If you are an athlete, coach, or team and you do not want your legacy decided by the fans or the media—it is simple—win championships. This will shut up even your harshest critics. As long as you conclude your career with no championships—or you only won one when you should have won a lot more—you leave your legacy up to armchair quarterbacks.
This concept, while perhaps not a totally original idea, is something I formulated when I was thinking of the sometimes berated tandem of the Philadelphia Eagles’ Donovan McNabb and Andy Reid.
Fair or not, that’s life in the sports world. This is especially true for coaches, football quarterbacks, and basketball players. That is because their performances have more control over their destiny than other individuals in sports.
An offensive lineman’s or a first baseman’s legacies are not decided by how many championships they won. Unfortunately for Dan Marino and McNabb (so far), that is not true for quarterbacks in football.
Marino probably threw the football better than anyone in the history of American football, but no one calls him the best quarterback ever. As you probably know, Marino had one Super Bowl appearance and no wins. Interestingly, so does McNabb.
In the sports crazy city of Philadelphia, McNabb's performances are constantly analyzed and sometimes harshly. However, if the Eagles had beaten the Cardinals in the NFC Championship Game and McNabb led the Eagles to a Super Bowl win, all of McNabb’s shortcomings and mistakes would have been magically wiped out. Ditto for Reid. They would have owned this football-loving and city.
I do not like jumping on the negative bandwagon of two individuals who are very good at their jobs and brought numerous victories to the Eagles over the last 10 years. But the bottom line is that the McNabb/Reid combo is now 1-5 in big games (1-4 in NFC Championships Games and 0-1 in Super Bowls).
By comparison, Joe Montana was 8-2 in big games (4-0 in Super Bowls and 4-2 in NFC Championship Games) and the Bart Starr/Vince Lombardi combo was 7-1 in big games (5-1 in NFL Championship Games and 2-0 Super Bowls).
(Coincidentally, they won eight straight big games after losing their first big game together to the Eagles in 1960 (17-13), which was Philadelphia’s last NFL Championship.)
Is it any wonder that Montana is considered by many to be the greatest quarterback ever and that Lombardi is generally considered the greatest coach ever? In addition, you might find it interesting that Starr and Montana (in that order) have the highest quarterback ratings in NFL playoff history.
McNabb has said in interviews that he wants to be remembered as a competitor and a winner. I like McNabb, but the truth is that winning quarterbacks do not just win first round playoff games—they win Super Bowls.
It isn’t that McNabb has played poorly in big games; it is just that he has never played great and has been average overall. (Montana threw 11 touchdowns and 0 interceptions in the four Super Bowls that he played in.)
As John Madden likes to say, “Great players make great plays in big games.” While McNabb has made a lot of great plays in his career, very few have come in big games.
If McNabb’s and Reid’s careers ended today, many armchair quarterbacks would not view their legacies in a positive light. Win just one Super Bowl (next year, for example), and suddenly six NFC Championship Games in 11 years with two wins and two Super Bowls with one win is an impressive resume.
And if you do it for a city that has not had a NFL Championship in 49 years, your legacies will go down in a positive light no matter what your harshest critics say or have screamed in the past. Good luck, Donovan and Andy. As always, remember: 1) Time is of the essence; and 2) This column will self-destruct in five seconds.