Monday, October 08, 2018

How to make Drew Brees's passing record stand forever

First of all, when Peyton Manning set this record, did the New York Times rush out a feature on why it wasn't really all that big a deal anymore?  I missed it if they did.
It will have taken Brees 18 seasons to establish a record that has stood for less than three and that will inevitably fall again. Brees will merely be a caretaker, the consequence of a passing revolution that has transformed the record books, forever altering how greatness is perceived around the league.

A series of rule changes across the last 40 years, and more acutely over the last 20, has fueled offensive innovations that have ushered the N.F.L. to a juncture where quarterbacks are throwing more often, and for more yards, and completing a greater percentage of their passes, than in any other season. Through four weeks, more than half the starting quarterbacks — 18 of 32 — are on a pace to throw for more than 4,000 yards, with four in line to smash Manning’s single-season record of 5,477: Derek Carr, Kirk Cousins, Jared Goff and Ben Roethlisberger.
Technically all of the above is true.  The rules of tackle football have been steadily transitioning the tackle part out for as long as most of us have been watching.  It's not even something we feel comfortable criticizing anymore given the way the game breaks people's bodies. Of course the NFL's main motivation for its tinkering over the years has been about creating a more marketable product ("Offense sells tickets") and protecting its marquee quarterbacks. And the concussion research shows that few if any of the changes is likely to have made the game any safer for most players' brains anyway. But we don't really want to discourage them from trying to do that.

More to the point, though, the rule changes have happened in stages over the course of decades.  Manning played under more liberal passing rules than Marino. Marino played under different rules than Tarkenton. So the conditions under which each record is set are dynamic. This isn't a unique phenomenon in football or any sport where players are compared across eras.  It shouldn't diminish any one athlete's accomplishment in the context of his own peer group. Brees and Manning played in exactly the same environment. And yet for some reason there is a subtext this evening that Manning's numbers are more legitimate.

The Times can't really make that argument outright. (The Wall Street Journal actually tries anyway by saying that Brees threw more short passes... or something.) They can't downplay Brees's surpassing of Manning with an asterisk.   So, instead, they've done something new. They've given Brees a future asterisk. The criticism isn't that he had an easier time setting this record than Manning did. It's that the guy who passes Brees will have it easier and therefore the record isn't important anymore. By the time Matt Stafford passes Brees, they ask, will anybody even care? And therefore should we even care now?
And yet with quarterbacks benefiting from rule changes that not only promote offense but could also lengthen their careers, it isn’t that far-fetched to imagine Stafford ascending come 2027, when he will be 39. All he has to do is keep producing at his current rate — 278.7 yards per game. In this age, it doesn’t seem implausible.
To answer this nonsense, there's really no point in getting all wonky about it.  No amount of charts and graphs pedantry is going to reverse the story that's already been written here.  So instead of getting into all that. Let's go the other way.  The best way to ensure that Drew Brees remains the NFL's all time passing yardage leader is to do whatever we can to ensure that the record, in fact, does not matter anymore by the time it is scheduled to be broken.  We can stop this train.  Here is how.

If the eclipse really is coming via Stafford in 2027, it might be very difficult. Not impossible. But difficult. But let's assume Stafford falls apart and retires before then.  It's more fun that way. It's the younger generation of quarterbacks like Pat Mahomes or Jared Goff who really benefit from the latest rule changes anyway. They should be the focus of our project. In that case we're looking a decade or so past that. Much closer to say... 2040  
INCHEON, South Korea — A landmark report from the United Nations’ scientific panel on climate change paints a far more dire picture of the immediate consequences of climate change than previously thought and says that avoiding the damage requires transforming the world economy at a speed and scale that has “no documented historic precedent.”

The report, issued on Monday by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group of scientists convened by the United Nations to guide world leaders, describes a world of worsening food shortages and wildfires, and a mass die-off of coral reefs as soon as 2040 — a period well within the lifetime of much of the global population.
If this is the situation by 2040, it's safe to assume that the NFL record book will have slipped a bit on the priorities list.  With any luck, it means pro football isn't even happening anymore. (Superbowl LXXII in Phoenix cancelled so U of Phoenix Stadium could be scrapped for materials in the First Water War)  Which, in turn, means Drew's passing record is safe.

Now one thing that could happen is the world's entire political economy could radically transform its fundamental governing principles spontaneously within the space of a few years. According to this report, that is what it would take in order to avert the catastrophe it predicts. But, you know, that doesn't really seem the direction we're taking things at the moment.  
Just as corporate attorney Scott Pruitt has been ousted from the helm of the Environmental Protection Agency, President Trump has nominated a potentially more dangerous right-winger to the Supreme Court. And with Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the highest court in the land seeming more and more likely, environmental advocates fear he may enshrine Pruitt’s scorched-earth policies for generations to come.

The conservative Judge Kavanaugh has built his career as a jurist who is both highly intelligent and “highly skeptical of regulation that protects the environment, ensures worker safety, and prevents consumers from being defrauded by the financial services industry,” according to Rena Steinzor, University of Maryland law professor and advocate on regulatory issues. “If confirmed, he will take Justice Scalia’s place leading the war on regulation.”

Besides, politics doesn't work that way in the first place. It's much more a system of divvying up the pie among the holders of the biggest sticks than it is concerned with seeing to it the pie itself is sustainable. All of which is to say, the best way to ensure that Drew Brees's record (and, yeah sure, burn the entire Earth in the service of this purpose) is to just keep on doing what we're doing. Peyton Manning understood this pretty well.  Too bad for him, he just didn't fund enough Republicans to get the job done before Brees could catch him.  Nice try though.

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