And as for that “runner-up MVP” talk, those of us who crowned Aaron Rodgers in October (and I was one of them) had better take a closer look. Brees leads the league in attempts, completions, yards and completion percentage. He is second to Rodgers in passer rating, but the gap has closed to 120.1 versus 109.1. Brees has led four game-winning drives and three fourth-quarter comebacks, Rodgers has led one and zero. Brees’ December completion percentage is 76.4, Rodgers’ is 55.9. Rodgers is having one of the greatest seasons in NFL history, and Brees is gaining on him. Maybe it’s the “runner-up” label that deserves an asterisk.
The third man
Brees is a champion, an All Pro, a record breaker, and a peach of a person. So why do we take him for granted?
First, there’s the Peyton Manning-Tom Brady factor. Brees has spent his whole career as a third wheel behind two other all-time greats. There is nothing wrong with being a third wheel. Fran Tarkenton, Jim Kelly, Sonny Jurgensen and other Hall of Famers were third wheels. Brees is probably the greatest third wheel in history.
The stat rejection usually goes hand-in-hand with traditionalism. In the early 1980s, columnists had kittens when Marino and Fouts started shattering records set by Namath and Jurgensen in the days when men were men. A few decades later, Marino had it hard and Brees has it easy. Records are typically set under favorable conditions; we have a habit of overemphasizing the current conditions and forgetting the old.
Finally, Brees is a victim of his own consistency. “Brees remains good” isn’t exactly an attention-grabbing headline. If his career had ups and downs, like Eli Manning’s or Romo’s, it would make him easier to talk about. Peyton Manning’s injury and the (highly contrived) Andrew Luck storyline keep him in the headlines even when he is on the sideline. Brady’s jet-setter lifestyle allows him to generate headlines by getting a haircut or buying an estate. All Brees does is do charitable work, raise his family, and sleep through some cold medicine ads. Oh, and break a decades-old record.
So take a moment on Monday to appreciate Brees, an unassuming all-time great whom we will be able to enjoy for years to come. His excellence is not about Sean Payton, or Marques Colston, or the dome, or the pass-heavy times, any more than Marino or Montana were defined by their coaches, teammates, and eras. His excellence is about him, and the closest thing he deserves to an asterisk is a gold star.
Mike Tanier writes for NBCSports.com and Rotoworld.com and is a senior writer for Football Outsiders.
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