Long before you get to Tom Brady – and admittedly it takes a long time in this case – you know ESPN’s list of the 20 most dominant athletes of the past 20 years is utterly and absurdly bogus. When ESPN tried to explain why its bogus list is not bogus it said it’s because it was based on “the data.’’
These days, when the obvious eludes you, you cite either “the data’’ as if it has been handed down from God or “national security,’’ which is another way of saying “because we say so.’’
Citing “the data’’ to explain away the stunning absence of what should have been the top name on any such list confirmed (or in my case re-confirmed) that ESPN’s “data,’’ like most of the “data’’ behind a lot of today’s “advanced analytics,’’ is neither advanced nor data.
So is its list and not simply because Tom Brady is 20th on it while the guy he beat 11 of the 17 times they met, Peyton Manning, is third. What “data” would lead to the conclusion that Manning was more dominant than the one guy who dominated him his entire career? Not to mention haunted him.
We’ll get back to that in a moment. But, first, any “data’’ that concludes anyone but Michael Phelps was the most dominant athlete of the last 20 years is, to make it simple, absurd. This fact will later lead us back to Brady but let’s stick with Phelps for the moment.
Michael Phelps competed in 30 Olympic swimming events. Twenty-three times he won gold. Of those 30 events, he medaled 28 times. Compare that to the man ESPN put at the top of its list, Tiger Woods.
Woods was certainly the most dominant golfer of his era, but he won only 14 major championships (second to Jack Nicklaus’ 18) in 76 starts and 79 tournaments in 328 starts. That means Woods was “dominant’’ in 18.4 percent of the major championships he played and was “dominant’’ in 24 percent of the 328 total tournaments he entered.
Compare that with Phelps, who medaled 93.3 percent of the time he jumped into an Olympic pool and won 76.6 percent of the time. Other than undefeated Floyd Mayweather, Jr., who won 100 percent of the time, who in his or her sport won more often than 76.6 percent of the time?
Perhaps you could argue the sprinter, Usain Bolt, but that was only for eight of the 20 years in question. So the list begins to get a little shaky even before you get to the only two NFL players listed, Manning at No. 3 and the guy who so often beat him, Brady, at No. 20.
In an attempt to justify what seems like a totally backwards listing, ESPN argued this was because it only included “regular season’’ performances .... not playoffs. Why?
“In evaluating players, we considered regular-season stats only, since there’s no good way to compare playoffs across sports,’’ ESPN claimed.
Oh, really? Why not? Is it because No. 2 pick LeBron James is 3-5 in the NBA Finals, while Tom Brady is 5-3 in Super Bowls? Who knows outside of the think tank that is ESPN? What we do know is this: there is no way on earth a list of the most dominant athletes of the past 20 years has Peyton Manning third and Tom Brady 20th unless you are holding it upside down.
Brady won more games overall (223) than Manning (200). He has a better winning percentage than Manning, .774 to .685. He’s been better by far in the playoffs than Manning, having gone 27-10 to Manning’s mediocre 14-13 record.
The irony is that Peyton Manning’s only edge over Tom Brady actually comes in head-to-head playoff matchups, where he retired holding a 3-2 edge. So that’s the stat ESPN DOES NOT include among its criteria. Yet it still puts Manning 17 slots ahead of Brady despite his having won fewer games overall and face-to-face, which is the quarterback’s first responsibility.
Any list of the most dominate athletes of the past 20 years that leaves Michael Phelps off it is fishy, which is at least fitting considering he made his name in the water. One that puts Peyton Manning 17 spots ahead of Tom Brady is more than fishy.