What if . . .
- . . . Alex Rodriguez had been traded to Boston?
- . . . The '94 MLB strike never happened?
- . . . Babe Ruth was sold elsewhere?
- . . . Williams and Dimaggio didn't go to war?
- . . . Michael Jordan had continued playing baseball?
- . . . N.C. State hadn't pulled off its miracle?
- . . . The Blazers had better injury luck?
- . . . Big Ben was drafted by the Giants?
- . . . Donald Trump had made the Bills great?
- . . . Drew Brees had passed his Dolphins physical?
- . . . These field goal attempts had been good?
- . . . George Halas had died in a boat wreck?
- . . . Jim Harbaugh had stuck with Alex Smith as 49ers quarterback?
- . . . The NFL map looked like this?
- . . . Peyton Manning went to San Diego?
- . . . Teddy Roosevelt hadn't revolutionized football?
- . . . Terrell Owens was elected to the NFL Hall of Fame?
- . . . LeBron James had chosen soccer over basketball?
- . . . U.S. soccer got the right call in the '02 World Cup?
- . . . Cleveland had been saved by George Steinbrenner?
- . . . These draft moments had happened differently?
- . . . Injuries had never altered these five careers?
- . . . Lance Armstrong had been whipped by cancer?
- . . . Muhammad Ali had never met Malcolm X?
- . . . PEDs had been legal all along?
- . . . Steve Bartman had never gone to Wrigley?
- . . . Things had happened differently for these four illustrious coaches?
- . . . Tiger Woods had pursued a career as a Navy Seal?
- . . . These trades had actually happened?
- . . . Wayne Gretzky hadn't been traded to the Kings?
Eli Manning imagined as a Cardinal (Heinz Kluetmeier; Photo illustration by SI Premedia)
What If ... Josh McCown's final pass of 2003 had fallen incomplete, rewriting '04 draft?
by Dan Greene
When the Vikings (9–5) visited the last-place Cardinals (3–12) in Week 17 of 2003, what seemed to matter most was Minnesota’s playoff chances. A win would give the Vikes the NFC North title; a loss would end their season. But the effects of that game’s conclusion—trailing 17–12 with four seconds left, Arizona QB Josh McCown found receiver Nate Poole in the back corner of the end zone for a miraculous 28-yard game-winning TD, sending Minnesota packing—would in fact reverberate far beyond the North Star State. Had McCown’s pass had fallen incomplete...
... the Cardinals, not the Chargers, would have finished with the worst record and thus earned the No. 1 pick (as opposed to No. 3) in the ’04 draft. And new coach Dennis Green most definitely would have chosen to replace McCown with Mississippi’s Eli Manning. In reality, Manning ended up going No. 1 to San Diego and then refusing to play for the Chargers, forcing a trade to the Giants. But had he found Arizona more suitable...
... the Chargers, at No. 2, could have still picked N.C. State QB Philip Rivers, who they wound up receiving from the Giants in the Manning trade. But without that deal San Diego wouldn’t have had the extra first-round pick in 2005 to nab Maryland LB Shawne Merriman, a key to its AFC West titles in 2006 and ’07. And without Manning pushing to escape San Diego...
Ben Roethlisberger imagined as a Giant (Robert Beck; Photo illustration by SI Premedia)
... the Giants likely would have settled for their second choice, Miami of Ohio quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, whom they nearly did take instead of acquiring Manning. Which still would have left...
... Pitt wideout Larry Fitzgerald on the board for the receiver-needy Redskins (who took safety Sean Taylor), Browns (tight end Kellen Winslow II) or Lions (receiver Roy Williams), also meaning that...
... when the Steelers were on the clock at No. 11, the top passing talent available would have been J.P. Losman (Tulane), Matt Schaub (Virginia) or Josh McCown’s brother Luke (Louisiana Tech).
Larry Fitzgerald imagined as a Brown (Norm Hall/Getty Images; Photo illustration by SI Premedia)
That alternate universe—and really, how hard is it to imagine McCown, a career 59.1% passer, not hitting Poole, a guy with 34 career catches—reroutes at least five Pro Bowlers. The Giants build around Roethlisberger. The Cardinals get Eli but not Fitzgerald. Perhaps most devastating, the Steelers, the NFL’s third-winningest team since 2004, miss out on Big Ben. And “Big J.P.” just doesn’t have the same ring.