As a kid fresh out of college and working for the Oakland Raiders my life was everything I wanted it to be. I relished time I spent with Al Davis, and those times I would sit in the second floor conference room listening to him and head coach John Madden discuss their game.
Often, the banter between Davis and Madden was lighthearted and anything resembling a heated exchange was more a jostling with each other rooted in a deep seeded respect for one another. One of their favorite debates was centered around the most important position on the football field.
Madden would tout the offensive line and how it governs everything. Davis would listen as Madden would explain that without an offensive line there would be no holes for runners or time for a quarterback to complete passes. And, without that, a defense would be forced on the field too often and set up for failure.
Davis may have agreed, but he never expressed that. Instead, he talked about how he contended the most important position on the field was cornerback. He would say with a laugh how it doesn’t matter if you’re controlling the clock if you have corners giving up touchdowns.
Now, in the 1970’s, both Madden and Davis could have this conversation with good humor because the Raiders had the best of both those worlds. Their offensive line was anchored by three future hall of fame members; Jim Otto, Gene Upshaw and Art Shell. Defensively, the Raiders defensive backfield had future Hall of Fame member Willie Brown, who worked with a trio of the best safeties and corners in the game, George Atkinson, Jack Tatum and Skip Thomas.
While the debate on the most important position on the field always landed on the choice between the offensive line and defensive backfield, both men agreed on one absolute, to win in the National Football League you had to have a quarterback to get the job done. In those days, future hall of famer Ken Stabler filled that role for the Silver and Black.
Today, look at the four signal callers who have led their teams to their conference championship games; Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Patrick Mahomes and a player that would like to raise his stock to match those three great ones, Josh Allen.
While Brady and Rodgers have been great for years with both leading teams to Super Bowl wins, and Patrick Mahomes led the Kansas City Chiefs to a victory in Super Bowl LIV, Allen is looking for his third postseason win this Sunday and first trip to a Super Bowl.
Mahomes was the tenth player chosen in the 2017 draft and second quarterback selected. Before the Chiefs grabbed Mahomes, the Chicago Bears had used their first pick, and second overall in the draft, to take Mitch Trubisky. Allen was the third quarterback chosen in the 2018 draft, selected with the seventh pick in the first round by the Buffalo Bills after the Cleveland Browns had made Baker Mayfield the first pick and two spots later the New York Jets selected Sam Darnold.
In his third pro season, Mahomes won it all. Allen is in his third year, and is two games away from matching Mahomes’ feat.
Standing between Allen and fulfilling that challenge is Mahomes this week, and if he survives that test this Sunday in Kansas City, Brady or Rodgers will be waiting in Tampa on February 7th. That’s right, this year’s Super Bowl is going to be played at Raymond James Stadium, offering the possibility that the Buccaneers could be the first team ever to play the Super Bowl in their home stadium.
First things first, who has the best offensive line? What team has the most difficult secondary to pass against?
Those things matter, but one thing is for sure, all four teams playing this weekend have a quarterback capable of winning it all … something Allen is yet to prove.