The fine performances by the victorious Eli Manning of the New York Giants and the vanquished Tom Brady of the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI last night gave us yet more evidence that elite quarterbacks rule in today’s NFL.
The last five Super Bowls have featured: Manning, Brady and Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers twice each; Manning’s brother, Peyton of the Indianapolis Colts; Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers; Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints and the now-retired Kurt Warner of the Arizona Cardinals.
All seven of those quarterbacks might well wind up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. That means that the last non-elite passer to start a Super Bowl was … drumroll please … our own non-beloved Rex Grossman, then of the Chicago Bears, who lost to Peyton Manning and the Colts five years ago.
Grossman wasn’t nearly as much the exception to the rule during the six seasons that ended with his Super Bowl defeat. During that span, such non-candidates for Canton as Trent Dilfer, Kerry Collins, Brad Johnson, Rich Gannon, Jake Delhomme and Matt Hasselbeck started Super Bowls with Dilfer and Johnson matching the legendary Joe Namath and Peyton Manning by winning a Lombardi Trophy each.
Obviously, the NFL has become more of a quarterback-driven league than ever. Ten of the teams quarterbacked by the 12 top-ranked passers made the playoffs in 2011. The outliers were Baltimore and Cincinnati whose defenses were among the game’s stingiest in allowing both yards and points.
With Santana Moss – whose Pro Bowl season is now six years in the rear view mirror – just four months from his 33rd birthday, Washington coach Mike Shanahan would be smart to add a true playmaking receiver. And with Trent Williams just one failed drug test from a year-long suspension, offensive tackle is another huge offseason priority for the Redskins.
However, drafting Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon and Iowa tackle Riley Reiff would only help so much if Grossman and his 72.4 passer rating return at quarterback.
As I’ve written before, I’m not one of those who believes that Washington should make a play for Peyton Manning, whose days in Indianapolis seem to be ending. Between his age (he’ll be 37 next month), his health (he missed all of 2011 after neck surgery, might never play again and could be one hit away from forced retirement) and what seems a sure clash of wills with Shanahan, the first-ballot Hall of Fame lock isn’t the right fit for the Redskins, who are also a bad choice for him with their three straight double-digit losing seasons and their shaky offensive line.
Washington needs to finally find a young quarterback around whom it can build a winner after not getting it done with first-round picks Patrick Ramsey (2002) and Jason Campbell (2005) during the past 10 drafts and otherwise coming up short with other teams’ castoffs.
Whether it’s free agent-to-be Matt Flynn of Green Bay, who dazzled in his two starts while Rodgers rested, amazingly athletic Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III of Baylor, or even 28-year-old Brandon Weeden of Oklahoma State, who impressed the pro coaches and scouts at the Senior Bowl, the Redskins need to go out and get their Eli Manning or Tom Brady before they return for training camp in July. Otherwise, their 2012 season will be over before it begins.
David Elfin has covered sports since he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in 1975. He is the Washington representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and is the author of the new book: “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last two Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since March.