I’ll be the first to tell you that athletes don’t care about legacies, at least not while they’re playing. You often see them clutching to or trying to preserve it after they’ve left the spotlight, but while they’re in it, I don’t believe they care.
Having said that, the people that do care about legacies the most are the fans and the prognosticators. Guys like myself that attempt to attribute every decision, achievement and mistake to this unspoken legacy.
Matthew Stafford was voted the 31st best player in the NFL by his peers.
Here's the Matthew Stafford segment from the Top 100 list: https://t.co/oJ3x2pdi0m— Pride Of Detroit (@PrideOfDetroit) June 6, 2017
This had me wondering what Stafford’s legacy will be like when he calls it quits.
Unfortunately, the flux capacitor in my Delorean is on the fritz, so I can’t go into the future to see what the end result looks like. But I can talk about the here and now. I can talk about what Stafford’s legacy would look like if he walked away tomorrow. Let’s jump right in.
Everyone is always quick to compare a player to another great or another train wreck. It’s our way of measuring the player’s success or lack thereof. With Stafford, all anyone looks at is the Lions’ lack of winning.
It’s easy to forget that Stafford is one of only six quarterbacks in NFL history to throw for 5,000 yards in one season. He’s also the fastest quarterback to 30,000 yards. These are stats that are big deals.
For that reason, and the reason that his team has never won anything, I think the easiest comparison is Dan Marino. Dan had a ton of records, but never won a championship. That’s something that comes up in every discussion about him, much like it does with Stafford.
What will Stafford be remembered for?
Stafford may never be remembered for winning championships, but winning will be synonymous with his name, mostly in the comeback form.
Stafford has been the comeback king of the NFL since his rookie year. Cleveland, The Sneak, The drive in Oakland and the entire 2016 season. Miracle after miracle.
Going forward, this, I believe, will be Stafford’s legacy. This is the one thing that could get him a bronze bust someday far down the line.
So the next quarterback to display a heightened comeback ability, will definitely be compared to Stafford.
When the Lions drafted Stafford in 2009, they initially got a scruffy 21-year-old snot-nosed kid. If you were to look up the definition of frat boy, a picture of Stafford with his hat on backwards would pop up.
After years of being accused of not caring and only being in it for the money, Stafford has more than proven that is not the case.
That frat boy has grown into a respectable member of the community and family man. Right before our eyes. Mike Ditka, on the other hand, has become more of a child.
Last year, Stafford helped re-open the Lipke Rec Center, and he adopted the families of two fallen officers during the Christmas season. These are just two of the many things he’s done in the community of Detroit.
Speaking of Detroit
Stafford’s a polarizing player in the city of Detroit. He’s the quarterback of a team whose fan base is impatient, and with good reason. The Lions have one playoff win in the Super Bowl era. Regardless, Stafford is the best quarterback this team has ever had, and he represents this franchise’s best chance to win a Super Bowl.
Stafford will also hold firmly on his shoulders the weight of the insufferable quarterback wins statistic that shouldn’t exist, fighting off fans and “experts” that insist it’s a reasonable measure of talent.
Trying to predict the future
Let’s play a game here. Let’s say the Lions do get it together and they are on the right track in terms of building a successful franchise. If that’s the case, perhaps Stafford holding the Lombardi trophy over his head is a sight we may see someday.
Statistically, the sky is the limit for Stafford. If he chooses to play a long career like Tom Brady or Peyton Manning, he could be the next guy to break the all-time passing yards record Manning broke just a couple years ago.
Think about it. Stafford is 29. He currently sits at 30,303 yards. Manning also hit 30,000 yards in his eighth season. Outside of Drew Brees, who is 5,830 yards away from beating the record, Tom Brady is 10,000 yards away, Ben Roethlisberger is over 25,000 yards away and Aaron Rodgers is only 6,000 yards ahead of Stafford. Their ages are 40, 37, 34 and 33 respectively. Stafford, of course, is only 29.
At his current pace, Stafford would have to play until 39 or 40 to reach Manning, but who’s to say that Stafford doesn’t want to play that long? Even if he doesn’t, Stafford is already 44th all time in career passing yards. He could, theoretically, crack the top 25 after 2017. Keeping a modest pace, he’ll be in the top 20 in three years max. And once again, at Stafford’s rate, if he plays till 35, he’ll reach the top 10.
Nobody wants to admit it, but Stafford is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL today. When all's said and done, it’s not completely insane to think that he will one day be a Hall of Famer. But that’s a day that is really far away. Like really far.