27,989 yds, 212 TD, 210 INT.
3x Pro Bowler, 1x NFL MVP, 3 Super Bowl wins.
60.1 comp %, 31,304 yds, 174 TD, 119 INT.
3x Pro Bowler, 1x NFL MVP, 0 Super Bowl wins.
Players A and B are currently in the Hall of Fame. Player B, Terry Bradshaw, posted some solid, though somewhat underwhelming stats considering his reputation as an all-time great. His four Super Bowl wins are no impressive, but as we all know, winning the big one on the back of the some of the greatest defense of all time is so easy that Trent Dilfer could do it. Sometimes, though it's very rare, all you have to do is be barely competent enough to hold down a starting job and a ring is there for the taking. It's not that he was a bad QB, he was by most accounts a very good one, but perhaps he might have benefited from a system that featured A.) a historically strong running game, B.) a historically strong defense, and C.) a historically good wide receiver corp.
Player A is basically indefensible when you take his name off the stats. After some research, I've discovered that during the years he was active, he ranks 33rd in completion percentage and 28th in QB rating. No matter how you slice it, that's pretty damn awful. I can't even use the "different era" excuse for this guy, some astoundingly mediocre players were getting it done back then, he wasn't. Player A is the most frustrating anomaly in NFL history: Joe Namath. I have yet to find a stat that leads me to believe that he's an elite quarterback for any era. He completely gets by on the perception that he was a good player and has a hard time backing it up. Were it not for "the guarantee" or whatever they're calling it, I have my doubts that he'd be remembered as much of anything. I don't think he's necessarily awful and he was certainly popular enough in his day, but does this guy really belong with some of football's best?
Also; can I get something off of my chest? Let's get something straight, Johnny Unitas was the one who revolutionized the QB position. He was the one who made the QB more important to a gameplan. Instead of just managing the game, Unitas was able to do things that greatly contributed to his team's success. The quarterback is the most important player on a team. This has rung true since the 1950's, Bill Walsh and the West Coast Offense didn't make that up so comparing eras really won't get you very far with me.
If you haven't guessed it by now, Steve McNair is Player C. He ranks ahead of at least one of his enshrined counterparts in some key categories such as touchdowns, yards, lack of interceptions, and completion percentage, and yet here we sit saying that he won't make it in like it's a fact. Perhaps it is a fact, perhaps he won't make it in, but before I rule anything out, let's look at his legacy and intangibles. Steve McNair was one of the toughest players, not quarterbacks, players to ever suit up. Everyone here knows that. He sometimes seemed to will his team to victory while playing through some absurd injury that he wasn't planning on revealing until after the game was over. That in itself is a legacy. He was also an extremely active community man and was beloved by the general public. He also had an interesting and heartwarming back story. These are some of the things that made Steve most memorable to many. That alone isn't enough to garner consideration, but they don't exactly detract from the argument either. Sometimes, the Hall of Fame isn't just about having an awesome career, but even if it were just about numbers, he should probably at least garner consideration on those grounds too.
But the fact still remains that McNair is ringless. He was the starting QB of a team who came up one yard short and was bested by the Greatest Show on Turf. I'm not really one who likes to just say "close enough", but this seems to be a special case. The Rams were a dynasty, he was one yard away from making that all not happen. They would have gone down as chronic underachievers, losers of two Super Bowls in three years, choke artists, whatever you now call the San Diego Chargers of the mid-late 00's. Few players have ever come that close. Few will ever come that close again.
McNair being kept out also brings back the asinine argument that if a team underachieves and never wins a Super Bowl, it's the quarterback's fault. I can't wrap my mind around how this makes any sense at all. Does Peyton Manning play defense? Does he also kick? Maybe he took over in the return game and was a one man wrecking crew as a special teams ace too? No? None of those things ever happened? Oh, so then logic should dictate that when the defense coughs up a lead and costs him a chance to go to the Super Bowl that it's not his fault, right? Nope, not according to the ring snobs who only care about da vast quantitiy of wunz and the "clutchness" of Terry Bradshaw chilling on the sideline while the Steel Curtain bails him out again and wins him another one. I bet that if John Elway hadn't finally gotten that big win in '97 that there would be folks questioning his credentials too. A lot of people say that you play the game not to put up big stats but to win rings. Well, in my experience, a team with a player that puts up ridiculous stats, the better the chance they have of winning a Super Bowl. When you combine a whole bunch of these players on to one roster, your chances go up drastically. Funny how that works isn't it?
Look, I recognize that the QB is probably the most important position in sports. He's the game manager, but that only goes so far. He can't control what the defense or the special teams do. It's exactly like glorifying the pitcher win stat in baseball. If we're going by wins, C.C. Sabathia has been the best player in baseball over the last 3 years. Anyone who watches the game will tell you that it's simply not true. It's a pretty well established fact that he's a damn good player, but not the best. He benefits from excellent run support and defense which in turn inflate his win totals. It's a very basic concept that seems to translate well to most sports, yet for some reason we refuse to apply it to quarterbacks.
So, in conclusion, I don't really know if McNair should be in the Hall of Fame, his stats are excellent, but not too excellent, but the fact that he never won the Super Bowl shouldn't be the reason that he's kept out.