FIRE JOE MORGAN: The Small Sample-Sized Revisionist History Chronicles


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Sunday, February 03, 2008


The Small Sample-Sized Revisionist History Chronicles

In a few hours, the New American Awesomes will play the New Jersey Somethings in the Super Bowl. The Awesomes are 37-point favorites. Is it possible that Somethings’ QB Ed Manning will lead his team to an upset victory? Of course. This is the NFL, where even the surest of sure things has maybe a 70% chance of winning.

And if that happens, it will help the Somethings believe that they weren’t completely violated by the Chargers in the 2004 draft-day trade that gave them Ed Manning and gave San Diego every other great player available in the next two drafts. I mean, we all agree that Shawne Merriman, Philip Rivers, Nate Kaeding, and another choice that led to acquiring Roman Oben > Ed Manning, right?

Every angle says Giants, Eli are winners in big trade

Oh. Apparently not.

Let's begin this debate about who won the Eli Manning-Philip Rivers mega-deal -- the New York Giants or San Diego Chargers -- with an e-mail from one of the smartest general managers I have ever been around.

Sounds good. If you're going to try to prove that the Giants somehow got the better end of the deal, I guess a quote from a smart GM is a good place to start. Whose unbiased opinion did you solicit? Scott Pioli? Kevin Colbert? Bill Polian?

Giants GM Ernie Accorsi.

Oh. You asked...the guy who did the trade for the Giants. That's smart. If you want an objective opinion on something, ask the dude who did it.

Though Accorsi is of course biased,

Stop right now. Stop writing this right now. You just typed the reason not to write this article. Stop. Stop immediately.

everything he states in the following e-mail is accurate. It makes the best case on why the Giants won that deal -- basically Manning for Rivers, Shawne Merriman and kicker Nate Kaeding.

And a 5th round pick that they traded to the Bucs for Roman Oben, who anchored the Chargers' O-line in 2004 and served as a mentor for all of their young draftees.

Since kickers are a dime a dozen the deal is basically Manning for Rivers and Merriman.

A dime-a-dozen kicker who has hit 87% of his field goals and scored 480 points in 4 years. But okay, let's just ignore him.

Not only did the Giants win the trade, they won easily. Here is Accorsi's reasoning and why I think he's right, run in its entirety with only punctuation and spelling corrections added.

Nice. Make the expert you're about to cite sound like a dummy who can't spell.

The e-mail began with me asking Accorsi what made him so convinced Manning would be worth the draft picks New York gave up to get him.

"We thought he was the best of the three then (Rivers, Manning and Ben Roethlisberger) and we think he's the best of three now," Accorsi wrote. "People who dwell on statistics in football, just cling to them because they can't evaluate QBs.

You corrected his punctuation but didn't get rid of that entirely superfluous comma? Who's the dummy now, Freeman?

The job is QB, not passer. Unitas and Namath didn't have good QB ratings. They threw a lot of interceptions because they took risks and had to carry their teams."

I'm kind of with you. It obviously isn't just about passing. Though passing is a big part of it, I'd say, and Big Ben's 92.5 passer rating is certainly a good deal better than Eli's 73.4. Eli also has more picks than TDs in his career. [EDIT: No he doesn't. I am an idiot. I looked at "long" instead of "INT" on this page. Sorry, Eli fans.]

I know -- different systems, etc. But you'd still take Eli over Roethlisberger? (America's Sweetheart -- are you reading this?!)

Indeed, if I had to choose the better quarterback of the three,

(sic sic sic sic sic sic sic sic sic sic sic)

it would be Manning, followed by Roethlisberger and Rivers. Manning, right now, is the better winner (which does seem insane since only a short time ago people were questioning Manning's leadership skills).

And equally insane when you consider that Roethlisberger has more wins. And that his team went 15-1 one year. And when you consider that his team won a Super Bowl. (Roethlisberger stunk it up in that game, but apparently Freeman doesn't care: It's About Winning.)

But Manning has clearly entered another stratosphere, as sudden as that entrance has been, in terms of those leadership abilities.

"Manning is a winner," continued Accorsi, who is an avid sports historian and baseball fan. "He had proven that in a host of games before this run.

He has certainly improved, yes.

Why do we determine whether pitchers belong in the Hall of Fame based on games won but that is not an ingredient of the QB rating?

1. We shouldn't, really, discuss "wins" as a baseball HOF criterion.
2. You're right that the QB rating is dumb. But:
3. Roethlisberger has won more games than Manning.
4. In the two years he's started, Rivers has more wins and a far better QB rating than Manning.

In my opinion, the QB has much more of an influence on the outcome of a game than the starting pitcher. With six minutes left in the fourth quarter, Eli can't turn the game over to Mariano Rivera. He has to finish the game."

But Chien Ming-Wang can't hand the ball off to Alex Rodriguez and have him rush it up to the plate. Or throw a screen to Jeter and have Jeter rush the ball to the plate and deliver it to Posada by hand. There are reasons why being a QB is harder than being a starting pitcher. There are other reasons why being a starting pitcher is harder than being a QB. But there are many more (and more obvious) reasons why comparing a QB and starting pitcher is dumb and meaningless.

"What difference does it make what we gave up?" Accorsi continued.

...because that's how you evaluate whether it was a good trade. Do you think Brian Sabean is like, "Who cares about Liriano, Bonser, and Nathan? We got A.J. Pierzynski and cash!!!!"

"You better be right about the QB, but if you are, you can't overpay for a great QB and we think he's going to be a great QB. What would you give up for Elway? What would you give for Montana or Unitas? Just like you can't overpay a great player. Can you overpay for Mays or DiMaggio? That's all fodder."

As the great Bard of Avon once said of ladies who doth protest too much: "This is fucking insane, Accorsi."

This is where I disagree with Accorsi slightly. You can overpay for almost any player -- even a Montana or Unitas -- but only if you leave your team barren of talent and draft picks.

They traded 4 draft picks for the pick that got them Eli Manning. Draft picks that were used to draft several excellent players.

An example of this is the Herschel Walker trade. Dallas received six Minnesota draft picks for Walker. Then coach Jimmy Johnson used two of those picks to draft Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith and Pro Bowl defensive back Darren Woodson. Johnson used other picks to make a series of trades to acquire other talents like Russell Maryland. The Vikings were devastated by that deal for years because they drastically overpaid.

The Giants did not give up that kind of talent or picks. Not even close.

Maybe it wasn't that bad. But Merriman might go the Hall someday, if he keeps being the crazy beast he has been so far. Rivers is a solid QB (more solid than Manning, in the last two years). Kaeding hits 87 out of every 100 field goals he attempts. That ain't a bad haul.

My friend Doyel might know college basketball better than anyone, as well as the thug-filled, cracked-jaw-fest that is the MMA, but one thing NFL media rooks like him forget when discussing the Giants-Chargers trade is this caveat: The Chargers wanted fierce defensive end Osi Umenyiora to be included in the deal.

Accorsi said hell no. It was the right move by Accorsi, and Umenyiora has been a force.

If the Twins had asked for Barry Bonds in the Nathan/Liriano/Bonser deal, and Sabean had said no, that would not have meant that Sabean had made a good deal.

Basically, if the Giants had given up Umenyiora, they might have drafted Merriman. What Accorsi said next is interesting -- and true.

"We didn't get Merriman," Accorsi said, "we led the league in sacks. Osi is better anyway."

Osi is very good, yes. But once again, the fact that you didn't include him in the trade doesn't mean the trade was good. And the fact that they might have drafted Merriman if they had traded him is (hypothetical)^2 nonsense.

And as far as we know Umenyiora never failed a performance-enhancing drug test the way Merriman has.

Fortunately for everyone involved, no one cares when NFL players fail drug tests.

"These are the facts, in the fourth year the kid has us in the Super Bowl," said Accorsi.

Is it worth it to point out that Roethlisberger "got" the Steelers there sooner? Probably not. Is it worth it to point out that the comma in that paragraph should be a colon or maybe a dash? Probably. (Click here, Freeman -- it'll help when you want to correct people's punctuation.)

"He had a chance under adverse conditions on the road to win the game to get in the Super Bowl and he did it. The other guy didn't. Very simple. All the other arguments are just reasons to fill air time."

He has had an excellent playoff run. Very impressive. Very much like Tony Eason in 1985-86.

Again, a slight disagreement with Accorsi. Rivers was playing the New England Patriots, a better team than Manning's opponent, the Green Bay Packers. Also, Rivers was impressive by playing without an ACL in one of his knees.

Oh, right -- there's also that.

And in Manning's defense, the physical conditions he played in were far worse than those Rivers faced. Manning's game was the Ice Bowl; Rivers by comparison played in the Nice Bowl.

First of all, excellent Woody Paige-esque writing. Second of all, miserable weather tends to level the playing field, I think. The Giants passed 543 times this year and rushed it 469. The Pack was 578/388. The Giants stood to benefit from the weather. And since they're from a cold-weather city, it shouldn't have bothered them as much as it might have otherwise, like, say, if they were from San Diego. (And also, the Giants' defense won them that game.)

The larger point Accorsi makes is nevertheless valid. To me, we have seen all of Rivers' upside. This is the best Rivers is going to be -- a good quarterback but not great. We might be witnessing just the early stages of Manning's rise from good to outstanding.

In other words, there is far more upside to Manning than Rivers and that in itself makes the trade worthwhile.

I like it when people issue opinions based on very little fact, and then draw conclusions based on the conversion of those opinions into facts.

Rivers might one day reach the Super Bowl, too. I'm just not sure he can. However, we know Manning is capable. There are no more questions when it comes to him.

Rivers has lost twice in the playoffs, both times to the most dominant dynasty in recent football history, both times in close games. This year, he lost by 9 points while playing on the road, on one leg, and with the best RB in football on the bench and the best or second-best TE in football also on the bench. But I guess a sample size of three games -- which contradict a wealth of other evidence -- is enough to declare Manning better than Rivers.

"Milt Davis, a corner who started for the Colts against the Giants in the '58 sudden death game in Yankee Stadium and now owns a doctor's degree, told me 38 years ago, 'Ernie, you judge a QB on one thing: Can he take his team down the field in the fourth quarter, from behind, with a title on the line and into the end zone. That's what matters.' I came (into the league) under Unitas and that's how I judge quarterbacks."

In the Tampa Bay WC game, the Giants were up 17-7 after 3. In the Green Bay game, the winning FG was set up by a terrible Favre interception. And here's the Microsoft-Yahoo! sports description of the game winning drive in the Dallas game:

The Giants trailed only 17-14. After not getting anywhere on their next drive, a 25-yard punt return by McQuarters left Manning only 37 yards from the go-ahead touchdown. He needed only six plays to get it on a 1-yard run by Brandon Jacobs, who celebrated by throwing the ball into the play clock.

There was still 13:29 left, the 92nd between these division rivals but the first in the playoffs. While it got more interesting, the caliber of play didn't improve. Dallas made more sloppy mistakes and New York missed chances for clock-killing drives.

That's all Eli, baby!

He was good in all 3 games, but if you're judging him on Milt Davis's criterion, Eli gets an INC. And for the record, in the Dallas game, after the go-ahead TD, Manning did not attempt a pass. The Giants went 3-and-out with 3 rushes. Then, on their next drive, they rushed twice and Eli was sacked. Fourth quarter heroics!

"All the people that still knock Eli better settle down for a long period of frustration," Accorsi said. "Because as his brother said today, 'Eli is going to a lot more Super Bowls.' Whether people like it or not."

What was it again that Shakespeare said about ladies who doth protest too much? Oh yeah: "Hey, Accorsi -- take it down about 1000 levels."

"By the way, we drafted Rivers in order to make the trade because that is the QB San Diego wanted," Accorsi said. "We would not have drafted (Rivers). If we didn't make the trade, we would have drafted Roethlisberger. He was our second-rated QB."

Your team would probably be better if you had just drafted Roethlisberger.

Did the Giants win that trade with San Diego?

Yeah, they did, and it really wasn't all that close, either.

For the record, you did not write one single thing about Shawne Merriman in this entire article, except that he failed a drug test and that Usi Umeemoyeiyre is better. Shawne Merriman is wicked good. Nate Kaeding is also: wicked good. Rivers is better than Manning. Teams are more than QBs. You are: wrong.

Eli Manning may win a Super Bowl today. If he does, congratulations to him. I think it's probably hard to be the less-good younger brother of a HOF QB, especially when you play in NY. But you just can't say that he's better than Rivers, or Roethlisberger, yet, and you certainly sound like a little bit of a crazy person when you not only say that Eli was worth Merriman, Rivers, Kaeding, and a year of Roman Oben, but indeed that "it really [isn't] all that close." That's bonkers.

For years dumb sportswriters have been declaring certain players (Scott Brosius) "better" than certain other players (ARod) simply because they -- the first certain players (Scott Brosius) -- performed well in the playoffs. This, in the immortal words of nerdbone conservative George F. Will, is nonsense on stilts. I'm glad to see that football writers are finally catching up.

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posted by Anonymous  # 12:13 PM
Brandon writes:

Hate to be a dick, but "nonsense upon stilts" was coined by Jeremy Bentham, one of the greatest philosophers of the last two centuries. Attributing it to George Will is kind of like attributing "veni, vidi, vici" to Ja Rule.

I knew he had stolen it (used it in "Met at Work") but did not know from whom. So: nice, Brandon.
A follow-up from Brandon:

The full citation is Bentham, /Anarchical Fallacies/(Article II),
which you can find in vol. II of the Bowring-edited /Works/. He's critiquing the idea that individuals have inalienable natural rights.

If you ever find yourself at University College London, Bentham (himself) is displayed there in a wooden cabinet with a glass front. I'm not kidding.

I am now proud to announce the first-ever use of the "jeremy bentham" tag.

Well done, Brandon.
Simon now one-ups Brandon:

I can't be the only one mentioning this, but it merits mention that while Bentham's body appears at UCL, his head does not. From the UCL Web site:

Bentham had originally intended that his head should be part of the Auto-Icon, and for ten years before his death (so runs another story) carried around in his pocket the glass eyes which were to adorn it. Unfortunately when the time came to preserve it for posterity, the process went disastrously wrong, robbing the head of most of its facial expression, and leaving it decidedly unattractive. The wax head was therefore substituted, and for some years the real head, with its glass eyes, reposed on the floor of the Auto-Icon, between Bentham's legs. However, it proved an irresistible target for students, especially from King's College London, who stole the head in 1975 and demanded a ransome of 100 [pounds] to be paid to the charity Shelter. UCL finally agreed to pay a ransome of 10 [pounds] and the head was returned. On another occasion, according to legend, the head, again stolen by students, was eventually found in a luggage locker at a Scottish Station (possibly Aberdeen). The last straw (so runs yet another story) came when it was discovered in the front quadrangle being used for football practice, and the head was henceforth placed in secure storage.

I propose the same treatment for Bud Selig, with particular emphasis on repeated kicking.

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