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The Donnybrook
Monday, July 27, 2009
Best Quarterbacks Ever...

I can't wait for the NFL to start so here's some stuff to discuss if you wish...

1. Joe Montana: The ultimate winner. Montana not only went 4-0 in super bowls but also never threw an interception in a Super Bowl in 122 attempts, while throwing 11 touchdowns and winning a record three MVPs. Montana never had a losing season in a non-strike year after becoming the Niners full-time starter and for those who say "he had so many weapons" let me remind you that he won as many super bowls without Jerry Rice (2) as he did with him (2) and that the Niners won a NFL-record 18 games the year BEFORE Rice was drafted. Rice also is the only Hall of Famer (next year) that he played with on offense AND he took a dump of a Chiefs offense to the 1993 AFC championship in his first year there, leading KC to its first division title since 1971 and first championship game since 1969 after missing almost the previous two seasons. He also has one of the greatest touchdown to interception ratios of all-time. He had the total package as well. He could carve up defenses like a surgeon, he could think quick and he could improvise while moving in the pocket as well as anyone in NFL history. He also was a consummate leader who did what the great ones do and elevated the play of those around him. Still, a record of 117-47-1 kind of says it all. Montana was always at his best when it mattered most and if I had a game that my life depended on he is the guy I’d want under center.

2. Johnny Unitas: Kind of a precursor to Montana in terms of his clutch play and ability to run the two-minute offense. But Unitas revolutionized the game with his play and was basically the Colts offensive coordinator. Fearless and tough as nails, Unitas was unflappable and led the Colts to three world championships while doing what the great ones like Montana do and taking a team that wasn’t that good before he arrived and helping turn it into a dynasty. Unitas threw a NFL record touchdown pass in 47 straight games...in an era where they didn’t have the sissy pass coverage rules they do today. That is truly remarkable and so was Unitas.

3. Otto Graham: Lost in the age of instant historianism, Graham was in a league of his own during the last 40s and 50s. Graham played 10 seasons (4 in the AAFC) and led the Browns to a title game in all 10. That is something we will never come close to seeing again. Yes, there weren’t as many teams an no free agency but it had never happened before and never came close to happening again. Graham was 57-13-1 in six NFL seasons, led the league in passing five times, in yardage three times and led the Browns to three world championships from 1950-55 after leading them to four straight in the AAFC. His WORST season was 8-4 and he flourished in a run-heavy league and, like Unitas, started changing the way the game was played.

4. John Elway: A little bit of the first three combined, Elway turned the Broncos around and most of the time was like Montana in that he excelled when the pressure was highest. What prevents me from saying Elway was as clutch as Montana is that he was downright putrid in two of his three super bowl defeats. Yes, the Broncos were an inferior team to the Redskins and Niners but Elway was flat-out bad in those games, missing open receivers, throwing bad interceptions and looking rattled. But that was the exception. Elway rose to the occasion in his last two seasons, leading the Broncos to consecutive super bowls and winning MVP honors in his final game. Elway got better with age and was amazing in the fourth quarter, constantly leading the Broncos to improbable comeback wins, several times in the playoffs. And the fact that Elway took three Broncos teams to the Super bowl in the 80s speaks to how good he was because he did so without great receivers and in 86 and 87 without much of a running game or a great defense. In the top 5 in yardage and touchdowns, Elway was arguably the most physically gifted quarterback of all-time and had the moxie to go along with it and make him a legend.

5. Dan Marino: Ultimately, quarterbacks largely are judged on how many championships they won, but if ever there was a player who should get a near-pass for not winning a championship it’s Marino who held most of the significant passing records until Brett Favre came along. Marino played most of his 17 years for Dolphins teams that did not have solid running games or defenses (although in the 90s the Dolphins did bulk up their defense significantly, taking that excuse away from Marino but in the 80s the defense was horrible). Marino might be the best passer ever but that does not make him the best quarterback ever. He was a mediocre 8-10 in the playoffs and he missed golden opportunities to get back to the super bowl in 1985 and 92 when the Dolphins hosted AFC championships after winning the division but lost to wild cards New England and Buffalo. The Patriots had not won in Miami since 1966 before routing the Dolphins, 31-14. Still, Marino had one of the quickest releases ever, a great arm, great instincts and a brashness that helped him lead the Dolphins from behind repeatedly. In 1984, Marino had one of the best seasons in NFL history, shattering the previous touchdown pass in a season record with 48 while throwing for a NFL record 5,084 yards.

6. Tom Brady: True, Brady has only been in the league since 2000 but what a career he has put into his seven full seasons as a starter, leading the Patriots to a NFL-record tying three super bowls in four years while breaking the single-season record for touchdown passes in 2007 with 50 while leading the Patriots to an undefeated regular season and their fourth super bowl appearance in seven years. Brady was thrust into the starting role in just his second season when an injury to Drew Bledsoe opened the door. All he did was take a team that was 5-13 in its previous 18 games to the super bowl where the Patriots stunned the heavily favored Rams, winning on a Brady orchestrated game-winning drive. That clutch play is what makes Brady stand out. Montana was Brady’s hero and Brady is as close to a Montana clone as we likely will ever find. He is amazing in the clutch and plays his best in the biggest games. Brady began his career with 10 straight playoff wins and now is 14-3 in the postseason, the second-most playoff wins ever behind only Montana. Twice the Patriots have won the AFC championship on the road and three times they have defeated the team with the NFL’s best record. And Brady led the Patriots to those championships without ever having a 1,000-yard receiver and before 2004, without a consistent running attack. Still Brady consistently threw for more than 3,500 yards and over 20 touchdowns while never throwing more than 14 interceptions. Once the Patriots upgraded his weapons and gave him outstanding receivers, Brady showed how lethal he can be in 2007, throwing 50 touchdowns and just eight interceptions while nearly eclipsing 5,000 yards. If my life hinges on one game I want Montana under center. If I can’t have him, Brady is the guy I want.

7. Peyton Manning: That ability to remain calm and play his best in the biggest games is what separates Brady from Manning in my opinion. Manning is an exceptional quarterback and stat-wise he could end up being the greatest of all-time. Since the Colts drafted him in 1998, Manning has never missed a start and his string of six consecutive 4,000-yard seasons from 1999-2004 is remarkable as was his then record-setting 49-touchdown pass season of 2004. But what keeps Manning behind Brady at this point is his pedestrian postseason performance. Manning is only 7-8 in the playoffs and three of those losses have come at home, twice when the Colts were heavy favorites. The Colts also lost to injury-ravaged 8-8 San Diego last year with Manning leading the Colts to only 17 points. He has thrown nearly as many interceptions in the playoffs as touchdowns and even when the Colts won the super bowl one could argue they did so in spite of him. Manning threw seven interceptions in four games, including five in the first two when the defense bailed him out and led the Colts to win. He was great in the second half of a great comeback win against New England in the AFC championship but one of the reasons they were in that hole was because he threw a pick six to Asante Samuel. He then had the Colts only two turnovers in the super bowl, handing the Bears a gift seven points that gave them a 14-6 first-half lead. People have tried to blame the losses on the Colts defense. Not true. Three times the defense has held the opposition under 20 points in regulation in those losses and three other times they allowed only 20, 21 and 24 points, meaning that all Manning had to do was lead the Colts to average offensive performances in terms of what they averaged point-wise during the season and they would have won. At times, Manning seems too flustered in the playoffs but the bottom line is what he has done in the regular season is amazing. And he is very clutch in the regular season, consistently orchestrating fourth-quarter comeback wins. Here’s the best way for me to say why Manning is one of the best ever. Entering the 2009 season I look at the Colts and see an ordinary team that doesn’t look much like a super bowl contender and yet I feel strongly that they might win it all–and that is all because of Peyton Manning. He’s that good.

8. Sammy Baugh: Often forgotten in an age where ESPN has convinced viewers that if it didn’t happen in the last 15 years or so it’s not that great, Baugh was the original gun-slinger and was the NFL’s top quarterback in the 1930s and 40s. One of the greatest football players ever, Baugh also was a terrific defensive back and punter, Baugh dominated with his arm in an age of mostly running. He retired as the NFL’s all-time leader in yards and touchdown passes and led the Redskins to two world championships, including in his rookie season. Baugh was a four-time passing yardage champion and also sliced up defenses with the kind of accuracy unheard of at that time, completing 56.5 percent of his passes. As tough as nails, Baugh could make all the throws and could beat a defense in a variety of ways.

9. Brett Favre: If Baugh is the original gunslinger, Favre might be the ultimate gun-slinger. Although in his case it’s not always a good thing. Favre has one of the most impressive record in all of sports, never missing a start from 1992 through 2008. He also is the all-time leader in yards and touchdown passes. But the reason Favre is not higher on this list is because for every amazing thing he has done throughout his career, he seemingly has done something equally bone-headed to cost the Packers (and last year the Jets) wins. As Fran Tarketon has said and I’m paraphrasing a little bit...no great quarterback has ever done as many dumb things as Brett Favre. Just look at some of his recent playoff performances for proof. He threw horrible interceptions in overtime that set up the Eagles and Giants for 2003 and 2007 playoff wins and he threw six interceptions in a 2001 loss to the Rams and four in a 2004 loss to the Vikings. And three times since 2002, the Packers lost home playoff games, something that never happened before as Favre played below average to poorly each time. However, Favre was more careful from 1994-1997 when he had one of the best four year runs in NFL history, throwing at least 33 touchdowns and 16 or fewer interceptions each time, while topping 3,800 yards each time and leading the Packers to a world championship and two super bowl appearances. However, since 1997, Favre led the Packers past the second round just once. He is the NFL’s all-time leader in interceptions and has thrown 20 or more interceptions several times. But Favre has one of the best arms in NFL history and his enthusiasm for the game is contagious and it helped him guide the Packers to 13 straight non-losing (12 winning) seasons from 1992-2004 after they had little success after the Lombardi glory days in the 60s. If not for the dumb decisions he has made at key times, Favre would be higher.

10. Roger Staubach: Had Staubach’s naval commitments not prevented him from reaching the NFL sooner there’s no telling what he might have done. Still, few did it better in the 70s than "Captain Comeback" who led the Cowboys to a terrific 85-29 record, two world championships and four conference championships in his nine seasons as starter from 1971-79. Staubach was the ultimate competitor and was amazing under pressure, leading the Cowboys to 14 come-from-behind wins in the final two minutes of a game. Staubach’s running ability also made him nearly impossible to game plan for as there was no telling where "Roger the Dodger" would end up taking a play. Staubach made his teammates better and they always believed they had a chance to win when he was on the field. That might best be illustrated in a Super Bowl XIII 35-31 defeat when the Cowboys nearly rallied in the final minutes after looking hopelessly out of it at 35-17 late in the game. Staubach did not make his debut until he was 27, but led the Cowboys to the playoffs in eight of nine seasons and topped 20,000 yards while becoming one of the games’ all-time great clutch players.


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