(Peyton Manning photo courtesy of Denver Broncos)
(Eli Manning photo courtesy of New York Giants)
By Clark Judge
Talk of Fame Network
When wide receiver Marques Colston this week explained why he took a pay cut to stay with the New Orleans Saints, he said it had a lot to do with playing with “a Hall-of-Fame quarterback.” He was talking, of course, of Drew Brees, and while Colston doesn’t have a Hall-of-Fame vote, he’s probably right.
Drew Brees probably does wind up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
He’s a nine-time Pro Bowl choice. He’s the NFL career leader in completion percentage. He holds a passel of records, including most consecutive games with a touchdown pass. And he won a Super Bowl. So, yeah, Colston is in the right neighborhood.
But now the question: How many others in today’s game can you ticket for Canton? By my count, I have five: Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger and Brees. Brady and Manning are sure things; Roethlisberger, Rodgers and Brees are probables, but more likely than not — which is pretty damned good when you’re talking about one era. No wonder they call it a passing league.
But those guys aren’t alone when you’re talking about Hall-of-Fame possibilities, so let’s start the roll call of logicals, probables and possibles:
Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. When I see these names it reminds me of what former San Francisco Chronicle writer Ira Miller did when he presented Joe Montana as a Hall-of-Fame candidate. Normally, presentations can last anywhere from five to 10 minutes … or more … but not here. Nope, Miller stood up, said, “Ladies and gentlemen, Joe Montana,” then sat down. Some decisions are so transparent no debate is necessary, and that’s what we have here. Ladies and gentlemen, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.
Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger. We’ve talked about Brees, and Rodgers needs no introduction. But Roethlisberger? Well, maybe, so let’s get started. Shortly before the start of Super Bowl XLV between Green Bay and Pittsburgh, I was talking to two writers about him, and I volunteered how impressed I was with Roethlisberger as a quarterback who makes critical plays at critical moments. In fact, I was so impressed I thought he was ticketed for Canton. My listeners didn’t object as much as they did fulminate, telling me in no uncertain why he wasn’t qualified for Canton. Well, sorry, guys, but he is. He not only has been to three Super Bowls, he won two of them – including one that made him the youngest Super Bowl-winning quarterback in league history. But it’s not just that. He’s won over twice as many games (116) as he lost (54) and has a 10-5 playoff record. Moreover, he passes the eye test – a guy who makes big plays at big moments. Rewind the last drive of Super Bowl XLIII if you’re looking for evidence. Or go back to the Steelers’ first playoff game of 2010 when, on third-and-19 at the Pittsburgh 38 with just over two minutes left. He hits Antonio Brown for a 60-yard pass in the Steelers’ come-from-behind defeat of Baltimore. Or go to the AFC championship game a week later when he converts a key third down with under two minutes remaining to preserve Pittsburgh’s 24-19 defeat of the Jets. My point is: Big Ben may not produce the gaudy numbers or gain the All-Pro accolades, but there are few who can match him when it comes to producing in big moments.
GUYS WHO NEED A BUMP
Eli Manning and Joe Flacco. What I like about these guys is that each has at least one Super Bowl victory, and each has a glittering playoff record. Manning is 8-3 in postseason play; Flacco is 10-5. But Manning, a two-time Super Bowl winner, has been hurt by erratic play, losing teams and a trifecta of league-leading interceptions – including a career-high 27 in 2013. He seemed a Hall-of-Fame cinch after beating New England in Super Bowl XLVI, but he’s a cinch no more … unless, of course, you’re talking the Hall of Very Good, and that can happen when you’re 22-26 your last three years. Ravens’ coach John Harbaugh told the Talk of Fame Network last month that he sees Flacco as a future Hall-of-Famer, and maybe he’s right. But this is a guy who was so uneven in his play that, during the 2012 season, Ravens’ fans talked about not re-upping him when he became a free agent the following March. Then, of course, he went on to throw 11 touchdowns and no interceptions in the Ravens’ unpredictable playoff run, and his critics went away. But that’s what I love about Flacco. He’s at his best when games are their most important. He’s been to the playoffs six of his seven seasons, winning at least once in every postseason, and has 24 touchdown passes and just four interceptions in his last four playoff runs. Plus, there’s this: He’s 7-5 on the road in the postseason.
GUYS ON THE RIGHT TRACK
Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson. I don’t need to talk up Luck. You’ve seen him, and let’s just put it this way: It would be a surprise if he doesn’t wind up in Canton. Wilson, on the other hand, is a hard sell because people tell me the Seahawks are all about the Legion of Boom and Marshawn Lynch. Except they’re not. Seattle endured four straight losing seasons before Wilson showed up, then magically went 42-14 in the three years that followed, with consecutive Super Bowl appearances and one Lombardi Trophy. I like guys who win, perform consistently and play big in big games, and Wilson checks all those boxes. He’s won three times as many games as he lost, has a career passing rating of 98.6 and is 6-2 in the playoffs – with twice as many TD passes (12) as interceptions. I know it’s early in his career, but he’s on the right path. Yes, Luck is the better passer, and, yes, Wilson has the defense and running game Luck does not. But don’t tell me Russell Wilson is just a caretaker of the Seahawks’ offense. Because he’s not.