As a I sat down to write this post, I tried to come up with a clear definition of elite. Words such as strongest, greatest, and most powerful came to mind. According to Google, elite is "A group of people considered to be the best in a particular society or category, esp. because of their power, talent, or wealth." Essentially, elite can be summed up in one phrase: they are the best of the best.
So then, I wondered, why do so many good, average, or even downright fail entities get labeled as elite? Take, for example, Imperial Stormtroopers. Upon Googling them, the first sentence in the first result that comes up is "Stormtroopers were the elite soldiers of the Galactic Empire." Now unless I'm mistaken, these are the same Stormtroopers that where no match for a farmer boy, a teenage princess, and a walking carpet. One moment they're being mind-tricked by an old man, and the next they're being overpowered by a bunch of teddybears. Does that really sound elite to you?
In the realm of football, there seems to be a similar problem: the media, fans, and occasionally the players themselves like to call certainly quarterbacks elite, when they are infact very far from it. For the past several years, we've had to endure some of the most idiotic arguments known to man as people try to defend the "elite" status of the likes of Joe Flacco, Eli Manning, and Ben Roethlisberger.
It has gotten to a point where elite almost ceases to mean best of the best, and instead becomes a knee-jerk reaction to a quarterback's recent accomplishment. Achievements such as winning the Super Bowl or breaking a record suddenly make a quarterback elite, almost exclusively because this accomplishment is fresh in people's mind.
Their logic, or lack-their-of, can be summed up like this: So what if three dozen other quarterbacks have won a Superbowl, all that matters is who won it last.
This is a ridiculous argument, even when the fact that over 40 other men have accomplished the same thing is ignored. How big a roll did most of these quarterbacks play in their Super Bowl victory? How much success did they have during the regular season? Where they convincing and dominant? The best of the best do not back in. The best of the best do not rely on tie-breakers, wild-cards or luck.
The best of the best do not only play half the time, either. They do not sleep though the regular season, and then come on if they make they playoffs. They play well on every down: not just third or fourth. Being "clutch" is part of being elite, but "clutchness" alone isn't gonna cut it.
The fact that many Super Bowls come down to one play is even more reason why they shouldn't be the sole factor in determining who is elite. Nearly every Super Bowl in the past 10 years could have gone either way: their defense, the opposing defense, the opposing offense, and even special teams play just as large or larger of a roll in determining who won then the so-called "elite" quarterback.
Because the argument that Super Bowl victory = elite is so easy to disprove, the knee-jerk folks will try to point out other accomplishments of their quarterback during his championship season. Many like to bring up Eli's third down conversions and 4th quarter comebacks of 2011 as evidence he is elite. For Flacco, they point to his interception-free post-season. For Ben, its the fact that he was the youngest ever to win a Superbowl.
And yet all this shows is that, to win a championship, a quarterback has to play well. During his first four years, Tom Brady was 9-0 in the playoffs. After his championship season, Aaron Rodgers won the MVP. Even in his Super Bowl losing season of 2009, Peyton Manning led dozens of late-game comebacks and probably could have powered his way to 16-0. Flacco and Eli's accomplishments where great - but does it separate them from the pack? No. Records are broken all the time, and everything had, at some point, never been done before.
So what does make a quarterback elite, you ask? Best of the best is hard to define, but I'll go with three things I consider most important: playoff success, regular season stats, and era in which they played.
Though as mentioned above playoff success alone does not make a quarterback elite, a quarterback at the same time cannot be elite without playoff success. A championship is a must have here: if Trent Dilfer can win a Superbowl and your guy can't, he's just not elite. Multiples also help: one Super Bowl is the minimum, two is great when combined with stats, and three is elite pretty much no matter what. The post-season is where legends are made: its what separates those who will be forgotten after they retire and those that will be remembered forever.
Regular-season success and stats are essential too, however. The regular season is a larger sample size. its much harder to point to regular season success and call it a fluke. The regular season is what shows consistency, and the ability to win in any game against any style of opponent. It is also helps to weed out those that aren't consistent and dominant enough to make the cut: Eli Manning finishes with records like 10-6 or 9-7. Joe Flacco often fails to even win his division. Neither has won an MVP. In comparison, Aaron Rodgers has let his team to 15-1 and Tom Brady to 16-0. Brady has won his division close to a dozen times, and Peyton ten times in a row. Combined, Tom, Aaron, and Peyton have a total of 7 MVPs.
If a quarterback doesn't have playoff AND regular season success, people shouldn't even think about calling him elite.
One issue remains, however, and that is era in which they played. Because of the evolution of the passing game, a quarterback like Terry Bradshaw or even Joe Montanna's stats cannot be looked at in the same way as those of Peyton Manning or Tom Brady. This makes it very hard to compare a pre-1990s or 2000s quarterback to a post-2000s quarterback, as they are essentially playing a different game. Personally, I rank Joe Montanna as the greatest of all time, but that is not what this post is about. The guidelines and system of determining who is elite I have listed here just can't be applied to those older folks. It would be like comparing apples to oranges.
I would like to think this settles it, but doubt it will. There is just no reasoning with some people: they will continue to dig up pointless, old or irrelevant facts to support their cause. Others will just bury their head in the sand to avoid seeing the facts around them.
What I do not understand, however, is why this topic even matters at all. Your favorite quarterback is not elite. Your franchise does not have an elite QB. Why does that bother people? As proven by the likes of Flacco and Eli, a franchise doesn't need an elite QB to win the Superbowl.
And isn't the Superbowl what we're all after, anyways?
Note: Like the "Closing Window" thread before it, this post is meant to break the repetitiveness of the off-season with topic that will cause debate and discussion. The idea was sparked by various discussions across PatsPulpit, Behind the Steel Curtain, and Daily Norseman.