Okay, let’s talk about Troy Aikman versus Steve Young. You might be asking why we are talking about these two Quarterbacks as a comparison. If you are, you probably do not know your NFL history very well. (Especially your 90s history) But that is alright, I’ll teach you.
Troy Aikman and Steve Young both played Quarterback in the NFL, and both of them experienced the majority of their success during the 1990s. Young began playing professional football five years before Aikman, and both of them ended up retiring one year after each other, Young in 1999 and Aikman in 2000. Both QBs experienced a lot of success during the 90s, and their success was linked to each other even stronger due to the facts that they played in the same conference, and played on rival teams of each other, with Aikman playing for the Dallas Cowboys and Young playing for the San Francisco 49ers. Not only that, but they met three straight years in the NFC Championship Game, with rights to go to the Super Bowl on the line. In addition each QB played in a total of four NFC Championship Games during the 90s. Heck, both even wore the same jersey number, #8.
Both players received multiple Pro Bowl trips, All-Pro recognitions, and Young won the league MVP two times, in 1992 and 1994. However, what most people remember about Aikman and Young was that Aikman played on a better team, so he won more games; but Young was the better quarterback and had better statistics. Most people, when asked, will probably tell you that Young is the better QB between the two. At the time of Young’s retirement he had the highest QB rating in NFL history (96.8), and his rating currently holds third place behind Aaron Rodgers and Tony Romo. (Now remember, these other two guys are playing in the new “pass happy” NFL, and benefit from a ton of rules that make passing a lot easier than what it used to be.) Anyway, so the fact that Young is still in the top three is very impressive, and that is a huge reason why Young supporters pick him over Aikman, whose all-time rating is 81, good for being ranked 46 on the list.
However, I am here to say that picking Young over Aikman is wrong, Aikman was the better QB, and how the good ole’ media has helped in misconstruing people’s ideas on the two players. (Yes, here is my media link again, and yes here is another negative take on the media. I hope I can come up with an entry that has a positive spin on the media and how it relates to sports. Even my next planned entry will talk about the media negatively. Perhaps I can come up with a positive spin for my last entry? We shall see.)
Does it bother anyone, or has any noticed that Young, as mentioned before, started in four total NFC Championship Games, but yet has a 1-3 record as a starter? Does that seem strange to anyone? Here is a guy, who did amazing during the regular season, but it always seems that there is some sort of “hidden” asterisk next to his name come playoff time. This has always striked me as odd. Sure Young and Aikman both have the same number of Super Bowl rings, 3 apiece, but two of Young’s rings came when he was a back up to Joe Montana in 1988 and 1989. All of Aikman’s rings came when he was a starter. So what exactly happens to Young come playoff time? Also, was Aikman really on better teams than Young, and was that really the reason why Aikman won more games than Young? We shall explore these questions in the remainder of this entry.
To set up some background on this let’s talk about Peyton Manning for a brief second. Most NFL fans know that Peyton (if he recovers from his neck issues and keeps playing) will probably walk away from the game with practically every passing record belonging to him. But, despite all of that, Manning has one Super Bowl ring. Most smart NFL fans also know the truth that Peyton seems to choke, and play horrible in the playoffs. Even in the year that he won the Super Bowl, Manning played mediocre in those playoffs. Sure, he pulled his team out of a hole against New England in the AFC Championship Game, but Peyton also helped to get his team in that hole in the first place. So here we have a great QB, statistically speaking, with only one ring. Oh yeah, he also has a losing playoff record as well. I am mentioning Manning, because he is a current example of the type of player that Young was. Of course, if you remember watching Young play you do not need this refresher. This “Manning piece” is written to the younger reader.
Young, just like Manning, underperformed in the playoffs, while Aikman elevated his game in the playoffs. Let’s talk specifically about Young’s statistics for a moment. Young’s all-time passer rating of 96.8, or let’s just call it 97, drops 11 points to an 86 for his career in the playoffs. More specifically, it drops to an 89 in Wild Card games, and to a 79 in Divisional games and NFC Championship games. Sure, he had his one great Super Bowl performance where he earned a rating of 134, but he did this against a very weak Charger team, who were also very lucky during that playoff run. In fact, if you take away his Super Bowl performance, Young’s all-time playoff QB rating is 82.
So basically what I am saying is that as the pressure mounted, and the game became more important Young’s performance declined. What is the point of doing well in the regular season, earning a good record, and being rewarded with one of the top two seeds, if all you are going to do is choke in the playoffs? I mean really, what is the point? You might as well not even go to the playoffs to begin with. Not only that, but Young’s stats in the one NFC Championship Game that he did win are bad. Most people remember the 49ers going up 21-0 on the Cowboys real quickly at the beginning of that game, and holding on to win as Dallas came storming back. The defense won that game for the 49ers. Young’s stats in that game read: 13-29, 155 yds, 2 TDs. So even in Young’s one NFC Championship victory he completed well under 50 % of his passes, for well under 200 yards. (2 TDs passes is good, so I will give him credit for that. Also he did a good job rushing that game, but we are talking about his passing performance) In addition, Young won the league MVP that year, led the NFL in passer rating, the 49ers had the best record in the NFL, and were playing that game at home. But despite all that, this was the performance that Young could muster up for the home crowd. Young may not have lost that game for the team, but he certainly did not win it for them either. He was a game manager that game. I would definitely not define Steve Young as being “clutch”. I’m sure he was probably happy when the Steelers were upset in the AFC Championship Game that year. I’m not so sure if he would have played so well against Pittsburgh either.
In addition, as mentioned before, Young is 1-3 in NFC Championship Games, but honestly probably should have been 3-1. The 49ers were favored in 1992 and 1997, but lost those games, and Young played a part in helping his team to lose. He threw for a lot of yards and had a decent completion percentage, but Young also threw a lot of interceptions in those games as well. Any smart football fan will tell you that turnovers (interceptions and fumbles lost) is the most important stat in football. Usually the team that loses the turnover battle loses the game, despite how many yards they gained. And Young did a good job ensuring that his team lost those turnover battles. In his one Championship game where he was the underdog (1993), Young still committed turnovers, but Dallas was clearly the better team that year. So there is Steve Young, exposed and honestly looked at. Great in the regular season. Mediocre in the playoffs.
Now let’s contrast this with Troy Aikman. Aikman never led the league in passing yards, TD passes, or passer rating. He only threw for 20 TDs or more once, in 1992, and was second in passer rating in 1993, with a 99 (ironically behind Young). However, once the playoffs came Troy turned into a totally different player. (I will just go ahead and get this out of the way, Troy has a horrible QB rating in Wild Card games, but you also have to remember that Troy played in the majority of his Wild Card games later in his career, when the Cowboys’ dynasty was falling apart and Dallas was a mediocre team sneaking into the playoffs.) Anyway, Troy’s all-time QB rating of 81 jumps to a 90 in Divisional games. Then his passer rating jumps to a 100 in NFC Championship Games, where Troy is 3-1 as a starter, and finally his rating jumps to a 111 in the Super Bowl were Aikman is 3-0. Also, Aikman is most accurate passer in Super Bowl history, with a 70 percent completion rate. If you take away Troy’s dismal Wild Card passer rating of 56 (which he achieved mainly in the Cowboy’s bad years) Troy’ all-time playoff QB rating is 100. Even with adding in the bad Wild Card rating, Aikman’s rating is still higher than Young’s in the playoffs, an 88 compared to Young’s 86. Once again, if you take away the outliers in the averages (Young’s blowout game against a weak, lucky Charger’s team, and Aikman’s Wild Card stats when the Cowboys were a mediocre team) you are talking about a difference of 18 points, Aikman’s 100 to Young’s 82. (Outlier means a number that is so off the chart that it completely distorts the average, in case you did not know that) Aikman’s and Young’s statistics literally flip-flop come playoff time. Also Troy’s stats in the NFC Championship games that he won are phenomenal. Aikman played great in all 3 of those wins. Even in 1993, where he played in only half the game, Aikman still did well. In those three wins he threw for 6 total TD passes and no interceptions.
So what does this say about Troy Aikman? This says that as the pressure mounted, the opponent got better, and more was on the line, Troy got better. He elevated his game to match the competition. Where Young crumbled and failed, Troy became stronger and succeeded. I would take Troy Aikman over Steve Young any day of the week. Sure both are in the NFL Hall of Fame, but Steve Young is one of the most overrated QBs of all time, and Troy Aikman is one of the most underrated QBs of all time. If the conversation of greatest QB of all time was based solely on playoff performance Aikman would be the one in constant conversations, and Young would never get mentioned. If you would take Young over Aikman, even after reading this, go right ahead. You can have your regular season accolades and rewards, and the craptastic play come playoff time. I’ll take Troy’s average regular season stats, and eye popping playoff numbers, along with the wins.
Now let’s talk about the next argument to explain why Aikman has more playoff success than Young, because Troy played on a better team. This argument makes me laugh every time I hear it. I won’t go into too much detail, because this is not the focus of my entry, but the 49ers were the better team in 1992 and 1994, but split those title games with Dallas. The only time Dallas was clearly the better team was 1993 when the Cowboys went 12-4 (probably would have been 14-2 if Emmitt did not hold out) while the 49ers went 10-6. In 1995 Dallas went 12-4, and hosted the NFC Championship game, which they won. In 1997 the 49ers went 13-3, hosted the NFC Championship game and lost. Each of the team’s 4 Championship game participating ball clubs sent about the same amount of players to the Pro Bowl every year (virtually identical positions on offense) and both clubs’ Championship participants won roughly between 13 to 12 games. Sure the Cowboys triplets are in the Hall of Fame, but during his time with the 49ers Ricky Watters was a very successful running back. The two ball clubs were evenly matched. You cannot use that as an argument of why Troy won more games. Young simply choked when more was on the line.
So there you have it, my take on Aikman verses Young. If Young did not receive all of those media-based rewards, and if the media would focus more on playoff numbers and statistics, perhaps the general public would understand who the better QB was.