The Difference Between Baseball and Football

The other day, Brett Favre said that Adrian Peterson is the best running back he's ever seen. He compared him to his childhood favourite Walter Payton, concluding that even Payton couldn't match Peterson's talent. ESPN reported on his comments with a tag along the lines of "Favre calls Peterson best of all time". Brett Favre specifically stated that he was comparing Peterson to everyone else he has seen. He never said anything about all time. Yet the association made is that the best this generation has seen equals the best all time. No matter that the restriction precludes consideration of Jim Brown or Red Grange or whomever else might be considered in this discussion (I honestly don't have nearly the knowledge of football history as I do of baseball history); if Favre says he's the best he has seen, he must mean the best of all time.

Imagine if John Smoltz were to say Albert Pujols is the best hitter he's ever seen. Would anybody confuse that for him saying he's the best of all time? Would we just forgo consideration of Ty Cobb or Babe Ruth or Ted Williams or Willie Mays and limit "all time" to the memory of this generation? As a baseball fan first and foremost, this kind of lack of historical sensibility is hard for me to fathom. Like I said, I really don't have the historical sense of football either, but is that normal even for fans who are football first? Maybe I just don't know the right fans, but it seems like it is.



p said...

I think that football fans, unlike baseball fans, are predisposed to believe that modern football is of the highest quality, and thus are more likely to choose a contemporary player as the GOAT, as well as believe that the GOAT must be a contemporary player. So if Favre says AP is the best, and he's been in the NFL ~20 years, well then AP must be the best of all-time.

If you ask 100 football fans who the greatest RB of all-time was, you'll probably get some votes for AP, Barry Sanders, Walter Payton, Jim Brown. Very few will try to tell you it's some guy who played in the 1930s. Ask 100 baseball fans who the greatest player of all-time and you might get a few brave souls who tell you it's Bonds, some for Mays, Aaron, etc., but the majority will pick Babe Ruth.

Fans of both sports could stand to moderate their positions a little, IMO. Football fans could recognize that the NFL did exist prior to the Super Bowl, and baseball fans could acknowledge that their game has improved over time, not declined from the glory days of the 1950s as some would have you believe.

Kincaid said...

Thanks for the input. I agree that it seems football fans get more caught up in the idea of evolution of talent and of the game while baseball fans are more likely to glorify the old days. I guess there is some validity to both views, and it depends on how you want to measure quality, but it's interesting how one sport tends to cultivate one predisposition while the other cultivates the opposite, and how that seems to be tied to the historical perspective fans of each sport hold.

I'd also like to see more perspectives consider the middle ground you describe. Believing Ruth and Mays were better than Bonds is one thing, as is considering stats in context of the league stats, but it's another thing entirely to believe that the overall quality of play has diminished over time. Acknowledging the reality of that matter is an important part of getting a good perspective, even if people choose to account for it differently.

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