A favourite hobby of sports pundits and fans is to argue. Who is better? Which team is better? Who’s going to win? The simplest debates can go on for years and it takes a while to find out which side is correct. Sometimes after we see the events in question unfold, we wonder how in the heck we even debated such a thing to begin with.
Often times, two star players come along, or two potential stars and we like to debate who is better, or who will be better. Sometimes it can involve two quarterbacks, two goaltenders or two pitchers. Today, it’s time to look back on history and see which arguments seem downright silly when we look back on them.
15) Carey Price or Jaroslav Halak?
A goaltending controversy in the mecca of hockey? It was all the talk in Montreal four to five years ago.
The Canadiens had a dilemma of sorts on their hands. On the one hand, they had a no.5 overall pick from 2005, who had all the tools and potential to be one of, if not the best goalie in the world, but wasn’t showing it. On the other hand, they had a journeyman goaltender, who was undersized and was drafted 271st overall by the Habs in 2003.
While they were both a part of the Habs organization, fans and media were split as to who was the goaltender of the Canadiens’ future. First, down in Hamilton, Halak led the Habs’ AHL affiliate Hamilton Bulldogs to the playoffs, posting the AHL’s lowest goals against average at 2.00, but was called up to the Canadiens thanks to an injury to starter Cristobal Huet. Price would lead the Bulldogs to a Calder Cup.
In 2009-10, Halak began the season as Price’s backup, but would beat him out for the starting job, routinely stealing games for the Canadiens. Even though he was just 22 years old at the time, many were already questioning whether Price would ever be an elite goaltender.
Halak fuelled the debate even more when he led the Habs into the 2010 playoffs and stole two playoff series from the top-seeded Washington Capitals and the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins.
However, in the 2010 offseason the Habs quickly made their decision and traded Halak to St. Louis, keeping Carey Price, whom they still saw as their future. Many fans were outraged, many in the media were baffled and felt it was one of those trades that would haunt the Habs for 20 years.
Well, now Carey Price is one of the league’s best goaltenders, having just led the Habs to a great playoff run last spring, and Halak is on his fourth team in less than a year. Price is showing what Bob Gainey saw in him nine years ago when he called him a ‘thoroughbred’ after drafting him.
14) Chris Johnson or Adrian Peterson?
Off-field problems aside, how quickly did this debate change?
Peterson was having ball security issues, while Johnson was thrilling Titans fans, rushing for over 2,000 yards in the 2009 season, and broke the NFL record for yards from scrimmage that season.
Johnson turned it into a big payday and now he has fallen hard from the ranks of the NFL’s elite. The Titans let him go because of it and he’s yet to make a difference for the New York Jets. Since Chris Johnson’s 2,000-yard season, he hasn’t come anywhere close to that feat.
Adrian Peterson meanwhile, has had at least 10 touchdowns in every one of his NFL seasons and came within nine yards of the single-season rushing record in 2012, when he won the NFL’s MVP Award. Even if Peterson never plays another down of NFL football, the debate is still one-sided in his favour.
13) Andre Johnson or Charles Rogers?
After Carson Palmer went first overall to the Cincinnati Bengals in the 2003 NFL Draft, there was a debate as to who was the best wide receiver. There happened to be two teams looking for one with the Detroit Lions possessing the second overall pick, and the Houston Texans at no.3.
Charles Rogers out of Michigan State was often compared to Randy Moss and seemed to have unlimited upside. Andre Johnson was out of Miami and had been one of the most productive receivers in college football history, but ultimately, the Lions saw a higher ceiling with Rogers and took him second overall.
A combination of injuries and substance abuse problems led to Rogers playing just three seasons in Detroit, combining for 36 catches, 440 yards and four touchdowns.
Andre Johnson went to Houston and has gone on to become the best player in the franchise’s young history. He has many NFL records, including most 100-catch seasons, most games with 10+ catches and is the only player with 60+ catches in his first eight seasons. He’s been one of the best players of his generation.
Luckily, the Lions were able to redeem themselves four years later when they drafted Calvin Johnson.
12) Roberto Luongo or Rick DiPietro?
The New York Islanders seemed to have found their franchise goaltender when they selected Roberto Luongo fourth overall in the 1997 NHL Draft. Luongo was, at that point, the highest selected goaltender in NHL history.
However, shortly into his first NHL season in 1999-00, Luongo seemed to fall out of favour with Islanders’ GM Mike Milbury. A memorable incident was when Luongo played a bad game against the Boston Bruins and his general manager was upset because Luongo had been looking at a New York apartment on game day. Luongo said looking at one apartment hadn’t interfered with his gameday routine. Milbury quickly lost patience and drafted a goaltender even higher than he did Luongo, selecting Rick DiPietro first overall in the 2000 NHL Draft.
Milbury would prove to be just about the worst general manager in the NHL’s history, but the fact that he would give up on Luongo so quickly to get DiPietro had people thinking that maybe Milbury knew something the fans didn’t.
Long story short, Luongo has gone on to have a stellar NHL career, while DiPietro showed flashes of talent early on, then received a 15-year, $67.5 million contract which was impossible to justify. Injuries and inconsistency plagued DiPietro’s career, causing Islander fans more grief, thinking about what they could’ve had if Milbury had just showed patience with a young goaltender.
11) Dante Culpepper or Drew Brees?
In the 2006 offseason, the top two quarterbacks available were Drew Brees and Daunte Culpepper. Many were debating as to who the better signing would be. The San Diego Chargers were moving on with Philip Rivers, after a serious shoulder injury to Brees threatened his career. Culpepper, unhappy in Minnesota and rehabbing a knee injury, had requested a trade.
The Miami Dolphins had their choice between the two, and after a medical evaluation, felt Brees’s injury made him riskier to sign. Fans and media debated as to who the Dolphins should bring in.
Culpepper had recently thrown 39 touchdown passes in a single season, in 2004, while Brees had shown signs of a breakout. The Dolphins traded a second-round pick for Culpepper and things quickly unraveled between him and Miami head coach Nick Saban. After a 1-3 start, Culpepper’s knee injury was still lingering and he had suffered a shoulder injury as well. Following a heated argument with Saban, he was benched.
The Dolphins would release Culpepper before training camp the following year.
All Drew Brees went on to do was have a Hall of Fame career, and he’s still going strong today at the age of 35. The Dolphins could’ve had themselves their long sought after replacement for Dan Marino, and who knows, maybe Nick Saban would still be in South Florida today
10) Tim Couch or Donovan McNabb?
It’s hard to think Donovan McNabb was booed by Philadelphia Eagles fans when he was drafted, especially since it turns out the Eagles lucked out when the Cleveland Browns selected Tim Couch first overall and made their decision for them.
The 1999 NFL Draft was at that time, considered to have one of the best quarterback classes in NFL history. Some said it would rival the 1983 class. That’s another silly debate on its own now.
Five quarterbacks were selected in the first 12 picks of the 1999 draft.
Tim Couch was seen as the conquering hero, coming to the new Cleveland Browns franchise to lead them to many years of success and win the city some Super Bowls.
Instead, McNabb would be by far the most successful quarterback of the draft class, breaking multiple Eagles passing records and leading them through the franchise’s best years; he led them to five NFC Championship games and one Super Bowl appearance. While he never did win the Super Bowl and often underachieved in big games, McNabb had an amazing career.
Tim Couch actually did get Cleveland to the playoffs once, but was never able to remain consistent, or healthy.
9) Blair Thomas or Emmitt Smith?
The top two running backs entering the 1990 NFL Draft were Blair Thomas and Emmitt Smith.
Blair Thomas had been a national champion with Penn State in the 1986 season and finished second on Penn State’s all-time rushing list. However when he got to the NFL, he would be just another one of the New York Jets’ biggest draft blunders. Thomas played only six NFL seasons, totalling 2,236 career rushing yards and seven touchdowns. The Jets released him following the 1993 season.
The smaller, slower Emmitt Smith slipped to the Cowboys at no.17 and he go on to be one of the Cowboys’ cornerstones to their 1990s dynasty. He also would set every NFL rushing record imaginable.
His 18,355 career rushing yards are the most of all time, as are his 164 rushing touchdowns.
Bet you the Jets would like that one back.
8) LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony?
The 2003 NBA Draft remains not only the greatest draft class in NBA history, but one of the best in all sports.
LeBron James was the prodigy coming out of high school, while Carmelo Anthony was a force coming out of Syracuse. There was debate as to who would be the better NBA player. While Anthony has been one of the game’s elite, the fact is, LeBron James has dominated his sport like few have in the 21st century.
LeBron has two NBA championships, five finals appearances, four MVPs, and is the better all-around player.
While he’s a polarizing figure, there’s no doubt that LeBron is the best in the world and any debate on that topic seems silly today.
7) Curtis Joseph or Martin Brodeur? (2002 Olympics)
As usual, there was enormous pressure on Team Canada going into the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. The country hadn’t won the gold medal in 50 years and the introduction of NHL players to the Olympics pegged Canada as tournament favourites. They were also trying to forget about their heartbreaking loss to the Czech Republic in 1998.
The team was thought to be occupied by too many veterans, some who were past their prime. However, there was no debate as far as which goaltenders were chosen. But who would start? Now, there was the debate. Coach Pat Quinn had his goalie from Toronto, Curtis Joseph pegged as the starter. Some argued Martin Brodeur, who had the winning pedigree should be the starter.
Joseph played a terrible opening game, losing 5-2 to Sweden and Pat Quinn quickly made the switch to Brodeur. Brodeur would go on to shut down opponents for the rest of the tournament, playing the way he usually would in big games. Canada went on to win the gold medal, defeating team USA 5-2 in the final. Joseph would leave Toronto after the season and was never the same goaltender. Brodeur would keep building a Hall of Fame resume in the NHL for another decade.
6) Aaron Rodgers or Alex Smith?
Alex Smith was drafted first overall by the San Francisco 49ers in 2005, out of Utah. They had Aaron Rodgers right in their backyard (he went to Cal in Berkeley), but coach Mike Nolan felt Smith had a more cerebral, cooperative attitude and felt he could not co-exist with Aaron Rodgers, who has proven to have a little more of a boisterous personality than Smith.
The 49ers passing on Rodgers seemed to have a trickle-down effect, with all kinds of teams passing on him, even those that needed a quarterback badly. The Green Bay Packers didn’t have a pressing need, with Brett Favre still going strong, but they saw an opportunity to groom Favre’s eventual replacement.
Smith didn’t really blossom as the 49ers quarterback until Jim Harbaugh came to town in 2011. Rodgers had to wait a while, until Favre’s first retirement in 2008, but just a couple of years later, Rodgers led Green Bay to their fourth Super Bowl championship. Smith was traded to Kansas City after losing his starting job to Colin Kaepernick. He’s a good fit in Kansas City, but will never be mistaken for an elite quarterback.
5) Mario Williams or Vince Young?
The popular sentiment amongst Houston Texans fans entering the 2006 NFL Draft was to either take the explosive, electrifying Reggie Bush out of USC, or the hometown boy who had just led the Texas Longhorns to the BCS National Championship.
Mario Williams was picked first overall out of N.C. State, which was seen as a surprise to many experts. Williams proved to be the right pick for Houston, as he finished his Texans career with 53 sacks and 11 forced fumbles. He made it to two Pro Bowls as a Texan. Injuries, combined with the emergence of J.J. Watt led Houston to letting Williams walk. He signed with the Buffalo Bills for $100 million entering the 2012 season.
Ultimately Houston didn’t win the big one with Williams, but look at where Vince Young‘s career went. While he had the talent to be successful in the NFL, and actually had a winning record as a starter, he was often a head case for his coaches and could just never seem to put it all together for an extended period of time.
4) Nomar Garciaparra or Derek Jeter?
With the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox having the hottest rivalry in pro sports, it was only natural that there would be a debate between each team’s star shortstop. Often we would hear, who’s better? Nomar Garciaparra or Derek Jeter?
Garciaparra was a six-time All-Star and the AL Rookie of the Year in 1997. He was also a two-time AL batting champion, in 1999 and 2000.
Derek Jeter meanwhile, was a part of the Yankees dynasty of the late ’90s, constantly coming up with clutch catches, hits and generally showing his best in the game’s biggest moments.
Jeter was the AL Rookie of the Year in 1996, one year before Garciaparra, and would go on to be a 14-time All-Star in his career. He won five World Series titles, including four in five years, between 1996 and 2000. He won five Gold Gloves. Jeter just retired this season and will go down as one of the best of his generation and probably the most respected player in this era.
Garciaparra would end up being traded by the Boston Red Sox in the middle of 2004, and the team would go on to end their 86-year drought with Orlando Cabrera as their starting shortstop. Garciaparra had a good career, but his body of work will never be confused with that of Derek Jeter.
3) Tom Brady or Drew Bledsoe?
One guy was the team’s no.1 overall pick in 1993 and had led the Patriots to very successful seasons, even getting New England to the Super Bowl against Green Bay a few years earlier. He had the ideal size of an NFL quarterback, had a rocket for an arm and was an established star QB.
The other was drafted 199th overall, was a skinny kid out of Michigan and in no way looked like he could compete for a starting job with Drew Bledsoe. An injury to Bledsoe in Week 2 of the 2001 season changed the landscape of the NFL.
Tom Brady went on a role with the Patriots and Bledsoe never regained his starting job in New England. Brady would lead the Patriots to their first Super Bowl title. New England let Bledsoe go, trading him to division-rival Buffalo. Bledsoe had a resurgent season, passing for over 4,000 yards, while Brady and company missed the playoffs. Many started to wonder if Brady was just a fluke in 2001 and the team had made a big mistake trading Bledsoe. A 31-0 defeat to Bledsoe’s Bills on opening day in 2003 did little to silence those whispers.
It turns out the Pats made the right move, as Brady won two straight Super Bowls in the 2003 and 2004 seasons and has arguably been the best quarterback of this era. Bledsoe’s best days proved to be behind him.
2) Clyde Drexler or Michael Jordan?
Once again, no knock on Clyde Drexler. He is one of basketball’s all-time greats, is a legend in Portland and Houston and he was among the best in a generation filled with legends. However, the argument of him being better than Michael Jordan just can’t quite hold water.
Heading into the 1992 NBA Finals, many felt that this would equate to the Magic/Bird rivalry that dominated the ’80s, but Jordan would be the dominant one, leading the Bulls to a six-game series win over Portland, en route to the first of his two three-peats with Chicago.
Jordan is a cut above the rest in his era, and it’s just hard to argue that anybody was at his level. But feel free to keep debating between LeBron and MJ. That never gets old.
1) Peyton Manning or Ryan Leaf?
There’s no bigger landslide on this list.
Many felt Manning was the safer pick, but that Leaf, being the more talented athlete, had a higher ceiling than Manning and could, in five years, be a better player.
Leaf would go on to be the biggest draft bust in NFL history, at least until JaMarcus Russell, and Peyton Manning is now the NFL’s all-time leader in passing touchdowns, among many other things.
The Chargers gave up on Leaf after three seasons. It’s unlikely you’ll ever see such a hot debate, with the top two guys in an NFL draft going in such drastically opposite directions.