Why Championships Matter When Measuring Greatness
It is a topic that sports fans love to debate about.
Who's better, Player A or Player B? Player A has better stats, but Player B has more championships.
In the build-up to the Conference Championships, people are discussing whether or not one more Super Bowl ring would make Tom Brady the greatest quarterback of all time.
The argument for will say he has the Super Bowl rings to prove it. But then you have the people who argue against it, because football is a team game. While this is true, the bottom line is, the fact that he has those rings are a testament to his greatness as a football player.
In every sport you have guys who play well but can't win the big one. Their supporters will always point out other factors out of their control and say that it shouldn't matter. On the other side of the spectrum you have the guys who win it all. Sometimes more than once. These guys are often rated over the others because of those wins, regardless of statistics or teammates.
Of course winning it all isn't easy, and there are always reasons behind losing. But championships are the measuring sticks for success, and here are some reasons why.
Winning Is a Reflection of Leadership
A good leader makes his teammates better.
You can have a team absolutely stacked with talent but if the team's top players aren't producing, their leadership would have to be under question.
The best leaders aren't necessarily the best players. Take a look at the Washington Capitals: Alexander Ovechkin is one of the players of the decade, but since being named captain, the Capitals haven't been as great a team as they have been since he arrived. In fact, his play has declined. However, that's not to say you have to be a leader to be a good player, it's something you either are or aren't.
But there are positions that call for a degree of leadership. These are your playmakers. In football, that would be the quarterback on offense and the middle linebacker on defense. In hockey, it would be your centre or the defenseman who leads the powerplay. In basketball, it's your point guard. When these players don't play well, they can affect the entire team, which makes being a leader that much harder, and means having a good leader is important.
Now in football, measuring quarterbacks by wins has been considered an overrated statistic by many, because it is a team game and the quarterbacks don't play defense. But quarterback is a leadership position and the defense doesn't score points (usually).
If your leaders are fired up, it creates a wave effect that affects the rest of the team. That is why championship rings are always brought up when discussing quarterback greatness, because it is a leadership position. Just look at the Broncos when Tim Tebow replaced Kyle Orton. Orton is a better quarterback throwing-wise, but Tebow is a better leader, and the whole team got fired up once he started playing.
There are times when the leadership came from somewhere else, like Ray Lewis with the 2000 Ravens for example. It doesn't matter where it comes from, but it has to come from somewhere.
One recently retired leader who springs to mind is Scott Niedermayer. Niedermayer was a top defenseman for the New Jersey Devils, winning three Stanley Cups and serving as assistant captain. Then he moved to the Ducks and captained them from non-playoff team to Stanley Cup winners. Then he captained Team Canada to an Olympic gold medal.
Of course he was surrounded by talent, but he was still the man wearing the letter on his chest.
At the End of the Year, the Regular Season Is Irrelevant
See the video on the left? Most people only know it happened because Marshall talked about it on How I Met Your Mother.
Gary Anderson had one of the greatest regular seasons ever by a kicker (key word, regular), not missing a single field goal. That is, until that championship game. Those Vikings were 15-1 but couldn't even get into the Super Bowl. Another recent example is the 2011 Green Bay Packers, who also finished 15-1 and left the playoffs one and done. It doesn't matter how many wins you can get in the regular season, the season is measured on how many wins you get in the playoffs.
If a team or player can't produce in the playoffs, whatever they do in the regular season amounted to nothing. Alexander Ovechkin's 65 goals in 2007? One and done. Patriots 16-0? Now known as 18-1. The Miami Heat's Big Three? Sorry LeBron, you gotta play for four quarters.
If you can't deliver in the playoffs, regular season success is forgotten. It will be remembered as the season that never was.
Choker is a label that get's thrown around a lot these days.
It's one that sticks to a player forever unless, of course, he wins.
Dan Marino will forever be remembered as the greatest quarterback to never win a Super Bowl. LeBron's lack of a fourth quarter has led people to label him a choker (and turned him into a meme). Roberto Luongo is known for only winning on Canadian soil.
Great players and great teams aren't just remembered for what they could do, but also what they couldn't do. Jim Kelly isn't remembered as the player who took his team to four consecutive Super Bowls, he's remembered for losing four straight Super Bowls. Jarome Iginla will be remembered as one of the best captains to ever play hockey, but he may also be remembered for never bringing Calgary a Stanley Cup.
I'm a rugby fan, and my team, the All Blacks, didn't win the World Cup for 24 years despite being arguably the most dominant team of the professional era. Everyone knew them as chokers and it even got to the point where everyone just expected them to get eliminated from the playoffs some how. In fact, that label is so strong that even when they finally won, the fact that their victory was narrow led people to believe they still choked and just got lucky.
That's why so many players move around and look for winners. Whether it be LeBron joining the Heat, Gonzalez going to the Falcons, or Hossa jumping to the Red Wings, Penguins then Blackhawks. No-one wants to be remembered as a loser. To paraphrase Steve Young, they gotta get that monkey off their back.
The Other Side
People will always point out the reasons that certain players can't win a championship. If it's a team sport they will point out it is a team game and that maybe they did not have a great team around them. Maybe they'll blame sickness or injury. Or probably the most common one among home fans, it was the referee's fault.
Now of course team games require team efforts. In a lot of cases, the player in question can't always be on the field at all times. People say that LeBron has had to carry his team throughout his career. They said Peyton Manning didn't have a defense. They say the Flyers don't have a goalie. But if those teams can make it deep into the playoffs, with those deficiencies, then clearly the other parts of the team played well enough to make up for it.
When they lose, then it probably means those other parts they relied on did not play well. LeBron carried his teams with stellar play, but that stellar play seemed to disappear in crunch time. Peyton ran one of the greatest offenses to ever step on a football field, but that offense has disappeared in the playoffs a lot of times. If those players were great enough to do that during the regular season, great enough to take them far into the playoffs, they should be able to win too.
Perhaps the biggest scapegoat for losses like these are the referees. A bad call or two can make little difference during a game but then get blamed afterwards after a loss. There are examples where the call is either really bad or very controversial, like the Tuck Rule, or the forward pass that silenced New Zealand, but these are not very common.
The referees are only human, and they make mistakes. They can't get everything perfect and making mistakes affects them too (trust me, I'm a ref). Great players and great teams should find ways to win even with these mistakes. The Steelers complained about a hold that was not called in the '07 Wild Card playoffs that led to a touchdown. What did they do? They came back next year and won the Super Bowl.
I am not at all a Steelers fan, but putting those mishaps behind and moving forward is a mark of a great team. I'm not a Giants fan either, but in their win against the Packers, they overcame some terrible calls. Commentators always say that a great player has a short memory. He will leave mistakes like those behind and move on. They can't blame the referees forever, they're only human.
Herman Edwards said that "you play to win the game." His Chiefs may not have been very good, but maybe the fact that he's not coaching anymore means he followed his own advice.
Sure, stats are informative and indicate levels of play, but they aren't everything. The win-loss column matters, too. And along with that, so do championships. Victory means great leadership and the ability to succeed when it matters most. Victory also affects players' legacy. That is why championships are important when measuring greatness.
Feel free to challenge my opinion.