Nothing better epitomizes sports fandom than hotly debating a topic that is inconsequential. Take the debate among Pittsburgh Steelers fans regarding who is the best quarterback in franchise history. There are really only two contenders: Terry Bradshaw, who won four Super Bowls in the 1970s, and Ben Roethlisberger, who had two rings and is in the top 10 in a number of statistical categories, while owning most of the franchise records.
This debate was renewed recently after Bradshaw himself was asked to weigh in, and he ceded the title to Roethlisberger, with whom he admits he doesn’t have a relationship, largely through his own fault. One former great of the franchise, who didn’t play with either one of them, wasn’t buying it.
Speak For Yourself joined the debate, including former Steelers cornerback Rod Woodson. He didn’t take Bradshaw at his word. “I commend Terry Bradshaw for trying to pass the baton to a younger guy. I think he’s trying to do the right thing”, he said, but argued that he is the better quarterback.
“I think about, if Terry Bradshaw played in today’s rules, where they only threw the ball back when Terry played 25 times max, 30 times maybe at the most, his numbers would be kinda gaudy also”, Woodson said. “But he didn’t. And I respect that, but I think Terry Bradshaw is the best quarterback that ever played for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He’s an iconic figure not only in football but in entertainment”.
Ultimately, he didn’t pose much of an argument beyond invoking the ‘you can compare eras’ clause. And there is, of course, some validity to pointing out the fact that Bradshaw and Roethlisberger have played in very different eras, with different rules. Bradshaw, for example, played most of his career before the Mel Blount Rule was put in place in 1978.
And it just so happens that Bradshaw had the two best seasons of his career in the first two years of the rule. In fact, he led the league in touchdowns and yards per pass attempt in 1978 and made his only first-team All-Pro list of his career. He made the Pro Bowl in both years, of three total Pro Bowl nods in his career. They also won the Super Bowl in both of those years.
As for Roethlisberger, he is one of only a handful of quarterbacks to have thrown for over 5000 yards in a single season. He also has multiple 500-yard games. If you want to talk about clutch, he also has significantly more fourth-quarter comebacks and game-winning drives than Bradshaw did.
Where do you fall in the debate? Does Bradshaw’s greatness transcend his era? Is Roethlisberger the greatest in team history? Is this discussion pointless, or even possible?