Comeback Conspiracy: Broncos protect Elway with statistical cover-up

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Aug 02, 2012



Jerry Jones: I Want Me Some Glory hole!

By Scott Kacsmar
Cold, Hard Football Facts Captain Comeback


Dallas Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones recently told the media “I want me some glory hole!” It was a classic display of semantics.
 
To Jones, glory hole is a term used in the oil and gas industry, at least that's what we think, which would explain why the Dallas tycoon used it the way he did. To the rest of us, glory hole has a much different meaning, one that involves a strategically placed hole in a restroom partition for anonymous escapades.
 
That’s good ol’ semantics: you can twist a word to fit the meaning you want.
 
The Denver Broncos are familiar with semantics. They have their own definition of a fourth-quarter comeback. And facts be damned, they will apparently go to any lengths to protect John Elway’s legacy as the alleged record holder with 47 career comebacks.

But John Elway is not the all-time leader in career comebacks, despite the team's insistence. The honor actually belongs to his Class of '83 contemporary Dan Marino, who is the all-time leader in both fourth-quarter comebacks (36) and game-winning drives (51).

In fact, we smell a statistical cover up from the Broncos. The team has insisted since the 1990s that Elway is the career leader in comeback victories.

It's now so invested in the fallacy that it refuses to admit it's wrong.

Here's the reality: Elways is tied for No. 2 all-time in game-winning drives (46) with Peyton Manning -- that's right, tied with the future Hall of Fame quarterback who signed with the Broncos back in March.

Manning is also No. 2 all-time in fourth-quarter comebacks (35), one game more than both Johnny Unitas and John Elway.

You would think the Denver organization would be thrilled to boast in their history two of the all-time great comeback kings. Yet the 2012 Denver media guide heaps lavish praise upon Elway for his faulty record ... and then completely fails to mention Manning's even greater resume of big comebacks and game-winning drives.

Here's a look at the career leaderboard in both fourth-quarter comebacks (4QC) and game-winningdrives (GWD). 

Top 5 in Fourth-Quarter Comebacks and Game-Winning Drives
Rk QB 4QC Wins Rk QB GWD
1 Dan Marino 36 1 Dan Marino 51
2 Peyton Manning 35 2T Peyton Manning 46
3T Johnny Unitas 34 2T John Elway 46
3T John Elway 34 4 Brett Favre 45
5 Joe Montana 31 5 Johnny Unitas 40


Evidence of a statistical cover up

Once Peyton Manning joined the Broncos in March, the facade should have been over for the Denver organization. Had the Broncos used the same methods they use for their own past quarterbacks, they would have come up with 47 games for Manning, and could no longer claim Elway as the sole record holder. Never mind the fact that Dan Marino is still the record holder.
 
After downloading the Denver Broncos 2012 Media Guide, noted to be current through June 24, 2012, we expected to see some corrections. The proof was indisputable for Manning.
 
But like any good conspiracy, this story now reeks of a cover-up.
 
In the 678-page guide, there is not one single mention of Peyton Manning’s fourth-quarter wins. Not the 35 comebacks or the 46 game-winning drives. Not the record-setting seven games won in 2009 with a comeback and game-winning drive. There is only one mention that Manning led a 32-point second-half rally to beat New England in the 2006 AFC championship game. That’s it.
 
Meanwhile you will find no fewer than six references to Elway’s 47 number littered throughout the guide. Last season Elway was added to the front of the guide for his new role as executive vice president of football operations. Included in his bio is the following passage:

"Always driven by pressure, Elway directed the Broncos on a league-record 47 fourth-quarter or overtime, game-winning or game-saving drives in his legendary career."
 
As said in The Usual Suspects, “the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.”

Instead of fudging some numbers for Manning like they did in the past with Marino (read about Denver’s mid-1990’s spat with Elias), the easiest way around the problem was to simply ignore Manning’s fourth-quarter wins like they never happened

Only in Denver

Denver tracks fourth-quarter wins differently compared to Captain Comeback’s standardized system, the Elias Sports Bureau, and just about every team in the league.

Had Manning joined any of the other 31 rosters in the league, he would have been rightly glorified for his prolific comebacks and game-winning drives.
 
The Indianapolis Colts devoted an entire page to listing Manning's comebacks, which is very similar to the way Denver lists Elway’s 47 games in their guide. We are not saying the Broncos should have done a copy-and-paste job, but they cannot say they did not have a source for such information on Manning. Captain Comeback has long provided all this game-winning drive and comeback data to Pro Football Reference, as well.
 
Looking at 2012 media guides for some other teams, the results were spot-on and consistent with general league standards for defining comebacks and game-winning drives:
  • Baltimore Ravens displayed perfect understanding of the two stats, noting Joe Flacco’s 11 career game-winning drives and six fourth-quarter comebacks. If only the rest of the league followed suit.
  • San Francisco noted Alex Smith’s six fourth quarter comebacks in 2011, and that he had four on the road.
  • The Atlanta Falcons mentioned that Matt Ryan produced six game-winning drives in 2010, and three more last season.
  • The Super Bowl-winning New York Giants listed Eli Manning’s 25 game-winning drives, separated by regular season (20) and postseason (5), and mirroring the games listed here.
  • The Cincinnati Bengals noted that Andy Dalton led four fourth-quarter comebacks as a rookie in 2011.
  • Even though he had just one game-winning drive, the Carolina Panthers still felt compelled enough to mention it for Cam Newton’s rookie season.
  • Though nothing about Aaron Rodgers or Brett Favre, the Green Bay Packers make note of Josh Freeman having five fourth quarter comebacks in 2010 in running backs coach Alex Van Pelt’s bio.
  • San Diego Chargers have a box called “The Comeback Kid” that says Rivers has 12 fourth-quarter comebacks, but lists the appropriate 13. Call it a typo.
  • The Arizona Cardinals did an excellent job citing John Skelton’s comebacks (4), and his game-winning drives (5), which is no easy task after a wild 2011 season.
  • Though the New York Jets were a little inconsistent on their Mark Sanchez information, they nailed Tim Tebow’s drives.
Other teams get it, but not the Broncos.

Speaking of Tebow, you can find mention of him in the 2012 Denver guide for producing five fourth-quarter comebacks last season. He’s now with the Jets, yet he still makes it in the Denver guide. But not Manning, the team’s current star quarterback, who actually deserves the praise.
 
Denver had no qualms about giving previous quarterbacks credit for fourth-quarter wins. During the 2008 season, their weekly press releases mentioned Jay Cutler's comebacks.
 
You can see part of a list of Cutler's seven game-winning drives in a Week 16 2008 release here:

 

Had he not been traded to Chicago that offseason, you can bet Cutler would have been in Denver’s 2009 media guide with a list of his fourth quarter wins. After all, Cutler’s scant total never posed any threat to rewriting their history book like Manning does to Elway.

Evolution of a Fallacy: How Denver Fabricated a Record

We tracked down old media guides for the Broncos, and found it interesting that the team placed ever-increasing importance on Elway’s comebacks in the face of his once-troublesome quest for a Super Bowl ring.
 
Older media guides were very generic compared to the higher quality standards of today, and it was not until the early 1990s when Elway’s comebacks were mentioned in his player bio.
 
Our first documented sighting of the information was in 1993 (it’s possible this info first appeared in 1992, but that media guide file was corrupted). This information was not in the 1991 guide.
 

 
Just a basic mention in the sixth paragraph of Elway’s bio, and a list of the games was included.
 
A year later in the 1994 guide, Elway’s fourth-quarter wins moved up to the fourth paragraph in his bio. Same wording, but an increase of one for this comeback.
 

 
Now in 1995 it became very interesting.
 

 
Not only is there a change in the description from “game-saving drive” to “come-from-behind drives”, but it is said to be the “highest career total documented for any quarterback.” That does not mean it was a record, and looking up Johnny Unitas would have proven it was not. But keep that wording of "total documented" in mind.
 
They also included a little table of other quarterbacks and their come-from-behind totals.
 

 
There is no mention that this is an all-time ranking, but it does put Elway at the top, and it is statistically false. It says come-from-behind drives. By our count through the 1994 season, it was accurate to have Montana with 31, Marino with 29, and Kelly with 18 (see list).
 
That’s because those are numbers based purely on come-from-behind drives, or comebacks. Games where the team trailed and came back to win (or tie even).
 
But Elway’s 34 is the result of Denver counting seven games where the Broncos never trailed in the fourth quarter, and the game was won with a game-winning drive (no comeback).
 
Zero points is not a deficit, and that’s the fatal flaw in Denver’s “count everything and call it a comeback” method. Elway’s total should have read 27, or third place on that particular list.
 
In 1996 the media guide got a makeover and some more flash to it. The table of come-from-behind wins also got a new title (“Fourth-Quarter Game-Winning Drives”), and was placed very close to the top of Elway’s bio.
 

 
Only a slight semantics change in the bio, but nothing important. Note the continued use of “highest career total documented for any quarterback.” Apparently, the Broncos were selective in which quarterbacks they documented.
 

 
The 1996 season proved to be a very disappointing one in the end for Elway and the Broncos, as a great 13-3 regular season ended in a one-and-done playoff exit after coach Tom Coughlin and the Jacksonville Jaguars pulled off a shocking upset in Denver.
 
More information was added to the 1997 media guide, including a tidbit about Elway’s fourth-quarter heroics under Mike Shanahan.
 

 
The big change came in the player bio. Now in the very first paragraph, Elway was crowned by Denver as having the NFL record! Back in 1995 he had the highest total on that list, but it wasn’t until this year that the Broncos decided to “make it official,” if you will.
 

 
After winning his first Super Bowl, the comebacks were still a big thing, and calling them the NFL record was here to stay with the Broncos, as seen in this 1998 capture, which is Elway’s final appearance as an active player in the media guide.
 

 
Any rigorous work done on Dan Marino’s career would have made it very apparent that Elway did not hold the NFL record. That’s also not to mention the career of Johnny Unitas.
 
But when no one is standing up to dispute your claims, and you’re the only one making the claim, then that’s how you can fabricate a record for your star player.

Importance?

As users of the facts, it is important to have history and records that are accurate, and calculated by a fair standard that is equal for all. Without that order, you have chaos. Chaos and garbage.
 
Imagine a scenario where a team decides to take a unique stat and keep track of it for their star player. The player performs noticeably well at this stat, and his team pushes it in the media to grow exposure and esteem for the player.
 
As the years go by, the team has not been keeping up the same standard of stat-tracking for other players in the league or the historic players from the past. They choose to ignore them, and just keep boasting the stat for their player, and claim that he has the league’s record.
 
The player retires with a record and legacy of having a commanding lead in this unique statistic, and no one asks any questions about the validity, because no one has taken the time and effort to question the due-diligence the team showed in tracking the stat.
 
You do not even have to imagine this scenario, because it is exactly what the Denver Broncos have done with fourth-quarter comebacks for John Elway since the 1980s.
 
The Elias Sports Bureau knew Denver was wrong more than 16 years ago, and still no one has stepped forward to force them to make it right. While media guides and press releases are team publications, the teams still fall under the NFL, and a higher standard of accuracy should be demanded.
 
The NFL has a strong tendency to honor tradition and history, but that tendency is diminished when one team is allowed to write the rest of the league’s history without inspection or consent.

Weight of History Will Prove Denver Wrong

Captain Comeback first wrote about this issue almost three years ago to the day. And after many unanswered phone calls and descriptive, professionally written  e-mails, the Denver Broncos have not budged an inch on the myth of 47.
 
After documenting this story for three years, it appears they are hanging onto their final threads here as the 2012 season approaches. Ignoring Manning’s rank ahead of Elway in both comebacks and game-winning drives is their last resort.
 
With or without Denver’s consent, the record is going to change, and the irony would be richest if it happened with a quarterback wearing their uniform. If not Peyton Manning, then perhaps it will be his brother Eli, or Tom Brady, or Ben Roethlisberger some day.
 
It will happen, and the outcome will be reflected on both the top football reference site on the internet and here at the top site for NFL analysis. The search-engine monster Wikipedia will continue to reflect the truth. Countless writers and bloggers who know better will reflect the truth. The league’s NFL Record and Fact Book, listing Dan Marino as the game-winning drives leader starting in 2011, will continue to reflect the truth.
 
More teams will follow suit and, like the Baltimore Ravens, will understand that fourth-quarter comebacks and game-winning drives are two separate, but related stats. They will get the right information out there.
 
Denver was the first source to cite 47 comebacks, and that’s when they were the only source. Soon they will return to being the only source with that number, while everyone else uses the Cold, Hard Football Facts.
 
And like that, the myth of 47 will be gone.
 
Scott Kacsmar is a football writer/researcher who has contributed large quantities of data to Pro-Football-Reference.com, including the only standardized database of fourth quarter comebacks and game-winning drives. He doesn’t get much colder or harder than this. You can visit his blog for a complete writing archive. Please send any questions or comments to Scott at smk_42@yahoo.com, or you can follow him on Twitter at @CaptainComeback.

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