Drew Brees' Record: Sorry, But There Is No Asterisk Needed

There are moments in sport that give even the most emotionless humans goose bumps.  Moments when time appears to stop, and life itself is put into slow motion as the world witnesses glory.  On Monday night, that moment came on the final pass of the evening from Drew Brees.  It was a point when one man, one team and one city appeared to rise together in joyful celebration and pure wonderment, as a record that had previously been thought to be “impossible” had just become “possible.”  The moment the football left Brees’ hand, the collective audience within the Mercedes-Benz Superdome knew that they were going to witness history.  Once the pass connected with Brees’ former San Diego teammate, Darren Sproles, that history became all too real.  Chills were sent down my very being as I heard the immense roar inside the Dome.  It’s moments like these that drew me to sports when I was only a child, and they are the reason why I continue to love them still today.

This past week, the Saints had three things on their minds (even if they aren’t willing to admit it).  It was Christmas, so it’s difficult to imagine that much of the team didn’t have to help Santa with his present delivery on Saturday night.  Also, the squad knew that the division rival Falcons were coming to town, and the biggest prize of the regular season was theirs for the taking; the NFC South Division Title was waiting for a deserving owner.  Finally, Drew Brees had a record to break, and what better way to do it than on national television against the division rivals?  Sure, Brees and the team can pretend like that record wasn’t always in the back of their minds, but they’re human too.  They knew that they were 305 yards from glory, and they intended to make it happen.

In a sense, the record was magical.  More magical than the likes of Houdini, Copperfield, and Tebow combined.  Outside of two moments, the blocked punt during the Saints’ return to the Dome in 2006 and Hartley’s converted field goal attempt in the NFC Championship Game in 2009, I haven’t heard the Dome be that loud.  One can say it was because of the record that the Dome erupted on Monday night.  Sure it was, but I like to think it was little more than that.  The Dome would have erupted regardless; the men and women of New Orleans love a good old-fashioned Saints TD.  But the Dome erupted at that magnitude due to the people’s love for the only QB who has ever shown them a Championship.  The first QB to take a beaten New Orleans franchise and transform it into one of the most dominant forces in the NFC (if not the NFL).  The one QB who has legitimately dedicated everything to their city, as both he and “The Big Easy” have a special connection.  Both came back in 2006 in shambles, yet now, both have risen to new, unthinkable heights.  That, my friends, is a magical story in itself. 

The record was simply “icing on the cake.”  It was the “cherry on top” of Brees’ career in New Orleans, and he isn’t even close to being finished. 

With that being said, there hasn’t always been such a positive outlook on the record over the course of the past week.  Just ask Mike Freeman of CBS Sports, as he gave his own personal opinion about the true validity of the record.  Freeman, like many analysts around the country, seem to think that Brees’ passing of Marino’s record is “watered down.”  I’ll just let you read for yourself.  (Below is an excerpt from Freeman’s column.)

Fast forward to now, and New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees who is only 305 yards away from breaking Marino's mark. Not only will be break it, Brees is likely to shatter it, and like Marino before him, what's most important to remember about what Brees is doing is how he's doing it.  Like Marino, Brees is using pinpoint accuracy to shred defenses. Unlike Marino, Brees is doing it with liberal rules that leave defenses playing with one hand tied behind their back.

In effect, Brees' record will be severely watered down. So much so, that it almost deserves an asterisk.

It's not only Brees. Many of the incredible numbers put up by quarterbacks today are artificially enhanced by rules changes -- particularly changes made in the past several years as the football culture has shifted from an extremely violent one to a just a violent one.

He goes on to state that the record is a “shell of Marino’s.” 

This is where I call some serious BS.

Dan Marino

Sorry to break it to you Freeman, but if you’re going to call Brees’ record a “shell of Marino’s,” then I believe it’s only fair that you call Marino’s former record a “shell of Namath’s.”  In 1967, Joe Namath of the New York Jets broke the 4,000 yard mark through the air (He had 4,007 yards that year.).  At the time, he was the only 4,000 yard passer in history, and that would stand for twelve years until Dan Fouts decided that he wanted his name in the history books.  In 1979, Fouts brushed by Namath’s record, as his 4,082 yards made him the new record holder.  Only a year later, Fouts decided to make that record a tad more difficult to achieve, as he threw for a whopping 4,715 yards in 1980.  Then Mr. Marino came along in 1984, when he officially broke the 5,000 yard mark en route to a total of 5,084 passing yards.  That record stood for 27 years.  Now, it stands no more. 

So wait just one second.  Brees is likely to pass the record by 300 yards (give or take, depending on how well he does in Week 17 against the Carolina Panthers), and that is considered to be a “shell of Marino’s record?”  How can this be stated when, in fact, Marino destroyed the former number set by Namath by over 1000 yards (granted, it wasn’t Namath’s record at the time Marino broke it, but regardless)? 

Since its inception in 1922, the NFL has been an ever-evolving league.  Of course the NFL has a different feel in 2011 than it did in 1984, but why can't the argument be made that the league looked different in 1984 than it did in 1967? 

Now sure, we can sit here and say that the NFL has gotten “cutesy” as of late, because it has.  But let’s face facts:  that record stood strong for 27 years for a reason.  The last time I checked, a QB’s numbers aren’t directly affected by defensive rule changes.  When a DE is called for “roughing the passer,” the referee doesn’t award the QB with 15 free yards to add to his season total (if anything, it detracts from it).  When a ball is thrown 60 yards downfield and a “pass interference” penalty is called, the QB isn’t awarded with those 60 yards in the stat book.  Sure, the idea of a receiving a penalty is in the back of every defensive player’s head on Sunday afternoons; however, coaches teach these players to hit as they’ve always hit, and we see a plethora of those penalties today for that very reason.

Oh, and one writer seems to disregard the fact that the idea of a “shutdown” corner/top-Darrelle Revistier safety is more alive than ever in today’s NFL.  With the likes of Darrelle Revis, Nnamdi Asomugha , Lardarius Webb, Joe Haden, Johnathan Joseph, Malcolm Jenkins, Troy Polamalu, Ed Reed and others roaming the 32 secondaries of the modern NFL, life for a QB has become a decisive hell.  Also, who could forget the unforgiving defensive lineman bearing down on QBs in 2011, as 16 players have ten or more sacks heading into Week 17, three of which are in striking distance of Michael Strahan’s single-season sacks record. 

So we can sit here and say that Marino’s record was more legitimate due to the nature of the NFL at the time.  Then again, I refuse to let those words spew from my lips, because I would simply feel stupid.

In fact, there is only one true asterisk that needs to be placed on the all-time NFL passing leaders list. 

1. Drew Brees- (TBD)

2. Tom Brady- (TBD)

3. Dan Marino *- 5,084 yards

4. Drew Brees- 5,069 yards

5. Kurt Warner- 4,830 yards

* Did not win a Superbowl

Dan Marino was one of the greatest QBs of all time, and there is no disputing any of his accomplishments.  However, if one is going to call Marino a GOAT, then it is only right to show some respect for the man who surpassed him in more ways than one.

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