On Sunday, when the Seattle Seahawks square off against the New England Patriots, legacies—as they always are in games of this caliber—will be on the line.
For the Patriots, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady will be given perhaps their last chance to hoist the Lombardi Trophy together, as the two seek to exorcize the demons that have plagued them in Glendale, Ariz. ever since David Tyree became the NFL's Bucky Dent. There's a certain reputation at stake for Belichick and Brady, not just as the NFL's all-time winningest coach-QB duo, but as winners with longevity, the kind of recognition earned by dynasties like the San Antonio Spurs or Chuck Noll's Pittsburgh Steelers. But beyond asserting themselves as arguably the greatest in their respective positions (which is always subjective anyway), Belichick and Brady stand to gain little else from a Super Bowl XLIX win other than more padding for their Hall of Fame resumes (and, y'know, the deep, personal and professional satisfaction that comes from winning a Super Bowl).
The more interesting story to follow here is that of Seattle's young, impossibly wholesome quarterback Russell Wilson. The cherubic field general is all of three years into his professional career and has already enjoyed the sort of accomplishments that some guys must wait years for and most never see at all. How hard do you think Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers seethe when they see Wilson, backed by one of the greatest defenses in NFL history, appearing in his second Super Bowl at just 26-years-old? Wilson is a very good quarterback, but of the three prongs that lead the Seahawks—Marshawn Lynch, the defense, and Wilson—he's possibly the dullest point.
Obviously, it's all relative. Like, this is far from boring:
And you won't have any trouble staying awake when you watch plays like these:
But Wilson isn't a better quarterback than Beast Mode is a running back, particularly in today's NFL. And if you honestly believe that he's more valuable to the Hawks than the Legion of Boom, then you were watching a version of Super Bowl XLVIII that only existed in a distant, parallel universe.
So, we know that Wilson isn't the sole reason that Seattle is a championship-caliber team. Far from it. What does that mean for his Hall of Fame case, should the Seahawks take another title?
Of the nine HoF-eligible quarterbacks with multiple Super Bowl wins, Jim Plunkett is the only QB who has yet to earn his place in Canton, Ohio. It remains to be seen whether the debate that's dogged Plunkett's candidacy will plague Eli Manning as well, given the recent tire fires Manning has produced over the past couple seasons, but that's another conversation for another time.
More important, of the six eligible QBs who won back-to-back Super Bowls (Bart Starr, Bob Griese, Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana, Troy Aikman, & John Elway), all are in the Hall. The only one not yet inducted is Tom Brady who—along with being a definite first-ballot selection—may or may not be the greatest football player who ever lived. After this Sunday, what if Russell never won another title? What if he never made another Pro Bowl? Could Wilson, with two back-to-back rings, two Pro Bowl nods, and the Pepsi Rookie of the Year award under his belt, earn induction?
Probably, yes. Really, what Wilson's candidacy comes down to is the Hall of Fame selection committee; lucky for him, Wilson is beloved by sportswriters and pundits to the point of delirious fanaticism. To great effect, writer Jeb Lund regularly lampoons the fervent, and perhaps implicitly racist, praise heaped upon Wilson game after game:
How did Russell Wilson make that throw? Because he puts on a collared shirt to watch tape in the dark while Jesus works the projector.— Jeb Lund (@Mobute) September 8, 2013
When Russell Wilson throws over 30 yards, the whizzing of the ball has a doppler effect that says, "THIS IS A YOUNG MAN OF CHARACTERRRRRRR."— Jeb Lund (@Mobute) September 8, 2013
The media loves Russell Wilson. Even if Peter King is 75-years-old by the time Wilson is eligible for the Hall, he'll likely find a way to lumber into the voting room so that he can talk about how Wilson was the Leonard Bernstein of his generation. When the media is in charge of such a distinction, it's always going to come down to how a player presented himself to the world, and whether they made enough big plays to earn themselves a voiceover in an NFL Films production or something. We've already talked about Wilson's play-making ability. With regards to his media reputation, consider that he was named the winner of the Pro Football Writer's of America Good Guy Award, an "honor" which self-righteous pen jockeys bestow upon a player "for his qualities and professional style in helping pro football writers do their jobs." As nauseating as the very idea of that award is, it'll certainly help Wilson's case years down-the-line when a bunch of old men bicker about touchdowns and interceptions and invented narratives.
Then, let's consider some of the quarterbacks who've already made it into the Hall. Canton is littered with quarterbacks whose otherwise pedestrian résumés are bolstered by either an MVP award or a Super Bowl victory. Think Len Dawson, George Blanda, even Joe Namath. Two back-to-back Super Bowls and solid numbers would have to put Wilson at least on-par with them, right?
The media loves Russell Wilson. Even if Peter King is 75-years-old by the time Wilson is eligible for the Hall, he'll likely find a way to lumber into the voting room
If we're looking for an answer to that question, then we can't do much better than to look at the early-career success of, yes, Tom Brady.
Before winning two league MVPs and a slew of other awards, Brady was much like Wilson—a 26-year-old on the cusp of his winning his second Super Bowl, leading a team known more for its defense than its high-flying attack. The 2003-04 Patriots defense was first-ranked in points allowed and seventh in yards. Seattle's is first in both categories for the second consecutive year. Brady and Wilson's stats bear out some additional similarities: Brady threw 23 TDs and 12 INTs in his third season as a starter with a 60.2 completion percentage; this year, Wilson went 20-7-63.1 on the same line. Neither is spectacular, but neither is killing their team. They're basically the definition of "game managers."
So, did that label weaken Brady's Hall of Fame case? If you dig around, it's easy to find vestiges of this very same debate after the Patriots beat the Panthers in Super Bowl XXXVIII.
For instance, check out this 2004 Texans Talk thread, headlined, "Tom Brady hall of fame??". Here's a sampling of the comments:
- "I think he needs atleast 1 more superbowl chamionship to secure a lock"
- "As far a being in the hall of fame, he is on the right track. In this era, he needs to get a few more Pro Bowl Appearances and put up some more yardage. As long as he stays healthy in his career and is solid the rest of the way, it would be hard not to put him in."
- "he definitely has to put up some more yardage like Cap said. Still a little too early in my opinion, what is he, 26?"
- "At this point, Brady just has to put up consistent numbers for about 10 years (about 7 more) and he will go into the HoF. He has more rings than Favre at this point. He is a team leader. He has a good QB rating. What else do you want?"
- "Maybe Trent Dilfer should be given some consideration?
Brady doesn't have to win another Super Bowl. He just needs to remain consistant with his numbers. If not for Drew Bledsoe coming off the bench in the '02 AFC Championship game, Brady only has 1 Super Bowl (which would put him on the same level as Brad Johnson, Trent Dilfer, etc.). So is Brady just a good fit on a great team? Or is he better than his above average career QB rating of 85.9 indicates? But the Hall of Fame has proven in the past that they're willing to elect team members of dynasties regardless of what their stats show."
- And, because it's deliciously ironic: "All I know is [he] has helped the NFL put some drama back in the Super Bowl."
There's at least some measure of skepticism.
Then, there was Jackie MacMullen, a longtime Boston columnist who was already writing about Brady's "Hall of Fame future" in the immediate aftermath of his win against the Panthers. Leading up to that Super Bowl, Gary Shelton of the St. Petersburg Times was ready to sculpt Brady's bust himself:
This is Brady's day. This is his coronation. Already, he is famous. Already, he is admired. Already, he is envied.
Today, Brady can become great.
The designation is only for him. There are excellent players for the Patriots and the Panthers, but only Brady can see his image graduate from good to great with a stellar performance in this Super Bowl. Stephen Davis, even if he's terrific, would remain a very good back. Ty Law would remain underrated. Julius Peppers would still be rising stars.
If Brady wins, his greatness is in place.
Such is the opportunity of a 26-year-old quarterback. Brady can become the youngest quarterback to win his second Super Bowl. He can prove himself as special. He can become ... Joe Montana.
Now, imagine if that second Super Bowl was going to be his second in a row. The stans, they would be many.
Sure, NFL fans may ask for Wilson to continue to show and prove after a second Super Bowl win, but in the eyes of the voters, Wilson's Hall of Fame induction will likely appear to be a foregone conclusion should he earn another ring. After all, they've already begun to place their bets, and, hell, even Belichick is buying. For a "young man of character" like Wilson, who can occasionally make some pretty spectacular plays to boot, they may as well just hand him a gold jacket with that silver trophy, should the Seahawks come out on top on Sunday.
Gus Turner is an editor for Complex Sports. Argue with him on Twitter at @gusturner1.
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