Sports Columns

February 8, 2014

Loran Smith: Despite reports, QBs can't do it alone

What does it take to win a Super Bowl? Here’s what former Minnesota Vikings quarterback Fran Tarkenton — who, like Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, is among the signal callers who has lost the big game more than once — had to say following Seattle’s 43-8 win over Denver last Sunday: “It takes a village, and they have to be in their prime.”

Quarterbacks can’t do it alone, but the Monday morning quarterbacks seem to think so, which brings to mind a quote about NFL analysts from the late Hank Stram, who served as head coach of the Dallas Texans, Kansas City Chiefs and New Orleans Saints: “They don’t know if the football is stuffed or pumped.”

In a tight game, the quarterback might well be the difference. What we saw last Sunday was a team — Seattle — with the greatest balance that got all the breaks.

A village is composed of playmakers. An offensive line that gives its quarterback time to execute. A defense that can put pressure on the passer without having to blitz.

After a championship game, no matter the features of the offense — and whether it’s in tune with the spread and hurry-up styles — and even if you didn’t know the score, you could conclude who won the game by looking at the rushing yardage. Denver rushed for 27 total yards against the Seahawks. That stat reveals more about the game than any other.

I was among the many who had the highest hopes for Peyton Manning to win. Before the game I called his father, a longtime friend, to extend best wishes. This week, I was reluctant to reach out to him again. It was like having to extend expressions of sympathy.

However, when I called Archie sighed and said, “That’s football. It was simply not a good matchup for Denver.”

He was proud that his son helped his team make it to the big game. That was an extraordinary achievement.

Any analyst should be aware that the two best teams in the NFL this past season were Seattle and San Francisco. If the 49ers had won the NFC title instead of Seattle, the Broncos would likely still have been singing the blues on Monday morning.

As Archie said, these things go in cycles. After the merger of the NFL and the AFL in 1966, the AFC didn’t have to wait terribly long for success, which started with Joe Namath and the New York Jets as they upset of the Baltimore Colts 16-7 in Super Bowl III in 1969. Later on, there was a period when the NFC was dominant, winning 16 straight from 1982 through 1997.

Lately, however, the Super Bowl games have been close, as opposed to those many years when a blowout was more likely than not. The last game was reminiscent of those blowouts of past years, but it was also a reminder that in the Super Bowl, if you play better defense than your opponent, you usually win the game.

Play defense and run the ball. Tarkenton was recognized in his time for his offensive creativity, but he can articulate succinctly the importance of defense and rushing the football.

“I have a PhD on that subject,” he said.

Tarkenton led the Vikings to three Super Bowls: 1970 (versus Kansas City), 1974 (versus Miami) and 1975 (versus Pittsburgh).

“You know what our rushing yardage in those three games totaled? It was pretty sad,” he said. “We rushed for 110 yards and gave up, in those three games, well over 700 yards.

“I like the hurry-up offenses in football today. Exciting. But you can always bet that the team which plays defense and runs the football will likely win the Super Bowl. It is not always about the quarterback. He can’t do it all. It takes a village. You have got to be a team and you have to be in your prime to dominate like Seattle.

“This is not about Peyton Manning’s legacy. All he did was get his team to the Super Bowl. He couldn’t win it by himself. He has proven that he is the most consistently creative quarterback of our time. I was pulling hard for him because I like him, and, like so many others, like his family. In my opinion, if you put him in any championship game with a dominating offensive line, he is the quarterback most likely to succeed.”

Will Seattle dominate the NFL for a spell?

Only if the Seahawks remain a village.

Loran Smith is a contributing columnist for The Daily Citizen. You can write to him at loransmith@sports.uga.edu.

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