Winning in the NFL is an Individual Accolade Completely Dependent on Context

Ryan MichaelSenior Writer IIIFebruary 19, 2009

Winning, it's something that every player to ever step foot into the National Football League has set their sights on. While there might be a plethora of individual accomplishments one can attain, the accolade often held in the highest regard is winning.

Football is a team sport and the accumulation of the efforts of many people (players, coaches and fans) can have a decisive impact on whether or not an individual is part of a winning team or a losing team.

When we talk about the great players in the history of the National Football League, names like Joe Montana, Otto Graham Bart Starr, and Tom Brady all come to mind. All of them, leaders of teams that managed to make their mark as being the absolute best teams of their generations.

These winning players are often highly revered for the heroic exploits they displayed each and every Sunday. The same heroic exploits that made them becoming living legends in their days.

These same men who we often refer to as greats are also looked upon as being one step ahead of their contemporaries.

While there have still been some great individual players like Dan Marino, Barry Sanders, and Cris Carter, they are often not looked upon in the same light as the great winners I had previously mentioned.

Surprising in a sense.

Dan Marino played the position of quarterback just as well if not better then many of the great champions.

Barry Sanders was every bit as good as any running back to have ever won a Super Bowl.

Cris Carter was one of the most productive receivers in history as well as a great leader.

Yet, names like Joe Montana, Emmitt Smith, and Jerry Rice come to mind faster than the previous three mentioned.

The difference between the groups lies in the legacies which separate the great winners from the runners-up.

Which again, revolves around the concept of winning and the value of such as many people see it. Since winning is the primary goal of every player, the failure to win to the same degree as others is something that is bound to separate players like Dan Marino from Joe Montana.

So what it winning exactly, what does it take for certain great players to become champions themselves?

The issue is that there are a great many factors that go into winning in the National Football League.

The combination of players, coaches, scouts, fans, environment, location, etc. all have an impact in winning games.

Since football is a team sport, why do we take away from great individual players and treat them as being less talented than players who played for better teams?

Did Dan Marino play for as good of team as Joe Montana did?

Did Barry Sanders play for as good of a team as Emmitt Smith did?

Did Cris Carter play for as good of a team as Jerry Rice did?

The answer to all three is a very clear no!

So why is it that we hold their lack of winning against them when they clearly were not surrounded by the same talent as the other great champions?

What many people fail to realize is that the ability to win is so much dependent on context that it can often become ridiculous to take away from a great individual player who was not part of the same set of circumstances.

That is not to say that we should label losers as champions, we can't change reality.

What we can do is learn to judge fairly when looking at the different sets of circumstances that each player had to perform under.

So if we were to compare Dan Marino to Joe Montana, we can not just look at the winning records and say clearly that Montana was the better quarterback.

We have to also look at the support each player got on both sides of the ball as well as in the coaching department. All of these play significant factors in whether a team wins or loses.

We are also far too quick to hold the lack of winning a championship against certain individual players. What may fail to realize is the sets of circumstances the player faced before being criticized for not winning "the big one".

The perfect example would be Jim Kelly.

Kelly is a Hall of Fame quarterback who led the Buffalo Bills to four Super Bowls in a row.

He lost every one of them.

As a result, people often credit Kelly for being a great quarterback but criticize him for his inability to win a Super Bowl.

Let me take you on a little trip down memory lane.

The year was 1990. Jim Kelly had led the Buffalo Bills to a historic victory in the AFC Championship game by defeating the Los Angeles Raiders 51-3.

The Buffalo Bills came into Super Bowl XXV as favorites against the New York Giants.

The game was a close one. The Bills were trailing the Giants by the score of 20-19. Their kicker, Scott Norwood was in position to kick the game-winning field goal.

Norwood however, missed the 47-yard field goal and the Bills lost the Super Bowl.

Are you to tell me that Scott Norwood making that field goal or not has any impact on how great a quarterback Jim Kelly was?

If Scott Norwood made the field goal and the Bills won the Super Bowl (even if they did go on to lose the remaining three), Jim Kelly would not have a stigma attached to his legacy and would instead be viewed as a champion who had a difficult time repeating.

Essentially, the context of Norwood's missed field goal has made a monumental impact on Jim Kelly's legacy.

Same could be said about Dan Marino.

The Dolphins actually led the San Francisco 49ers 10-7 at the end of the first quarter of Super Bowl XIX.

If the Dolphins managed to hold of the 49ers for another three quarters, Dan Marino's legacy would be have changed drastically.

Not only would he have been a champion but he would have defeated one of the best teams in NFL history to become one.

However, Dan Marino did not win Super Bowl XIX.

Never mind the fact that the Dolphins running game was so ineffective they were held to only 8 carries for 25 yards. Never mind the fact that the Dolphins defense allowed the 49ers to score 31 points in the second and third quarters alone, the lasting memory of that day was that Dan Marino could not get the job done.

Which brings me back to my original point. Winning in the NFL is so dependent on the support you get and the context your in that it often becomes foolish to hold the lack of victories against an individual player even though he himself may have played like a champion.

History can not be changed, nor should it.

The champions will always remain champions and the players that fell short will always be looked upon as such.

With that being said, the only fair way to analyze the career of an individual player is to completely comprehend the contexts in which he played.

It's ignorant to simply look at the stat-sheet or look at a players winning record and to determine that he may or may not be better than another individual player.

It might not be a popular way to look at things but I feel that people would be far better off if they were able to separate team accolades from individual talent.

Instead, if we can all learn to look at the various contexts regarding the accomplishment of individual players, we will be able to come to a much more rational conclusion regarding the talent and legacy of individual players.


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