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Guest Post: Bryan Frye on Existential Bridesmaids

Friend of the program Bryan Frye is back for another guest post. As regular readers know, Bryan operates his own fantastic site, http://www.thegridfe.com. You can view all of Bryan’s guest posts here, and follow him on twitter @LaverneusDingle.


As the sickle of death swings ever-closer to your head, and you sit and ponder the meaninglessness of it all, it can be easy to think of all those times you crawled and scratched but still failed to reach the mountaintop. Kurt Vonnegut once mused that many people desperately need to hear the message that they are not alone. I’m here to deliver that message. Here are a bunch of other losers who, like you, gave their all and were found wanting.1

Completed PassesDrew Brees, 2010

In 2010, Drew Brees completed 448 passes, which stands as the fifth highest mark in history. However, Peyton Manning set the all-time record that year, completing 450 passes. Don’t feel bad for Brees. He broke the record the following year and passed Manning’s total again in 2014.

Passing YardsTom Brady, 2011

In 2011, Tom Brady threw for 5236 yards, breaking Dan Marino’s longstanding record of 5084. Unfortunately, Brees outgunned the Patriot legend, gaining 5476 yards through the air. Somehow, I don’t think this is the second place finish in 2011 that haunts Brady the most.

Passing TouchdownsAaron Rodgers, 2011

First Tom Terrific, now the other A-Rod? Well, 2011 was a big year for bridesmaids. Despite winning his first MVP award and throwing a career high 45 touchdown passes, he came up one short of tying his diminutive foe, Drew Brees, for the touchdown crown.

Passer RatingPeyton Manning, 2013

Many people consider 2013 the greatest season of Manning’s storied career.2 He took home his record fifth MVP trophy and broke the passing records for both touchdown and yards. His 115.1 passer rating is the fifth highest rated season in history. Nick Foles, however, notched a 119.2 passer rating, which looks stranger with each passing year.3 Not so fun fact: Manning’s passer rating was lower than Foles’s last year too.

Rushing YardsAhman Green, 2003

Green managed to rush for 1883 yards, by far the highest total of his career, in 2003. Over a decade later, that figure still ranks in the top ten all-time. Know what else happened in 2003? Jamal Lewis ran for 2066 yards, capturing the rushing title. Green grew older (as some of us do) and ineffective (as all of us do), never again approaching the heights of his runner up rushing season.

Rushing TouchdownsLarry Johnson, 2005

Johnson was a good back behind a great line. He rushed for 20 touchdowns in 2005, a figure that ranks eleventh in history. Unfortunately for him, another good back behind a great line scored 27 times on the ground. The next year, he was given 416 chances to lead the league in touchdowns, but he couldn’t do it. Those carries took their toll, and Johnson became as fragile as the concept of masculinity, never playing 16 games in another season.

ReceptionsJerry Rice and Cris Carter, 1995

Rice and Carter are Hall of Fame wideouts who have both enjoyed some level of success in three different decades. In the freak passing explosion of 1995, the two both caught 122 passes, tying Carter’s own year-old record in the process. It was Detroit all pro Herman Moore, however, who literally one-upped the two legends.

Receiving YardsAntonio Brown, 2015

Last year was arguably the greatest time in history to be a wide receiver (until next year, of course). Julio Jones broke the most important receiving record no one cares or talks about, converting 93 catches for first downs. Jones and Brown tied for the lead in receptions, but the former Chippewa couldn’t keep up in the yardage column. His career best was only second best.

Receiving TouchdownsCalvin Johnson, 2011

The 2011 season was the campaign in which Megatron cemented his reputation as the league’s best receiver. Despite defenses employing rarely seen tactics to slow him in the red zone, the towering receiving hauled in 16 touchdowns. For all his fame, scoring touchdowns was never a big part of Johnson’s game. He ended up losing the black ink to some Polish tight end.

TouchdownsChuck Foreman, 1975

The former Vikings great led the NFL in touchdowns in both 1974 and 1976, picking up 15 and 14, respectively. Those league-leading seasons sandwiched his greatest performance as a professional. He picked up 22 offensive touchdowns, the highest total of his career, but it wasn’t enough. O.J. Simpson, a killer running back in his own right, scored 23 times in a season for the ages. If it’s any consolation, Foreman did lead the league in fumbles.4

Yards from ScrimmageLaDainian Tomlinson, 2006

Tomlinson’s scorched earth 2006 season ranks as one of the most prolific performances by a skill position player in history. He scored a record 31 touchdowns and 186 points, and posted a respectable 2323 yards from scrimmage. Well, almost respectable. He was eleven yards shy of league leader Steven Jackson. This is undoubtedly Tomlinson’s greatest disappointment from that season.

InterceptionsDon Doll and Woodley Lewis, 1950

Lions left defensive back Doll and Rams right defensive back Lewis each snatched twelve interceptions in 1950. That mark is tied for the fourteenth highest total in a season. Alas, these star-crossed defenders had the misfortune of reaching their pinnacle the same year the legendary Spec Sanders focused his attention to defense. Sanders, a former AAFC star, spent only one season in the NFL. He used that season to seize thirteen interceptions and rip glory from our protagonists’ hands.

SacksJ.J. Watt, 2014

When Watt led the league with 17.5 sacks last year, it was the lowest total for any leader since DeMarcus Ware led with 15.5 in 2010. That’s a fun bit of trivia, but it isn’t historically significant. His 2014, however, was historically significant. Despite taking down opposing quarterbacks 20.5 times, the seventh highest total in history,5 he ceded the sack crown to Justin Houston.  Can’t win ‘em all, J.J.

There you have it. Some of the greatest seasons in NFL history weren’t even the top season that year. These men, veritable giants in the sport of football, strived with dignity and passion and were unable to break free from the cruel hand of fate.

So, as the grim specter of your own mortality stalks you at every bend, and you are overwhelmed with the knowledge that you are nothing more than a fart bubble in the bathtub of human existence, remember one thing: sometimes your best just isn’t good enough.

Have a nice day.

  1. To be more specific, these are the highest ranking seasons in history, in various categories, that failed to top their own year. []
  2. It might crack the top three on my list, but only just. []
  3. Not to be outdone that year, Foles played it safe to the tune of a 0.6% interception rate. That qualifies as the third best in history among qualified passers. Unfortunately for him, Josh McCown produced the second best season in history, throwing a pick on just 0.4% of his passes. []
  4. He also led the league with 73 receptions, but that doesn’t exactly fit in with the spirit of negativity, does it? []
  5. With all due respect to John Turney (and believe me, there is a ton of respect due), I am referring to the official record book. []
  • sacramento gold miners

    Chuck Foreman was pelted in the eye by a snowball thrown by a Bills fan in their game at Buffalo in 1975. Foreman had to exit the game early, depriving him of the opportunity to tie or pass Simpson that season.

  • Richie

    Good stuff. Though, I wish you would have included the actual stats and leaders for all of them. For instance, in the Rushing Touchdowns you don’t name the player who beat Johnson (I assume Tomlinson).

    • JeremyDeShetler

      Shaun Alexander. Tomlinson had 18 that year.

    • Sorry, Richie. I thought the “good player behind a great line” was a giveaway on that one. Sort of like the line about the Polish tight end.

  • Yazan Gable

    ” O.J. Simpson, a killer running back in his own right,” I see what you did there.

    • Sometimes you have to just go for the cheap laugh.

  • Andrew Healy

    Oh my, I read the first paragraph and I got transported back to Ivan Ilych-land.

    • Then I’ve done my job as a “writer.”

  • Josh Sanford

    Except for a guy throwing for 70 yards a game in the mid ’30s, no passer in NFL history has been able to lead the league in yards per game for more than two seasons in a row…except Dan Fouts, who had a string of 7 consecutive years. But for Dan Marino in 1984. Fouts threw for 287 a game in 1984 (which would have led the league in all prior 51 years–except when he himself bettered that mark), but was bested by Dan Marino. Can Fouts go on this list somehow? He would have had 7 years in a row! He’s heartbroken, surely.

    • That’s a really good one. Looks like most of the time it was two guys jockeying for position (Baugh/Luckman, Unitas/Jurgensen, Brodie/Jurgensen, Brees/…Roethlisberger?).