Posted by Chase Stuart on December 12, 2007
I was sitting at a coffee shop yesterday when I saw a guy across from me wearing a green shirt/jersey with the #12 on it. It wasn't a real jersey, and there were no logos or stripes on it. It was a shirt with the #12 on the back, but it was also clearly an NFL shirt/jersey. Automatically, I assumed it was a Joe Namath jersey. It turned out, when the guy got up, that it was a Randall Cunningham shirt/jersey.
This led me to wonder how our readers would answer a series of questions:
1) If you saw (or say, read in a blog post title) a green jersey with the number twelve on it, would Joe Namath or Randall Cunningham first come to mind? In a sense this is a question of which player is more popular, or more associated with a given jersey.
2) Who do you think was the better player?
I have a theory that Doug wrote about here:
The reason rings are overvalued in discussions like this is because people confuse the question “would you rather have been a fan of Favre’s actual team during Favre’s actual career or Marino’s actual team during Marino’s actual career?” with the question “which guy played better during his career?”
To put it another way, people interpret the question “which guy was better?” to mean “which guy would you rather have been?”
Quite clearly, I think, you'd rather have been Joe Namath (or rooted for Joe Namath's team) than Randall Cunningham, for two simple facts. One, Namath won a Super Bowl (and a Super Bowl MVP), and earned nearly unmatchable fame, glory and notoriety; two, Namath is enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
But leaving aside that question, which quarterback was actually better? So:
2a) Who was the better QB over the course of his career: Joe Namath with the Jets, or Randall Cunningham with the Eagles?
2b) Who was the better QB over the course of his career: Joe Namath, or Randall Cunningham (the prior question was to obviously exclude Cunningham's incredible season with Minnesota in 1998) ?
2c) Which QB was the best in his prime?
2d) Which QB had the best single season? If you choose Cunningham, 1998, which QB had the second best single season?
3) Has there ever been a player whose best season isn't associated with the player's career quite like Cunningham? The modern equivalent would be maybe Corey Dillon?
4) Which player changed pro football history the most? Namath helped legitimize the AFL (and the AFL/NFL merger), and his guarantee changed professional sports. Not to be outdone, he was the first player to ever get a large contract, which has left an indelible mark on the game. Cunningham, conversely, paved the way for the Kordell Stewarts, Steve McNairs, Donovan McNabbs, Mike Vicks and Daunte Culpeppers of the last fifteen years. While James Harris was the first black player to make the Pro Bowl at the position, he was not a running QB and had a largely unproductive career (ironically enough, Harris -- number 12 on the Rams -- was later traded for Joe Namath, which freed up that number for Joe Willie). It was another fourteen years until another black QB made the Pro Bowl, when Moon and Cunningham did so in 1988. But while Moon and Doug Williams saw success in the late '80s, Cunningham was clearly a different breed of QB. Black or white, Cunningham held four of the top five single season rushing marks by a QB by 1990, and revolutionized the position.
5) Any other questions you've got on picking between Cunningham and Namath, throw them out. Both seemingly have earned reputations that exceeded their actual on field performance, as both players probably had more potential and historical significance than actual results. Of course, this is just a matter of degree, as each player certainly enjoyed incredible success. But with Namath especially, there's always a question of "what if" with respect to his injuries.