Elite TEAMS win Super Bowls, not elite Quarterbacks


The matchup for Super Bowl XLVII (That’s 47, I had to look up the roman numerals) is now set.  The Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers successfully navigated the AFC and NFC respectively, to wind up in New Orleans, Louisiana, where they will decide who will be crowned NFL Champion for 2012-13.

There are some significant storylines which will get a lot of play over the two weeks leading up to the game.  The Harbaugh brothers coaching against one another; and the end of the Ray Lewis era are the two which will get most of the headlines.  There is however another storyline which likely won’t get much coverage; and it has to do with the quarterbacks.

I’m sure we’ll know everything there is to know about Joe Flacco and Colin Kaepernick by the time the game kicks off on Super Bowl Sunday.  The aspect that won’t get much focus is that neither one of these quarterbacks are elite.  That’s right, one of these two quarterbacks will win a Super Bowl, and neither one of them is elite. 

I have long stood by the premise that you don’t absolutely have to have an elite QB in the NFL to win the Super Bowl.  Does it help to have an elite QB?  Sure it does.  Having an all-world signal-caller running your offense eliminates some major question marks.  It also covers up a lot of deficiencies.  Can you win without an elite quarterback?  Yes you can. 

Teams sell out every year to try and get that guy.  You see it over and over on draft day; some team will reach in the first round to grab a QB who isn’t worth the stretch.  Meanwhile, those same teams could be filling in gaps all over their roster by picking the best players available; and actually building the foundation of a great team.

Look at the list of quarterbacks who have won Super Bowls and many of them are all-pro caliber.  But there are some glaring examples of supreme mediocrity under center.  How about Brad Johnson for the 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers?  Or Trent Dilfer for the 2000 Baltimore Ravens.  What about theWashington Redskins?  The Skins won in ’87 behind Doug Williams and ’91 with Mark Rypien.  Let’s not forget Jeff Hostetler for the 1990 New York Giants? 

The aforementioned Bucs, Ravens, Giants, and going back even further to the 1985 Chicago Bears; dismantled the opposition with ferocious defense.  The Bears had Jim McMahon.  He’s a shining example of why you don’t need a star at QB to win it all.  That guy was atrocious.  When you have Walter Payton, and one of the best defenses of all-time, it doesn’t matter.

I’m sure I’ll take flak for this example, but even Kurt Warner can be thrown in to this group.  Many people believe he was elite.  His true identity was a pretty good starting NFL QB, who had an excellent grasp of the Rams offense in 1999; and a ton of playmakers around him.  I’d argue that at least half of the starting QB’s in the league in ’99 would’ve won with that St. Louis Rams team.  As Warner showed with a not so good New York Giants team just a couple season later; on his own, Warner was just another guy.

Any of those guys on an average to below average NFL team, would’ve been downright bad.  Put in the proper situation, with protection, a running game, and good defense; and suddenly they’re Super Bowl Champions.  Both Rypien and Hostetler beat a Hall of Fame quarterback in Jim Kelly to get their rings.

John Elway is one of the best QB’s ever to play in the NFL.  For years he carried a pedestrian Denver Broncos team to the Super Bowl, only to lose badly.  It wasn’t until they brought in a stud running back like Terrell Davis, upgraded his receiving corps, and put some semblance of a defense on the field, before he could grab a couple of rings.

Let’s take a look at the two Super Bowl participants.  I’m sure the media will try and sell us that Joe Flacco is on the verge of stardom.  Maybe he is? I can’t say for certain.  I tend to believe that you can tell if a player is elite right away.  Flacco has not shown that, and I don’t believe he will ever be elite.  Is he good?  Sure he is.  He’s an above average, starting NFL quarterback; and that’s all you need. 

How about Colin Kaepernick?  Given how young he is, there is certainly a chance he becomes an all-time great player.  I highly doubt it though.  Now, I have a tendency to dislike QB’s that are heavily reliant upon their legs to make plays.  That’s fine if you can do that, but ultimately in the NFL, you do need to be able to throw the ball.  Kaepernick may never be elite, but he can sling it enough to win a championship.  The Falcons made him do it Sunday.  He only ran for 21 yards.  With time to throw, he made the plays necessary to win.

The reason one of these average QB’s will win a Super Bowl is simple; they are surrounded by great players.  Both the Ravens and 49ers have solid football players on both sides of the ball.  Each of these teams can run the football.  Each of these teams can protect the quarterback.  And each of these teams finish tackles and hit harder than their opponents.

Baltimore and San Francisco went about building their teams in different ways.  The Ravens have sustained success while trying to find the right guy to man the QB position.  They never did reach, or dump half of their draft picks to get their quarterback.  By plugging in quality players all over the field, they’ve remained competitive year in and year out. 

The 49ers had to endure a period of struggle, prior to finding success in the last few seasons.  All the while, they began to add to the core of the team which is now on the precipice of a title.  The Niners did select Alex Smith #1 overall, but he wasn’t really a reach.  He was supposed to be picked that high, he simply didn’t pan out.  By staying the course, and making good draft selections each season, San Fran has grown into a Super Bowl caliber team.

Now, I’m not suggesting that any organization with a star at quarterback should dump them.  Having an all-pro QB puts your team ahead of the curve, and maybe just a few pieces away from being in the Super Bowl.  If you end up with the #1 pick in the draft, you take Andrew Luck like the Indianapolis Colts did this past year.  What I am suggesting, is that if your organization is patient, makes sharp evaluations, and puts talent on the roster; you can win championships without a stud at quarterback. 

Every few years we actually get a surprise MVP of the Super Bowl.  Without a golden boy running the show for either team, this may be one of those years.  It’s refreshing to see that either the Ravens or 49ers will be rewarded for winning as a team, in what is arguably, the ultimate team game.


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Damon writes about college basketball for the Campus Pressbox.