29 December 2011

Drew Brees: The Fallacy of Intangibles

"When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign: that the dunces are all in confederacy against him." 

- Jonathan Swift

Though this famed quote straddles cliche at this point, it seems partly relevant to Drew Brees and especially relevant to the city of New Orleans thanks to John Kennedy Toole

After spending several days (years, really) consuming opinions, analyses, and profiles of Drew Brees, I was struck by the pervasive, often underlying, notion that Drew Brees has "overachieved" in his professional career and, by extension, is not regarded with the same canonical reverence bestowed upon some of his peers.

The word most frequently trotted out in reference to Brees is "intangibles." Those measuring Brees by his intangibles generally intimate that those qualities are to credit for his successes, not his physical skills or athletic pedigree. It's oversimplified and flawed. 

So let me point out the wholly erroneous notion and general fallacy of this "intangible" business. What does it even mean? "It's his intangibles, Boomer." And why does it seem to be universally agreed upon with head-nodding approval as an explanation for Brees' success?  

Even in an article as poignant and excellent as this one, the author refers to Brees' intangible qualities as a qualifying indicator of his greatness that remains some unsolvable mystery. And really, this is the conventional wisdom regarding Brees.

But Coach Payton has repeatedly called Brees the best athlete on his team, even to the hyper-specificity of referring to Brees as an "elite foot athlete." But too often, it's not about Brees' athleticism in concert with his other attributes. It's instead always narrow, vague, or mislabeled.

And why are leadership, work ethic, competitveness, composure, high character, and exceptional IQ considered "mystery" traits? Because traditional NFL scouts, talent evaluators, and media "experts" have been too simple-minded to assign them importance when judging the QB position? Because they have difficulty defining those traits in simple, measurable terms?

But because Brees' talents are so great, so varied, and unquestionably unique, he gets overlooked, sold short, and condescendingly labeled as an "overachiever?" As if it were unthinkable that he was capable of this.

Do military leaders who choose generals to lead their armies see these same qualities as mysterious, undefinable, and veiled? Of course not. Why? Because they place importance on them. You generally won't find something you don't look for.

They are--instead--tangible qualities, readily accessible and definable. And they're of much greater importance than being able to throw a football 80 yards from your knees. Right Kyle Boller? Right Jamarcus Russell?

But the conventional belief systems of the established guard continue to stubbornly cling to oversimplified, dated "truths" while players like Brees have shifted the landscape and mocked the multitude of "geniuses" who know better. Isn't that right, Coach Saban? Still think Philip Rivers has a higher ceiling, AJ Smith?

If the national perception of Brees was rooted in the traditionalism of the 6'5, white, strong-armed QB with limited mobility that was hitherto "Andrew Lucked" for his entire life, Brees would likely be on his way to winning his 4th MVP.

Instead, he'll probably get bypassed again this year when he's again deserving. And what's worse is the idle chatter that the passing record--should Brees in fact hold it after season's end--be potentially asterisked in some way.

Brian Burke of Advanced NFL Stats eloquently and succinctly debunked that ridiculous position when he said "the notion that the 1984 record was somehow pure or true, and the 2011 record is tainted due to rule changes is myopic in the extreme." Read that again. Myopic in the extreme.

But regardless, the skepticism remains. It's a continuation of the same absurd logic that has perpetuated the belief that Brees just shouldn't be as good as he in fact is. I mean, there's no way he could set the record without rules being altered in his favor. The pundits can't fathom it, so surely there must be an explanation to validate the gaping flaws in their judgments.

I'm sorry, but I can't imagine that these same nonsensical platitudes would be lobbed the way of Peyton Manning or Tom Brady if they were in Brees' shoes today. And why? Because they're taller? As silly as that sounds, it seems to be the prevailing, though perhaps subconscious, logic.

Manning and Brady have won four of the past five MVP awards, yet neither one of them maintains the same resume that Brees has compiled in the past 6 seasons.

Over that span, Brees leads the league in yards, TDs, and completion %; became the only QB in NFL history to twice throw for 5000+ yards in a season; set a league record for completion % in a season; won a Super Bowl; and won a Super Bowl MVP. No other QB in the league can boast that impeccable resume.

Yet continually, Brees is relegated to second fiddle. To wit, Drew Brees has yet to win the league MVP even though he's been the league's best player over the past 6 seasons. How does that happen without an underlying, flawed belief among a portion of the cognoscenti that Brees is just not as good as the other good players?

Because the "experts" can't fully comprehend the breadth and scope of Brees' greatness, they have--in a way--subordinated him.

And if it happens again this year, and Brees is bypassed for the MVP by Aaron Rodgers, then let's just hope for a repeat of the 2009 MVP/Super Bowl MVP dynamic.

Maybe then, the second-guessers and skeptics will give Drew Brees his proper due for being one of the best to ever play.

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