I started on the book last night and have read up to the Wide Receiver rankings section. While I highly disagree with some of the rankings in the QB and RB sections, this book is an interesting read and has caused me to think twice regarding my own thoughts on analyzing players in a historical context...I highly recommend to all football fans!
In response to his comments on Bradshaw throwing the ball more later in his career (pg 92), I think the main reason was the advent of the bump and run in 1978. The Steelers were the team which most took advantage of the rule change in 1978, and it took most of the rest of the league a year or two to catch up. Bradshaw's career is difficult to evaluate regarding his ranking among the greatest QB's of all time; it certainly helped an awful lot that he was in the right place at the right time. With the talent surrounding him on offense and defense, and with the organization and coaching staff in Pittsburgh at that time, I think a number of contemporary QB's would have won 4 Super Bowls in Pittsburgh in the 70's. If Archie Manning had wound up in Pittsburgh and Bradshaw in New Orleans, I have little doubt that Manning would have led Pittsburgh to 4 Super Bowls and Bradshaw would have had one knee surgery after another from all the sacks due to the lack of an offensive line and people to hand off or throw to. The same could be said for Ken Anderson and Ken Stabler and Joe Theismann and Jim Plunkett; all those guys probably could have won four Super Bowls in Pittsburgh in the 70's. Even an average QB would have thrived in that environment; backup Mike Kruczek went 6-0 as a starter in 1976 and all he had to do was hand off to Harris and Bleier and throw short, safe passes. Having guys like Swann and Stallworth to throw to, and having Harris and Bleier to hand off to, with guys like Webster and Sam Davis and Mullins and Kolb to protect you, can make a QB's job much easier, and make him look really good. That being said, Bradshaw did have one of the half dozen strongest throwing arms I have ever seen; it just took him a few years for all the tools to come together, and the weight of his terrible first few years hurt his career statistics considerably. I don't know that I would rate him at number 25 as Sean did, but I would probably rate him a little higher, probably between numbers 11 and 20.
I have to get deeper into his rating methodology, but it appears Sean's ratings are strictly based on statistics, and Bradshaw's four Super Bowls did not come into consideration. My research is largely based on developing evaluative systems for rating teams or players, but in every paper I have ever written. I always put in the caveat that my ratings do not mean that I necessarily think X was better than Y, but rather my results are but one piece of the puzzle, and should be used as one element of the argument but not the complete argument. Statistics do not tell the whole story, but are part of the evaluative process. One thing that has to be considered is how a player was considered by his peers, and it seems this was disregarded in Sean's book. I remember in one of the Historical Baseball Abstracts, it was probably mentioned in all of them, Bill James explained that the players and writers of a players era knew a lot more about him than somebody in our era ever could, and you have to take that into consideration, and in some cases James disregarded his statistical rating systems when evaluating players in his Historical Abstracts because a certain weight has to be given to the comments from one's contemporaries.
Unlike somebody like....I don't know, Cliff Battles, for whom little or no film footage exists, for a guy like Butkus or Gale Sayers, there is an awful lot of film highlight footage, but not as much full game broadcast footage as one might like. Both men were human highlight reels; watching Sayers catch a punt or kickoff must have given the fans of his era the same feeling we get when we see Devin Hester today. I was seven years old when Sayers retired, and nine when Butkus called it a career, so all I have is the stats, the highlight footage, and the anecdotes from people who played against them or seen them play and those who watched from the stands or press box, and I have to use all of it when evaluating their places in history. I think both were one of a kind.
I'm not knocking Sean's book; it is surely one of the two or three best non-encyclopdia type books ever written about Pro Football and I hope the book I will complete in the next year or so is a tenth as informative and thought provoking. I can't wait to get deeper into his book and read all the player comments; the research behind this book was exhaustive as you can tell from the list of reference materials he cited in the back of the book. I have always felt the best way to really rate players is by a consensus. If you take, say, a group of 50 football historians and sportswriters, intelligent players from a mix of eras, and informed sportscasters, and allow them whatever criteria they desire to compose a top 20 list of greatest QB's, and weight the picks appropriately (20 points for number one, 19 for number 2, and one for number 20), and compile their results, the consensus list they would come up with would be much better than any list any single person could come up with because it would represent a mix of different and informed opinions.
I hope Sean will take my comments in stride; I really love this book and can't wait to finish it as I'm sure I'll have more to say. I hope this sells a million copies, and this book is worthy of it's own thread as the discussions about this book will probably go on for the next year. I don't want to hurt the feelings of any of the other authors in this forum, but the Pro Football Historical Abstract is the best football book of the decade.