Flash Points: Franchise-turning events

May, 26, 2011
5/26/11
1:00
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Examining the most crucial event in the history of every team in the division.

[+] EnlargeTom Brady
Elsa/Getty ImagesIn 11 seasons with the Patriots Tom Brady has thrown 261 touchdowns and amassed close to 35,000 passing yards with a 95.2 passer rating.
Who made who?

That was the question readers had to answer to determine the key event that shaped the New England Patriots. Is Bill Belichick the reason for their success, or was it Tom Brady who turned his head coach into a genius, or was it Robert Kraft's decision to hire Belichick in the first place that made all of the above possible?

Among the AFC East clubs in ESPN.com's "Flash Points" series, the Patriots' poll generated the most votes and the closest race.

Readers went with Brady, claiming the Patriots' decision to select him 199th in the 2000 draft was the moment that most impacted the franchise's fortunes.

But Brady was the only AFC East winner not to collect a majority of the votes. He received 46 percent of the nearly 60,000 cast. The decision to hire Belichick was second at 34 percent.

Kraft's purchase of the team received 10 percent, and the 1993 combo of hiring Bill Parcells as head coach and drafting Drew Bledsoe first overall got 8 percent.

Sportsguy1236 reasoned: "Whats more important to a team? Best QB in the league or best coach in the league? I think Kraft and Belichick make a close tie for second behind Brady. Reason being, I think Brady would have been successful anywhere, but Belichick and Kraft rely on each other. Belichick wants full control and Kraft gives it to him."

InStint733 disagreed: "OK, Brady being drafted is not a flash point. Drew getting hurt and Tom coming in to take over is a flash point. Tom Brady's story is a great one, but I have to give Belichick more of the success pie than Brady. I'm a big believer that defense wins championships and Belichick always has a good top 10 D no matter who plays."

JETS: Namath chooses AFL over NFL

We go from the AFC East's closest poll to the most lopsided. Of all the candidates for the most seminal New York Jets moment, readers overwhelmingly went with Joe Namath's decision to spurn the NFL monolith and join the upstart AFL.

[+] EnlargeJoe Namath
AP PhotoJoe Namath changed the course of Jets history when he chose to play in the AFL. Here Namath signs his contract with coach Weeb Ewbank (left) and owner Sonny Werblin in 1965.
That received 69 percent of the vote, and rightfully so. The St. Louis Cardinals drafted Namath 12th overall in 1964. But the Jets made him the top choice and gave him a mammoth contract he couldn't refuse.

It was the first flutter of a remarkable butterfly effect. Without that moment, Namath doesn't make the guarantee, the Jets don't win their only Super Bowl and Namath probably doesn't become a cultural icon. Nothing else in Jets history can compare to what Namath did for the organization.

A distant second was the 2008 hiring of Rex Ryan as head coach at 19 percent, followed by the 1997 hiring of Parcells at 7 percent and the formation of the New York Sack Exchange at 2 percent.

Bbarkz took exception with the choices in the poll: "I'm a big Jet fan, but if you were going to say defining moment for the franchise, the only possible option is the guarantee. It's not only the Jets defining moment, but you could argue it was the defining moment for the NFL as we know it."

That's true, but if Namath goes to the NFL, then the guarantee doesn't happen.

Eric5741 summed up the Ryan hire finishing second in the poll: "The team has been so bad for so long that Jets fans can't help but brag about two AFC Championship losses. ... So just give them a break. It's not their fault that their team has done nothing since most of them have been alive."

DOLPHINS: Undefeated in 1972

The Miami Dolphins generated the fewest votes among the AFC East polls, but readers were generally convinced their undefeated 1972 campaign was the most influential moment in franchise history.

[+] EnlargeDon Shula
AP PhotoIt's hard to imagine Miami going undefeated during the 1972 season had the team not hired Don Shula.
I disagree with that verdict, but let's break down the percentages first.

The 1972 season collected 56 percent of the votes. The team's decision to hire head coach Don Shula away from the Baltimore Colts in 1970 came in second at 21 percent. Drafting quarterback Dan Marino in 1983 was third at 20 percent. The dramatic turnaround from a one-win team to division champs in 2008 took the other 3 percent.

The 1972 season is symbolic and keeps the Dolphins a topic of conversation every season a team can get off to a hot start. The comparisons will not go away until another team manages to win every game, including the Super Bowl.

The unbeaten feat makes Miami special. So I understand why readers chose it.

But my pick would be Shula's hiring. Without him as head coach two years earlier, can we assume the Dolphins would have run the table in 1972 and won back-to-back championships? No, we could not.

The initial exchange in the comments section under the poll ...

Gofins7933 wrote: "Everybody knows us for our perfect season in '72. That has to be the most defining moment for us."

Marek13brave replied: "Without the signing of Shula there is no perfect season in '72."

Gofins7933 countered: "Even my mom knows about the Fins perfect season. She doesn't know who Shula is."

BILLS: Norwood's kick sails wide

The Buffalo Bills went to four consecutive Super Bowls. Their best chance to win one and avoid the misery of being a perennial bridesmaid came at the end of their first appearance.

[+] EnlargeScott Norwood
AP Photo/Chris O'MearaScott Norwood's missed field goal in the closing seconds of the 1991 Super Bowl would have brought joy to one Giants fan in particular.
With eight seconds left in Super Bowl XXV and the Bills trailing by a point, Norwood lined up for a 47-yard field goal. We all know what happened next. The Bills still are looking for that first NFL championship.

In the "Flash Points" poll, 59 percent of readers voted for Norwood's miss. Then came Jim Kelly finally being forced to sign with the Bills after the USFL collapsed, followed by the 1985 promotion of Bill Polian to general manager at 8 percent, and linebacker Mike Stratton's "hit heard 'round the world" on San Diego Chargers running back Keith Lincoln in the 1964 AFL Championship Game at 6 percent.

Reader mdavila07 wrote: "It's definitely the Norwood miss. The Bills' legacy would be completely different if they won a Super Bowl. Not to mention, if you tell anyone you're a Bills fan, what do they bring up? Wide right and four straight Super Bowl losses. That is what the Bills are known for, their defining moment."

Dan_Daoust suggested another option: "Doesn't it have to be the Music City Miracle? The Bills had a Super Bowl-caliber team (or at least defense) that year, they got knocked out, and they've been a league doormat ever since. Wide right is an obvious choice, but it wasn't really a fortune-defining moment. The Bills made three more Super Bowls right after that, after all. The MCM, on the other hand almost seems to have had the effect of kicking the team in the groin and then standing on its neck."

I agreed with MattRichWarren's take: "It's going to be Wide Right, but that team doesn't exist without Polian's vision and drafting skill. I went with Polian because it's the right answer."

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