Is The 2004 NFL QB Draft Class The Best Ever?

Eli Manning has two rings….were they better than the 1983 class?

With 3 members of the great quarterback class of 1983 in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, at first glance you might say no. Until you realize the class of 2004 has 4 Super Bowl rings won between Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger. Not only are they in the prime of their careers but you have to include Pro Bowl QB Matt Schaub and Phillip Rivers as well. Many pundits have the Houston Texans as an AFC favorite to make this year’s Super Bowl and Phillip Rivers has made the AFC Championship along with a couple of Pro Bowls. How do they stack against the great classes of the past??

Well for starters this class didn’t have to live up to the expectations of the class of 1999. Remember that group? Donovan McNabb, Duante Culpepper, Tim Couch, Akili Smith, and Cade McNown were the hot quarterbacks anointed to challenge the class of 1983 yet came up woefully short. Couch, Smith, and McNown were out of the league within 5 years. Culpepper had some big seasons culminating with an NFC Championship visit in 2000 and had his best season in 2004 with 4,717 yards and 39 TDs. After that he was a journeyman playing for several teams.

As for Donovan McNabb, he was the face of the Philadelphia Eagles and led them to 4 straight NFC Championship Games and a Super Bowl appearance. He played with distinction for well over a decade and was a Pro Bowl quarterback 6 times including 5 straight years (2000-2004). For his career, he threw for 37,726 yards and 234 touchdowns while crossing the 3,000 yard threshold in 8 different seasons. Yet no Super Bowl victories. The class of ’99 only had 1 Super Bowl appearance.

Which brings us to the hallowed class of 1983. Dan Marino, John Elway, Jim Kelly, Todd Blackledge, Ken O’Brien, and Tony Eason were the signal callers who were going to dominate pro football for the next 15 years. They did….well kind of. With all of them going to the AFC, the next decade worth of drafts were slanted to pass protecters, specialist linebackers who defensed the pass better than the run along with receivers, and cornerbacks to cover them. The AFC took to the air as their earthbound counterparts in the NFC were rooted in the ground with power running schemes and more stout physical defenses. As the decade wore on each of the class of 83 started making their way to the Super Bowl. One after the other they went down in Super Bowls XIX- XXVIII in 10 straight games. Only after the Denver Broncos built John Elway an NFC team did the class of ’83 finally win two Super Bowls. Four of them reached the Super Bowl and three of them made it to multiple Super Bowls. While Elway, Kelly, and Marino rewrote the record books: Were they better than the ’04 class??

Big Ben has had playoff heroics that are either equal or surpass those of John Elway

The biggest issue the newer quarterbacks face is perception. The media fawned over John Elway being the prototypical quarterback (6’3, blonde hair, golden arm) that he rarely faced detractors until his Super Bowl losses. Sportswriters of the time lauded Marino for his cool in the face of a blitz, and Kelly for his toughness. Roethlisberger, because of a few off field incidents, is rarely thought of in high regard when it comes to writers who romanticize the game’s players. His scrambles and daring play are every bit as good as John Elway’s and has won more games for the Steelers than most can keep count. Where Elway had The Drive (Elway’s 98 yard drive to tie the 1986 AFC Championship Game) Roethlisberger led a last second drive culminating with a last second touchdown throw to win Super Bowl XLIII with :42 seconds left. We hardly hear of it talked about in the air of Elway’s drive when Big Ben’s was greater because it won a Super Bowl. Why?? Talk about playoff heroics… What about the 3rd and 19, 58 yard bomb to Antonio Brown with 2:00 left in the 2010 playoff with the Ravens?? It led to the game winning score and another Super Bowl visit. Others in that instance would have played for overtime. Yet where is the coverage of his daring or a nickname for either of these moments??

Did we say last second drives to win Super Bowls?? Well Eli Manning has two. Not only did he take down an undefeated Patriot team in 1 Super Bowl (2007), he proved it wasn’t a fluke with an encore performance in the 46th edition. Where Elway won one conference championship game with a last minute drive on the road, Eli has done that twice now in Green Bay and San Francisco in overtime. He has become the NFL’s all time winningest quarterback in the playoffs with 8 wins away from home, he set the record for road wins in a season with 11. Then what may go down as one of the defining games of his career happened last Sunday. After throwing 3 interceptions early in the game to put his Giants in a hole, Eli comes back with 240 yards passing in the 4th quarter alone in beating Tampa Bay 41-34. The Giants scored 25 points in that final period as Manning threw for 510 yards overall. He came within 45 yards of the all time record of 554 set by Norm Van Brocklin in 1950.

Comparing these two classes is one-sided in the favor of the ’04 group when it comes to Super Bowls. The latter group is 4-1 in the big game where the ’83 group was 2-10. Where John Elway was the winningest quarterback in NFL history at one time, folks are slow to notice Roethlisberger is approaching 100 with a total of 84 right now. To further tilt matters this group is in it’s prime and how many Super Bowl visits are in the near future when we include Matt Schaub and possibly a Phillip Rivers (both are 2-0 to start 2012). As of right now there are 3 busts in Canton from the earlier group but this one is better and hasn’t come close to finishing their run yet. They need to get the respect their elders did concerning their on-field heroics.

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