This article is a follow-up to a previous article on the topic of whether Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is great.
You see, I have used Tom Brady as an example for a larger problem that I have—people will fixate too heavily on statistics in order to ascertain whether a football player is great.
I emphasize the words "football player," because greatness in football is different than baseball, basketball, or hockey.
I have this problem because the Hall of Fame has consistently denied the induction of Raiders great Ken Stabler, for reasons that clearly contradict reality.
Stabler may have thrown too many picks, but regardless of that, Stabler would lead the Raiders to victory. The voters however would like for people to think that the Raiders won because of other factors, but anyone that watched the games would say that Stabler was great.
Football statistics in truth are a poor metric to determine the greatness of a player, because in reality most football stats are mathematically dependent. Thus it reeks of idiocy to evaluate an individual from mathematically dependent stats. Meanwhile, other stats are far too subjective to provide any empirical value.
For instance, quarterback Kurt Warner of the Arizona Cardinals is statistically listed as deserving, "little credit" for the Cardinals win over the Green Bay Packers in the wild card game last postseason.
Warner threw five touchdowns, no picks, and around 370 yards. But because Karlos Dansby returned a fumble for a touchdown when the game was tied, Warner is listed as deserving "little credit."
I'm still laughing about it.
At the same time, quarterback Kerry Collins has nearly the same number of fourth quarter comebacks or game winning drives as Tom Brady: 49 for Collins and 50 for Brady. Yet, which one is debated among the all-time greats?
The answer is Tom Brady, and the reason is that he's memorable.
Football stats do not tell you the story of what happened in a game, unlike baseball stats, which have been compared to the Pythagorean theorem.
You can extrapolate the story of a game from baseball stats. For example, you know that a hit means that a batter got on base, or that a home-run (likely) went over the wall. In football, there are far too many variables to extrapolate the way in which an offense scored a touchdown.
Thus, any debate on the topic of whether a football player is great is inherently not based on facts—it is based subjectively on what people saw. It is based on the opinion of the crowd, the critics, and their colleagues.
In some cases, like with Dan Marino, Fran Tarkenton, and Dan Fouts, people saw a lot of touchdowns and they saw a quarterback frequently lead his respective team from behind in order to win. In addition to gaudy yards and touchdowns, they remember the Fake Spike (Marino), The Epic in Miami (Fouts), or three Super Bowl berths (Tarkenton).
In other cases, like with Jim Plunkett and Doug Williams, people saw a quarterback that overcame all odds to lead his team to victory, regardless of stats.
In the case of Brady, people saw a quarterback lead the Patriots to victory in big games.
Ironically, the Patriots loss to the Giants in the Super Bowl illustrates this point. The play between Eli Manning and David Tyree cannot be quantified with stats.
Statistically, the play was a 32 yard catch, but does that tell the story of the play? No way. NFL Films has called it, "the greatest play the Super Bowl has ever procduced," and, "The Play of the Decade."
I like to call it simply and eloquently, "The Truth," (which you can read more about in my article "The Truth of Victory and Tangents on Trivial Things").
Like it or lump it, we all saw something that we cannot deny.
I believe that a great play, regardless of it ultimately affects the outcome of the game can change or influence a person for a lifetime. This is something I have avoided saying in previous blogs, because I thought the timing wasn't right. It's that I based "The Truth of Victory and Tangents on Trivial Things," largely from a play I made in little league baseball at the age of ten.
My dad was the coach and I played catcher. I actually turned down a chance to play a more important position (in little league, catcher is where they stick the kids that don't fit anywhere else), because I thought I wasn't any good and didn't want to detriment the team.
In the little league title game that year, a kid in centerfield, Brandon Olsen, would aimlessly chuck the ball towards the infield.
I didn't know that at the time, because it seemed like it came right at me, when I caught the ball and tagged out the runner at home; the runner was the daughter of a former player for the San Diego Padres, John Sipin.
Even though we lost the game, my resolve changed after that one play. The next year, as first baseman and RBI-man, I finally won a little league title game, fittingly as the Padres.
I believe that the greatness of a football player is not scientific; it's humanistic. It's based on what the majority of people think, and while I may be in the minority on the issue of Brady's greatness, I accept that the majority of people think he's great.
All I'm trying to say is that the opinion of his greatness is not eloquent or empirical. It's arbitrarily determined from what a person thinks that a great football player is.
Statistics are ultimately used to extrapolate how much influence a player had on people; more statistics would suggest that more people were exposed to the sight of something great. But statistics cannot and should not be relied on to determine greatness, in all cases.
This opinion is really nothing new.
Sports began in ancient times as a microcosm of democracy. As the film Gladiator (2000) put it, "Win the crowd, and you will win your freedom."
In my mind, that is why the sports media has consistently used false narratives to pigeonhole Raider fans as "rowdies" and "crazies" in order to marginalize the veracity of what we saw or have seen in historical film.
If you want to debate statistics, then let's talk real statistics. Brady's best year, statistically, was 2007. Brady set the league record with 50 touchdown passes.
Here is a list of Brady's touchdown passes since 2001: 18, 28, 23, 28, 26, 24, 50, 28.
Here are the statistics on Brady's stats:
Total Numbers: Eight
Standard Deviation: 9.47836
When you add the standard deviation to the mean (9.47836 + 28.125), the number is 37.60336. Add the standard deviation again and the number is 47.08172. That means that 50 is outside of two standard deviations from the mean, which means that statistically, the 50 from 2007 is an outlier.
The question of what to do with statistical outliers is another topic of intense debate, but I feel safe in simply saying that factors such as Randy Moss, the emergence of Wes Welker, and offensive philosophy in 2007 can explain the sharp deviation from the statistical mean.
Scientifically, Brady's record in 2007 can be disregarded as unrepresentative of the sample data. But fans and critics regard that record with awe as a great achievement, regardless of the variables involved such as better receivers and the philosophy to run-up the score.
That is why the Hall of Fame should seek more input and voices on the matter of whom to induct.
As it is, the Hall of Fame makes little sense. The problem I have long had with any Hall of Fame is that, upon inception, there is usually a long list of candidates that are no-brainers.
Eventually however, there will be a gray area, and when there is gray area there will be blood (politics) between the voters.
As I like to joke, eventually the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame will have to induct none other than Art Garfunkel.