So long, Sam: Bradford’s place in OU history
Before the season, it seemed almost certain that Sam Bradford would become the greatest quarterback in OU football history. Of course, before the season, Bradford’s shoulder wasn’t in a sling.
Bradford effectively announced his retirement from the Sooners, saying he would have shoulder surgery Wednesday and then hopefully enter the NFL draft. Bradford’s shoulder was separated twice this season in trips to Greater Dallas, the latter against Texas on Oct. 17.
So Bradford’s career ends after two seasons and change. Alas, he won’t move up on the list of greatest Sooner QBs.
Before the season, I ranked Bradford No. 4, despite a Heisman Trophy season in 2008 and a stellar rookie year in 2007. I had Jack Mildren No. 1, Josh Heupel No. 2, Jason White No. 3.
If you want to rank that trio in a different order, I have no great quibble. Here are the factors I use to historically judge a quarterback’s career.
Stats: Always important, but you have to analyze them within context. Quarterbacking in the 2000s is different from quarterbacking in the 1970s, which was different from quarterbacking in the 1950s.
Honors: Important, but don’t follow them off the cliff. Voters all over America gave Bradford in 2008 and White in 2003 enough ballots to win the Heisman but Heupel in 2000 and White in 2004 not enough. I’m not inclined to let a TV reporter from Providence or a writer from Sacramento decide who is the greatest quarterback in Oklahoma history.
Longevity: How many great seasons did a quarterback have? Two great seasons are better than one. Three great seasons are better than two.
Value: This is an intangible. What kind of impact did a quarterback make on the program?
The latter is where Mildren and Heupel soar. Both changed the culture of Sooner football. Mildren really was outstanding for just a year-and-a-half, while Heupel was a junior college transfer who played only two seasons. But their impact was profound.
Bradford couldn’t match Heupel or Mildren on importance, but he clearly was going to reign above them on everything else. His stats, even adjusted for the crazy offense of the 21st century, are off the charts. His honors were either going to be the equal of White’s or better, and clearly superior to Heupel or Mildren. And Bradford’s three-year career would have elevated him to the top.
No quarterback in OU history, with the possible of exception of Jack Mitchell in the 1940s, has played three superb seasons. Bradford absolutely was going to achieve such status, and that would have lifted him above the other epic Oklahoma quarterbacks.
Instead, his career ends in disappointment. Bradford had two great years, but his two years clearly were not as great as White’s. White won a Heisman and finished third in another Heisman vote. If Bradford falls shy of White, then he falls shy of Mildren and Heupel, too.
Bradford leaves OU one of its five Heisman winners and its most popular player ever. But Bradford is not the greatest Sooner quarterback ever.
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