If we’re going by the power of high-level draft analysis alone, former first-rounder Blake Bortles is the best bet among the quarterbacks who have reached the NFL’s final four.
Nick Foles was a third-rounder. Tom Brady was a sixth-round afterthought and Case Keenum didn’t get drafted at all.
Or maybe we could measure the players’ values using measurements, like they do at the combine. In that case Foles towers over the rest at 6-feet-6. Bortles is 6-5, Brady is 6-4 and Keenum is 6-2.
Ok, ok, before this gets any weirder, let’s cut to the chase.
Brady has won more playoff games (26) than any quarterback in NFL history.
That’s more than Peyton Manning and Troy Aikman combined.
Or John Elway and Roger Staubach combined.
Or Dan Marino, Steve Young and Jim Kelly combined.
Now you don’t need me telling you that Brady has been around for a while or that he’s won a lot, but the other three quarterbacks in the conference championship round have appeared in a combined total of five playoff games.
That’s not exactly apples and apples when it comes to big-game savvy, or even apples and oranges. It’s apples and rotten rutabagas.
Of course, there has to be a first time for everyone so there’s no choice but to stay tuned.
Check out this string of Super Bowl winners from the 1999 season to 2001 if inspiration is needed.
For openers, Rams quarterback Kurt Warner was the Super Bowl MVP, winning it all in his first season as a starter and repeating for a million questioners the story of his days as an Arena Football League player.
Next came Trent Dilfer, who never got Tampa Bay over the top in five seasons there but won a Super Bowl in his first season at Baltimore, buoyed by a ravenous Ravens defense.
Finally, the topper, a team that won the Super Bowl as a two-touchdown underdog and with a 24-year-old quarterback who had never started a playoff game before that season.
Some kid named Brady, and he did it with just 145 passing yards on Super Sunday.
Every now and again I pull out the box scores from the Miami Dolphins’ Super Bowl dynasty more than 40 years ago and marvel at how much the game has changed.
The perfect Dolphins of 1972, for instance, averaged 359.7 yards in total offense. That was tops in the NFL at the time but would have ranked 11th in the league last year.
Bob Griese completed eight passes for 88 yards in Super Bowl VII, the game that completed that 17-0 season. Ryan Tannehill has been held under 100 yards passing three times in his 77 career starts.
The 1972 Dolphins had a pair of 1,000-yard rushers, Larry Csonka and Mercury Morris, and that was in a 14-game regular season. Jay Ajayi was the only Miami rusher over 1,000 yards last year. Nobody else cleared 200, and that was over 17 regular-season games.
Don Shula’s No Name Defense allowed 10 touchdowns passing during the 1972 regular season and two during the playoffs. Last year’s Dolphins allowed 30 touchdowns passing and two long scoring bombs by Ben Roethlisberger in the first quarter of their only postseason game.
Sure, almost everything about the NFL has changed. The game is more wide open now, more exciting.
Got to hand it to Shula, though, for finding a way to win across 26 seasons as the Dolphins head coach, and seven years with the Baltimore Colts before that. He made the transition from Zonk to Dan Marino., but here’s the most unexpected stat of all.
Johnny Unitas attempted 44 passes and threw for 288 yards in Shula’s first career victory. Marino threw it 35 times and totaled 290 yards in completions during Shula’s 347th and final career win.
Bottom line, Shula was better than bold. He was smart enough to let his best players win for him, however that needed to be.
Lots of celebration and plenty of disappointment as the smoke clears on Wednesday’s National Signing Day.
Not everybody gets to go to a national championship contender or a Power Five conference or even a Division I school. Heck, the overwhelming majority of supposed high school stars don’t get a college scholarship at all.
Therefore, if you or someone important to you got shut out on a favorite destination and pushed down the ladder to a low-profile choice, here is a bit of encouragement about what still can happen.
In Sunday’s Super Bowl, there will be as many starters from Valdosta State (Atlanta offensive tackle Ryan Schraeder) as there are from Florida State (Atlanta running back Devonta Freeman).
There will be as many players on the two rosters from Rutgers as there are from Alabama, with five each.
Notre Dame gets no one in the starting lineups, but West Alabama gets one very famous name (New England cornerback Malcolm Butler, a former Super Bowl MVP).
Monmouth has as many starters (New England wide receiver Chris Hogan) as Oklahoma (Atlanta guard Chris Chester).
Southeastern Louisiana (Atlanta cornerback Robert Alford) and Kent State (New England wide receiver Julian Edelman) are represented in the two starting lineups. Ohio State and USC are not.
Football careers, in other words, aren’t made in one day, even if it happens to be National Signing Day.
Great opportunity will be given to kids who sign with the big schools, sure, and a stronger dose of overall competition and coaching.
Just think, however, of Joe Flacco (Delaware) and Deion Branch (Jones County Junior College first and Louisville as a transfer) and Kurt Warner (Northern Iowa) and Doug Williams (Grambling) and Richard Dent (Tennessee State) and Terry Bradshaw (Louisiana Tech) and, most of all, Jerry Rice (Mississippi Valley State).
All were Super Bowl MVP’s.
All took whatever minor opportunities they were afforded and made it work in a major way, whether anyone was watching or not.
This time of year can be tough on Miami Dolphins fans, now 43 years removed from
the last NFL championship in franchise history, and that frustration goes double when the New England Patriots are back in the Super Bowl again.
As a public service to the South Florida market we offer these proofs that it was not always this way (Patriots ruling the AFC East and, too frequently, the world) and it will not stay this way forever (in theory, at least).
Between 1964-75, the Boston/New England Patriots experienced a 12-season postseason drought. The Dolphins’ longest stretch without a playoff game is seven seasons.
During the sad period of Patriots history listed above, the Dolphins won a couple of Super Bowls, posted the only perfect season in NFL history and ran up a 13-6 record against the Pats.
Between 1963-82, the Patriots qualified for just four playoff games and lost them all. The last loss in that string was a first-rounder to Miami in 1982, and the Dolphins went on to play in the Super Bowl that year.
The Dolphins are 16 years without a postseason victory at the moment, but there’s still time to put one on the board before reaching the Patriots’ franchise worst drought of 21 years between 1964-84.
Three times in their history the Patriots have owned or shared the worst record in the NFL – 1970, 1990 and 1992. That has happened to Miami only once (2007).
The Dolphins lead the all-time series with the Patriots 53-50, playoffs included.
The Dolphins own the longest winning streak in the series, with nine straight victories over the Patriots between 1989-93. The Patriots have never won more than seven in a row against Miami.
The Dolphins have the most lopsided victory in the series, 52-0 in 1972.
When Tom Brady joines the Pro Football Hall of Fame one day, he’ll still be outnumbered by Bob Griese and Dan Marino.
Bill Belichick may have 262 career victories but he’s still 85 short of Don Shula.
Conclusions? This makes me feel a little bit better about the faulty concept that everything always goes New England’s way, and a little bit worse that it took so much work to find these Miami advantages.
Trust me, it does no good to dig further. Stop here, before counting up division titles, Super Bowls and such, and before recognizing that Shula was 65 when the Dolphins pushed him out of the way for Jimmy Johnson. Belichick is 64 and still working on his trophy case.
All this angst over how much it costs and how much it takes to become a Super Bowl host city in the 21st century? I blame it all on New Orleans.
That’s where the first indoor Super Bowl was played in 1978, setting a new standard for the pampering of team owners and fans.
Even worse, New Orleans did the most of any city to disappoint team owners and to remind them of how lousy an outdoor Super Bowl can be.
That happened in the summer of 1974, when construction was going so slowly on the Louisiana Superdome that completion couldn’t be guaranteed for a grand-opening Super Bowl scheduled to be played there on Jan. 12, 1975.
Reluctantly, the league moved the game to old Tulane Stadium in New Orleans, where two previous Super Bowls had been played, including the Miami Dolphins’ first appearance, a 24-3 loss to the Dallas Cowboys.
Wouldn’t you know it, the weather was lousy for the relocated Super Bowl IX, damp and blustery and 46 degrees at kickoff, with the mercury diving after that. Pittsburgh beat Minnesota 16-6 on a day when the winning quarterback, Terry Bradshaw, passed for 96 yards.
By halftime the only score was a safety on an end-zone sack of Vikings quarterback Fran Tarkenton. Yuck.
If you live long enough, eventually just about everybody seems young.
Today, for instance, I started comparing Peyton Manning, seven weeks shy of his 40th birthday, against other Super Bowl quarterbacks of a certain age.
Turns out good old Earl Morrall, the regal reserve who saved the Miami Dolphins’ perfect season, was a relative pup during his championship years.
You never would have known it by his old-school crewcut, but Morrall was only 34 when he won the league MVP award in 1968 as quarterback of the NFL champion Baltimore Colts. That year ended with a shocking Super Bowl III loss to Joe Namath and the AFL champion New York Jets but Morrall, who threw three interceptions in that game, was not finished.
Two years later, at 36, Morrall came off the bench when Johnny Unitas got hurt and led Baltimore to a 16-13 Super Bowl comeback win over Dallas. Nothing fancy, just 7-for-15 passing for 147 yards and no touchdowns, but the Colts got the win and Earl got his ring.
Next thing you know Don Shula, the Baltimore coach, takes off for a new adventure in Miami. Morrall, he remembered, was a pretty good insurance policy, and so the Dolphins picked up the old pro off waivers. He was 38 and, when Bob Griese got hurt in the fifth game of the 1972 season, Morrall was back in business as Miami’s starter.
Could Morrall have started yet another Super Bowl? Well, sure, if Griese hadn’t been able to return from injury in the AFC Championship game.
Earl may not have been Superman, celebrating each touchdown by ripping open his imaginary shirt, but he was a man of steel nonetheless. Morrall died in 2014, just a few weeks shy of 80, a true Dolphins great.
Now let’s list a few more relative youngsters when compared to the age of Denver’s starting quarterback in Super Bowl 50.
John Elway started and won Super Bowls for the Broncos at 37 and 38.
Kurt Warner and Rich Gannon were each 37 when they started and lost Super Bowls.
Roger Staubach and Jim Plunkett each won Super Bowls at 36, while Fran Tarkenton lost one at the same age.
What Peyton wouldn’t give to be so young and spry again.
He won a Super Bowl at 30, then came up short in the big game at 33 and 37.
Hey, they’re only numbers in the end. Those who win are just the right size and shape and age. If it weren’t so, the Dolphins would have stayed away from hiring Adam Gase as their head coach. He’ll be 38 next month, just in time to go chasing all of those “kids” in the NFL draft.
The last time the Super Bowl was played in Northern California way back on Jan. 20, 1985, the Miami Dolphins were in the game.
Spoiler alert. They lost, 38-16, to the San Francisco 49ers, who become the first and only team to win a Super Bowl in its home market.
Looking back though, as Carolina and Denver prepare to meet this Sunday at fantastic new Levi’s Stadium, it’s striking to think how different the entire Super Bowl experience has become.
The big game was played that year, for instance, on a college campus, and in a college stadium that was already 64 years old by the time the Dolphins and 49ers got there.
Stanford Stadium had no luxury suites. There weren’t even locker room facilities up to NFL standards. The league built a standard block structure to be used by the Dolphins for dressing and showering on game day. They say it cost $1 million to make, but all I remember is the room being so cramped that you couldn’t get to the players you needed to interview because of all the equipment and shoes and towels piled up between the benches.
We had trouble making it down from the press box to the locker room, too, because the elevator was jammed and the walkways were so crowded that it was impossible to find the colored lines that had been painted on the asphalt to lead the way. Didn’t really matter much in the end. None of Miami’s players really felt much like talking.
It was completely different during the weeklong runup to the game. Mark Duper and Mark Clayton were media stars, laughing their way through hundreds of carefree interviews. Dan Marino had to enter and exit the team hotel through the service and kitchen entrances because there were so many fans waiting for him in the lobby and out by the buses.
Don Shula, meanwhile, was trying to get some improvements made at the Dolphins’ soggy practice field inside Oakland-Alameda Coliseum. The coach cheered up considerably by the time he rode the Bay Area Rapid Transit train to do his major press briefing at the Super Bowl media center in San Francisco. That train system really worked great, he kept saying, and Shula expected his offense would do the same against the 49ers.
Why not? Marino was at his amazing best in the 1984 season, passing for 48 touchdowns and 5,084 yards and doing it all at the age of 23. The Dolphins were such a spectacular story back then, averaging 32 points per game and looking for all the world like they were kicking into the beginning of a second Super Bowl dynasty for the franchise.
Didn’t happen that way, of course. Marino completed just one touchdown against San Francisco, a 2-yarder to tight end Dan Johnson that gave Miami a 10-7 lead at the end of the first quarter. It was all downhill from there, with Joe Montana throwing for three touchdowns and the 49ers defense shutting the Dolphins out in the second half. Overall, San Francisco outgained Miami 537 yards to 314.
Took a while getting out of there that night, with everybody crawling the 40 miles back to San Francisco in a rolling traffic jam. Car horns were blaring all the way, mostly in celebration of the 49ers victory.
For those of us who covered the Dolphins, however, there was the feeling that Miami would be back, again and again. After all, that was the second Super Bowl in the space of three years for Shula. Marino would only get better, it figured. That’s why Diet Pepsi put out a commercial following the game, with Montana buying Marino a can of soda as if they had just bumped into each other in the stadium concourse leaving the game. The ad script ended with Dan saying, “Hey, Joe, next year I’m buying.”
I dredged up my game story from that Super Bowl, a portion of which follows below. It’s still a sore subject, sure, but maybe it helps a little to reflect on when the Dolphins were so close to championship greatness. Some of you are too young to remember, after all.
49ers Win in a Rush, 38-16
By Dave George, Staff Writer
Palo Alto, Calif. – Dan Marino and a new generation of Miami Dolphins got a taste of Super Bowl death warmed over yesterday. For the second time in three years the Dolphins were flattened within sight of their first NFL title since 1973.
The San Francisco 49ers marred Miami’s season this time with a 38-16 victory at Stanford Stadium that never was in doubt after a 21-point scoring blitz in the second quarter by the NFC champions.
Three years ago, before the Dolphins offense was revitalized by Marino, Miami lost Super Bowl XVII to the Washington Redskins when David Woodley’s offense died in the second half. But no one expected to be writing an offensive obituary yesterday for Miami’s league-leading offensive unit.
The 49ers got to Marino like no one has this season, sacking him four times, and the Dolphins defense could do nothing to stop Joe Montana and his talented running mates.
Montana clearly won the battle of the league’s top quarterbacks, completing 24-of-35 passes for a Super Bowl-record 331 yards. He also tied a Super Bowl record with three touchdown passes and rushed for another himself. Marino set an NFL record with 48 touchdown passes this season but could only manage one yesterday, a 2-yarder to tight end Dan Johnson in the first quarter.
Among Marino’s major problems was the fact that Miami managed just 25 yards rushing. Only once, when the Dolphins rushed for 23 yards in a 1967 game against Kansas City, has a Miami team been more inept on the ground.
“The 49ers clearly were a better football team,” said Dolphins coach Don Shula, who has a 2-4 record in Super Bowl games and shares with Bud Grant the indignity of having lost four of them. “They went with a four-man line with six defensive backs in the game and when we couldn’t get anything going running they were able to do a good job on our offense.
“It’s tough to live with this.”
Not so for Montana, who was named Super Bowl MVP after San Francisco’s win over Cincinnati four years ago and won the honor again yesterday.
“All we heard all week long was Miami’s offense and how were we going to be able to stop them,” Montana said. “I think, deep inside, although nothing was said, there was the feeling that we have an offense too and nobody was thinking about having to stop us.”
(There’s much more to that story but you get the picture. Hey, at least the Dolphins were there. Wouldn’t you take that now?)
As any Miami Dolphins follower knows all too well, the offensive line is the toughest unit to shore up, or even to keep in basic working condition.
Very few teams are good at it for long. Injuries happen. High draft picks fail to develop. A desire to develop quality depth is quickly replaced by an urgent search for warm bodies on the waiver wire.
The Denver Broncos, for instance, are starting a guard named Evan Mathis in the upcoming Super Bowl. It’s a name you may remember, not only because the veteran is a two-time Pro Bowler but because Miami was one of several teams trying to figure out how to sign the guy last summer.
Turns out Mathis cost too much, especially for a Dolphins team in a severe salary cap pinch, so he signed a one-year deal with Denver worth up to $4 million with incentives. He wanted to go to a contender anyway, so it’s unclear whether Miami could have offered enough to bring him here or whether Mathis will be pursued again this offseason.
What is clear is this. The Dolphins already had Mathis on their roster, way back in 2008, and they let him go, either because the 304-pounder wasn’t carrying his weight or because Miami’s coaching staff couldn’t see a way to build him into a valuable piece of the ever-shifting offensive line puzzle.
Now, to be fair, a lot of things went right for the Dolphins that season, Tony Sparano’s first as head coach. Miami won the AFC East with an 11-5 record and actually made the playoffs, two things that haven’t happened since. It was a sensational one-season turnaround from the bomb crater of Cam Cameron’s brief reign. Also, the franchise made great progress in addressing its offensive line needs at the most vital position when left tackle Jake Long, a Pro Bowl instantly and often, was taken with the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft.
For whatever reason, however, there was a disconnect with Mathis, and it wasn’t the first time. Carolina, the team Mathis is facing in the Feb. 7 Super Bowl, drafted him in the third round but eventually gave up on him after three seasons. When the Dolphins picked Mathis up as a training-camp cut in 2008, he never got a start and was gone after seven games.
The easiest conclusion is that Mathis is one of those later bloomers, that he really didn’t figure out the pro game until an extended run of starts at Philadelphia from 2011-14. He was in his 30’s then, having accumulated all kinds of experience and instruction, the kind he finally managed to put into full motion.
Looking back, though, at that whiff in Miami makes you realize how difficult it is to train linemen, and how tricky it is, in the first place, to identify the ones who are worth the trouble. Think of Billy Turner, drafted in the third round by the Dolphins in 2014 but inactive for his first 14 pro games.
It was more of the same last season until Dan Campbell became the interim head coach and decided to switch some things up in search of a more physical offensive attack. That’s when Turner became the starting right guard, and that’s where he stayed for the final 12 games of the season.
All I know about Mathis in 2008 is that the Dolphins never considered him worthy of a start and made what ultimately was a bad decision by cutting him at midseason. Here’s how it went. Miami signed the former All-SEC player from Alabama in a frantic September rush when Donald Thomas was lost for the season with a foot injury. Then, in November, the Dolphins let Mathis go, promoting guard Matt McChesney from the practice squad to take his place on the roster.
McChesney? He played in one game for the Dolphins, was placed on injured reserve with a knee injury and was cut in the offseason. He started four games in his NFL career and retired in 2010 after badly injuring an ankle. It seems he was stepping out of a golf cart when another cart raced by, clipping him in the process.
Found an old quote from Mathis that gives his view on why things didn’t work out for him in Carolina or Miami or Cincinnati before he finally made it work with the Eagles. It speaks to the extreme patience that is required in developing offensive linemen, and how that collides with the immediate need to keep quarterbacks healthy and running backs moving forward.
“When I was drafted,” Mathis told Pro Football Focus in 2009, “Carolina moved me to the only position I had never played, right guard. After not playing my rookie year, I started my second year at right guard, only to be moved to tackle the next year and not play a snap. They bounced me to third team center the next year only to cut me at the end of camp.
“I got picked up by Miami and practiced every spot with them and was splitting reps at right guard on Sundays. They cut me after week 12 and that’s how I ended up in Cincinnati. The Bengals had me practicing at every spot on the line every week for the rest of the season. After the season, I called Marvin Lewis and told him I wanted to play defensive end. He ultimately laughed at me and told me he thought I could compete for one of the inside spots.
“I conceded and vowed to do what it takes to get the job done. They had me working the inside three spots in mini-camp and OTA’s. When camp came around, I worked mostly left guard and was able to settle in and get comfortable. Personally, I believe that staying in one spot is much better for players than having to bounce around.”
Not much more to say about this, except that Mike Maser, the offensive line coach who worked with Mathis in 2008, was fired by the Dolphins after that season and didn’t work in the NFL again. Silly to put it all on one person, though. Sparano was an offensive line specialist throughout his early coaching career and Bill Parcells, the Dolphins’ chief executive at the time, kept a close eye on everything.