By Jon Meerdink
Numbered lists drive up page views, but I think they're stupid, at least from a sports perspective. If you ever go to Bleacher Report (which I don't think you should, so I won't link to it), you'll see zillions of them. The 50 Best Rookies in the NFL...Five Overrated NFC North Players...Six Guys Who Are Jerks...the list goes on. To me, it's almost impossible to rank guys against one another because of the vast differences in positions and circumstances inherent to the league.
But when I see a list like the NFL Network's recent show on the 10 Greatest Packers generate so much controversy and discussion, I can't help but weigh in. Here's the thing though: I'm not going to pick one greatest player. I'm going to pick three.
Why three? Well, three just happens to be a nice number, and it fits conveniently with three categories I came up with for evaluating players. See, I don't think it's fair to call a player from one set of circumstances better than another, so you're almost forced to rank players within smaller categories. The areas I considered were statistical dominance, championship performance, and overall impact on the franchise. I felt like those areas most effectively represented what it means to be a great player, and they also represent characteristics that can be carried across time periods. So who are the best three Packers ever?
Statistical Dominance - Don Hutson
Some sports writers deny the greatness of early players, and to those writers, I say please stop writing things about sports. If you want to diminish Don Hutson's stats because of the era he played in that's fine, but then you also have to take today's players with grain of salt. The fact of the matter is that Don Hutson is the most statistically dominant player of all time. Just look at his 1942 season. His receiving yardage is almost greater than that of the next three players combined. His total receptions are almost three times greater than the next closest person. He averaged twice as many yards and scored more than twice as many touchdowns as the next guy in line. You can go on and on...and the dominance didn't stop in 1942. He was just as productive throughout the rest of his career, racking up numbers that wouldn't seem out of place at all in today's NFL. As far as great Packers go, nobody has ever dominated the game like Don Hutson.
Championship Performance - Bart Starr
In the history of the NFL, there is no better big game performer than Bart Starr. If you've clicked around on the other pages of this blog at all, you'll have noticed that I linked to a site called Cold Hard Football Facts. Now, I wouldn't recommend that site for the faint of heart. It took me about a year to understand everything they're talking about. But they definitely have some good things to say about football, and a few years back they wrote up THE authoritative article on NFL quarterbacks. Can you guess who came out on top? Yes, it was Starr...or as CHFF puts it, the only quarterback in history with a championship ring for every finger of his throwing hand. A couple quick highlights of the article, since they basically summarized everything I wanted to say:
- Starr led the league in quarterback rating five times, something nobody else has done.
- During six seasons in the 1960's, Starr posted a passing yards per attempt mark higher than 8.2. Comparably, Peyton Manning has done it just twice.
- Starr's career YPA mark ranks 8th all time, despite playing in an era where passes seemed almost as likely to go backward as forward.
There's a bigger story here (that hopefully I'll get to sometime) about the nature of the quarterback position being defined more by efficiency (accuracy, yards per attempt, not creating turnovers) than by big volume numbers, but for right now take my word that Starr's great numbers only got better in the postseason, and they helped create one of the greatest dynasties in sports. There's no greater winner in the history of the Packers than Bart Starr.
Franchise Impact - Brett Favre
Could it be anybody else? Aaron Rodgers has led the team into a new era, but he hasn't been at the helm that long. Reggie White brought credibility to the franchise, but his tenure was limited as well. Brett Favre's era included 15 winning seasons in 16 years as the starting quarterback, seven division titles, a five year stretch where he averaged over 4000 yards and 35 passing touchdowns, four trips to the NFC Championship game, three MVP awards, two Super Bowl appearances, and one NFL Championship. Not a bad list of accomplishments. Off the field, he brought extended relevance to a franchise that could have easily faded to obscurity following its mid-90's Super Bowl appearances. Had Favre not been as amazingly popular as he was, it's possible that the Packers might not have had the cash or fan support to undergo their big stadium renovation project, which could have been a death knell for the team as we know it. And even though the annual "will he or won't he" talk got tiresome, you won't convince me that keeping the public's eye on Green Bay affected the team's bottom line in a negative way. He may not have always finished strong when it counted or lived up to his reputation, but there's no denying that Favre carried the franchise to a new level for the better part of two decades.