Syracuse Football: Greatest Orange QB; Or, Who The Hell Cares?

Jim McIsaac

Picking the best of something is usually subjective and always a waste of time. I forgot that lesson, only to be reminded the hard way.

It's my fault. I'm the one that threw in the following line for a column last week:

When the best quarterback in program history, a player who will have jersey retired this fall, someone who led the program to its last great heights, says THAT, there's something wrong here.

The BEST quarterback in program history. A bold statement inconspicuously thrown into a reference about Donovan McNabb. Well, inconspicuous in theory. In reality, judging by comments/tweets/messages that came my way, I pulled the pin on a grenade.

McNabb? Best Syracuse QB, ever? Don McPherson! ...No way, it's Marvin Freakin' Graves! What about Ryan Nassib?

First, if this is an argument, it's McNabb v. McPherson for the Best Ever title. Graves had a ton of talent, but he wasn't transcendent (I had front row seats for the Graves Era, it left me wanting more...and not in a George Costanza way), an unquantifiable characteristic, something I felt the two Dons always had. And as for Nassib, while it was fun to watch his maturation, I wouldn't classify the four years we just watched of him playing quarterback as the best it has ever been played in program history.

McPherson v. McNabb....

QB "9": 378 of 707, 53.5%, for 5,952 yards. 47 TDs to 26 Ints.

QB "5": 562 of 968, 58.1%, for 8,581 yards. 78 TDs to 27 Ints.

McNabb had way more attempts, played in a different era with a "different" coach, but, still, those are some impressive numbers. 51 more touchdowns thrown than interceptions? And while a 58% completion percentage boarders on dismal, remember, McNabb didn't have many wideout options -- Marvin Harrison one year and Kevin Johnson the other three, mixed with some quality tight-ends (That's what she said! In honor of Michael Scott's sad/perfect cameo in the series finale of The Office.)

Now, for McPherson's part, he rushed for over 1,200 yards for his career -- way before the "spread offense" paved the way for running/throwing QBs to put up "Madden" numbers. He didn't run often, but he was legitimate threat, who ran the option like a thing of beauty. Plus, think of the pounding McPherson took in those days.

Of course, McNabb rushed for over 1,600 yards and 19 scores. And he ate up those yards through a lot of called quarterback draws -- an almost punt return like offensive play.

Then there is the "value" concept. A presence bigger than numbers. From day one, McNabb, a redshirt freshman, took over and helped beat nationally ranked North Carolina. And while Syracuse lost a lot of the classic, "How in the hell did that just happen?" games, the Orangemen won a lot of games during McNabb's time. A fixture in bowls, top 25s, and even a couple of BCS games (let us never mention the outcomes of either, ever).

Pretty amazing stuff, but then again, McPherson had Syracuse on the doorstep of an undefeated season. Syracuse University was legitimately in play for a national title -- if you were alive, you'll never forget the ending to the West Virginia game. You know when that will happen again? Maybe never! Really.

So who ya got, McNabb or McPherson?

@dstreet14 - Perry Patterson and his crow hop

Um, not exactly what I was looking for here....let's try that again:

@OrangeChuck Joe Fields!

Uh huh....

@stevegess Bill Hurley

This is about where it started to hit me...but first, I did receive some McNabb v. McPherson tweets.

@roycap1963 for a career, McNabb was better. However McPherson had the greatest season as a Cuse QB. Should have won Heisman.

@SweetNeesaay McNabb Was My Era but I grew up watching Macpherson Killing The Turf😊🍊

@EKohli / Donnie Mac. Best season in my lifetime.

OK, here we go! A few votes for McNabb. Wait, is that last one for McPherson?

@RealStevePowers where is nunes in that list?

And this is where it hit me like a ton of bricks: I don't care about Best Ever arguments. But for some reason I wrote that line last week and then tweeted the damn question out!

Really, one of the best thing about sports to me, any of them, is that there is usually resolution. A team, a player, a game, a season. We can point to concrete numbers, statistics, results and be told what happened. Team A beat Team B and here's how...

And while "Best Ever" conversations seems to fuel sports talk radio (a topic I implicitly avoided at all costs, save for summer days), it's really a moot topic. McPherson and McNabb played with different coaches, in different times. Both had a major part in either leading or keeping Syracuse relevant -- both have the right to be considered the Best Ever at Syracuse because both meant so much on and off the field.

Thus the reason Syracuse University is honoring both quarterbacks this fall -- retiring their jerseys at two separate games this season. Late but very deserving ceremonies. And cranking them both out in the same year should temper any thought of who was better.

Attempting to decided which was better is just like asking could Tyson have beaten Ali or arguing about the '27 Yankees v. the '98 Yankees. It can be a good time killer, but otherwise it's a pointless exercise because there is no way to crown a winner. Somehow I forgot this life lesson. It's almost like bringing up religion or politics.

Error on me.

I mean, it's nothing like talking about the Best Syracuse Running Back of All Time. A title clearly belonging to Ernie Davis.

What?

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