Question of the Week: "Who do you consider the greatest quarterback in NFL history, and why? Feel free to list your top five and then your final choice.”
Matt from Columbus, OH
Hard question to answer since I'm too young to have seen many of the old-time greats like a Sammy Baugh or Bart Starr. If I were to list the five greats I would include (in no particular order):
Is Brady a homer pick? Maybe, but look at the his record and the era that he had done it in. Three Super Bowl rings and he always gets the job done when he has too. That's why he earns the nod over Manning, who could be on this list eventually if he wins the big one. His defense has been a handicap in the past, but not this year.Of course I didn't see Unitas play, but I saw film and read a lot about him.
Montana, probably the best of all time. He's got the rings to prove it. Bradshaw too with the hardware.
Marino, he's got all the stats, the ultimate gunslinger, but never could run, and obviously has empty fingers.
I am sure people will include Brett Favre on their list. He will be a HOF'er no doubt. His durability is unquestioned, especially in the current era of bigger and faster. But in my mind, I don't know if there has ever been a more overrated QB than Favre. He's a product of the John Madden mouth. For all the great comebacks, he's made just as many bonehead plays and throws, and I'm only thinking of the ones against the Lions.
Matt from Germany via MI
I'll be criticized for leading your question this way but Joe Montana, not Brett Favre is overrated.
Montana had Rice, Craig, Taylor, Clark, a new and unstoppable system created by Bill Walsh, and a great line. Favre, Marino, and Eric Hipple would have won just as many if not more with that team.
Now to the question...
My top five are Elway, Brady, Bradshaw, Unitas, and Marino. I must say that Brett Favre would be sixth.
To me Elway not Michael Vick is the most physically gifted QB ever. Plus being a Seahawks fan I grew up watching him and Steve Sewell carve up my team twice a year. He won two Super Bowls when the Broncos finally got him a running game and a decent defense, and his presence on the field eclipsed everyone I've ever seen.
Marino was really snakebitten like Dan Fouts before him. They had great elements on that team but never a running game (Tony Nathan in da hizzy) nor a defense. Marino's numbers speak for themselves and top five list would be remiss without Marino being an entry.
Terry Bradshaw got it done. He was the leader on a team of leaders and incredible talent. The Steeler teams were the best of my generation and maybe the best ever. Bradshaw didn't stun you with his stats, he dazzled you with his determination. Any one who ever said Bradshaw is dumb, is dumb. Anyone who has seen Terry play will tell you he commanded respect and killed defenses with perfect spirals that make the best of highlights when watching NFL films in the off-season. Bradshaw IS THE MOST UNDERRATED QB EVER. I had the pleasure to meet him three times and talked with him about football for 45 minutes once. I asked him, who was the best QB you ever played against? He gave it some thought and I said Stabler, Fouts, or Jaws? He said, "I'll tell you that Bert Jones was the best guy I ever played. He was an athlete, he had a big arm, and he commanded respect. And Fouts? Fouts was a good QB but a complete asshole as a person. Not a nice guy at all." Wow. I was stunned.
Johnny U made the modern day QB position what it is. First to get over 40k, three Championships, and the All-American haircut. Johnny is the Dr. J of football and a legend of the game ten times over.
Tom Brady is a Michigan guy who didn't get to play a whole lot under Lloyd which always makes me think when I run into Carr haters. Brady is a genius. He is calm, cool, and absolutely terrifying if your team plays against the Pats. I think he is Joe Montana without the personnel. He is Joe Montana without the painful bandwagon. He is Joe Montana without the annoying references to Joe Montana. Brady will win the four Montana won and maybe one extra. Then we can stop hearing about the Montana touchdown Jesus, greatest of greatest crap and Brady will be the best ever.
It comes down to Elway and Bradshaw to me and I'll go with Elway because I watched him more closely than any of the others. He is one of the few guys in NFL history that could almost win a game by himself (The original LT, Reggie White, Barry Sanders, Sweetness are otehrs that come to mind). To tell you the truth he almost won three championships by himself while the team around him looked more like the St. Louis or Illinois St. Cardinals. Elway is my guy.
Jake from Germany via MI
Since the quarterback position has changed so much since the early days of the NFL, it’s difficult to compare players like Johnny Unitas, Otto Graham and Frank Tarkenton to more recent stars like Brett Favre and John Elway. Nonetheless, this is a personal opinion question so I’ll compare those players as best as I can.
Five I’ll consider:
Johnny Unitas/Otto Graham
I originally had Terry Bradshaw in my five but the combination of average career numbers (212 touchdowns and 210 interceptions while making three pro bowls) and the fact that he played for one of the greatest teams ever assembled keeps him just out of my top five. In reality, his career is really no different in my mind than Troy Aikman’s. Both were very good quarterbacks who played on even better teams. Bradshaw’s Steelers really could be the best teams in NFL history. That doesn’t mean that Bradshaw can’t be the best ever but I certainly won’t attribute the four Steelers Super Bowls to Bradshaw only. Then, I thought that maybe Tom Brady would take his place. Brady has only played four full seasons so there’s no way I can say he’s the best ever. In fact, Steve Young and Fran Tarkenton might have a better argument in being on the list than Brady as of 2005. But, Brady has won three Super Bowls. He has an outstanding 2:1 touchdown to interception ratio. He’s had more 4th quarter comebacks than any other active qb since 2001 with 20. Brady may end up being the best ever, but he would have to keep playing for a long time. So, I’ll compromise by picking Johnny Unitas and Otto Graham to share a spot. They should be on the list anyway. They were the best of the early quarterbacks.
As good as Elway was, he never, ever, threw for 30 touchdowns in a season. That’s saying a lot for a guy who’s in the running as best quarterback of all-time. In fact, he never threw more than 27 TD’s in one year. That’s amazing. Keep in mind that Elway’s Super Bowl’s came after Denver became a complete team with Terrell Davis in the backfield. When the Broncos were just Elway, they got crushed by the Giants, Redskins and 49ers by a combined 137-40. Elway was very, very good but he doesn’t have nearly the career numbers as Favre and he didn’t win his Super Bowls until his team was loaded.
I have the same feeling about Montana as I do about Bradshaw. Those 49er teams were so great that attributing all of those Super Bowls to Montana’s greatness would be a bit much. Montana was phenomenal in the 4th quarter but I do think he benefited greatly from a fantastic team. Having said that, I think Montana has to be considered in the top five of all-time. His touchdown to interception ratio is ridiculous (272-139). His career quarterback rating is through the roof. He was awesome. But, Steve Young’s numbers were even better than Montana which lends some credence to the thought that Montana benefited from the system he played in. Based on clutch performance, Joe Montana really could be the best ever but since his teams were so stacked, it’s hard to tell how good he really was. So, I have to turn against my long-held belief that Montana was probably the best ever. I think the clincher on that is how well Steve Young played in the same system.
That brings me to Marino. I have a hard time penalizing Marino because the Dolphins never gave him a running game. I don’t think that precludes him from being the greatest ever. Throw him on the 70’s Steelers, the 80’s 49er’s, or the 90’s Cowboys and Marino would’ve easily won a Super Bowl. Having said that, Marino’s numbers are greatly enhanced by his 17 seasons. He only threw 30 touchdown passes four times in a season which is actually quite a bit compared to the previous three quarterbacks I mentioned but doesn’t even come close to Favre.
The only guy left is Favre. Favre threw 30+ touchdown passes in a season eight different times. That’s twice as much as Marino. In fact, there have only been 49 seasons of 30+ touchdowns in NFL history and Favre has eight of them. He has twice as many as the next highest total. Remember, Elway NEVER did that. Favre threw for 4,000+ yards in a season four different times. Elway did it once. Favre is second all-time in touchdowns and passing yards. He won a Super Bowl with the Packers who were not nearly as talented as the Steelers, Cowboys, and 49er’s. His touchdown to interception ratio is better than Elway’s. I actually think Favre is underrated because he’s generally considered to be overrated for whatever reasons. Keep in mind, the Packers made the playoffs in 10 of the last 12 years with Favre. Name me some other Green Bay superstar/Hall of Famers that played for GB over that time?
I don’t think Favre will ever be considered as the best quarterback in NFL history. But, as far as I’m concerned, nobody else in NFL history has a better combination of career stats and playoff performance than Favre. Marino has the career stats. Montana has the playoff performance. Elway has the playoff performance. Favre has them both. Unbelievably, there haven’t been many great quarterbacks in NFL history. I think Favre benefits from that and he’s my pick. However, I don’t feel strongly one way or another. In fact, my real answer would be a split between Montana and Favre but that would be a cheap way of answering the question. Any of these guys could really be considered the best ever which is why I asked the question in the first place. There’s really no other position, in any other sport that has so much ambiguity in terms of who was the best ever. However, it is possible that either Tom Brady or Peyton Manning will make this a moot point in 10 years. As much as I hate to admit it, Manning really could end up doing big things. In fact, I’d probably be willing to bet that he’ll be regarded as the best of all-time when he’s finished. His career numbers in just seven seasons are ridiculous. My only hope is that Tom Brady can keep doing what he’s doing and prevent Manning from claiming the mythical title as greatest ever.