By Thomas Sellers Jr.
OK, it’s time to address the most controversial category of NFL greatness — quarterbacks.
The glamor position, field general, signal caller or undisputed leader of the team are some of the ways to describe the quarterback. Whether it is peewee football or the NFL, the quarterback receives too much credit and gets too much blame.
But one thing we can’t deny is the importance of the position. Signal callers like Jeff Hostetler, Brad Johnson, Jim Plunkett, Doug Williams and Trent Dilfer all have championship rings. They did just enough and managed their teams perfectly to have a season of magic.
While a super season can almost happen to a quarterback like Rex Grossman, the truly special quarterbacks are always in the title hunt. They are transcendent and leave a permanent positive impact on the game.
And the truly great quarterbacks are legendary multiple-time champions. I’m going to rank my 10 favorite quarterbacks of all time. But first these guys are going to line up under a center named honorable mention: Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Roger Staubach, Terry Bradshaw, Sid Luckman, Fran Tarkenton, Troy Aikman, Ben Roethlisberger, Kurt Warner, Sammy Baugh, Warren Moon, Jim Kelly and Norm Van Brocklin.
- Bart Starr
Teams: Green Bay Packers
This selection is very personal for me. Back in the year 2000, I was working at Colonial Country Club as a bartender. A chubby, 19-year-old with braids from Frayser was just relaxing during a lazy portion of the SEC golf fund raiser.
Then the building was buzzing with representation from all 12 teams with football coaches, boosters and a few legendary players. Busy checking my ice levels and inventory before the next rush, I heard a voice say, “Hey Sport, can I get a water?”
Before looking over, I say, “Of course, Sir.” Then I locked eyes with the only man who walked the earth at one point and time that could say ‘I’m the only Super Bowl MVP.’ The winner of the first two Super Bowls was right in front of me looking confused on why he hadn’t received his bottle of water yet.
“Do you know who you are? You’re, you’re, you’re Bart Starr!” were the next words out of my mouth. I was “Starr” struck. He smiled and said, “Hey and you’re Thomas Jr.”
I was shocked, the great Bart Starr knew who I was. Then it hit me, he was reading my name tag. He smiled and said “Thanks Sport.” Moments later I was reflecting on how stupid I must have looked to the Green Bay Packer legend. I looked over to the Alabama Crimson Tide table and made eye contact with Starr once again. He pointed and winked at me.
I had a special moment with a five-time NFL champion, the 1966 NFL MVP and man who holds the NFL record for the highest postseason passer rating at 104.8.
- Steve Young
Teams: Tampa Bay Buccaneers, San Francisco 49ers
My favorite team is the San Francisco 49ers. Like most 9er fans, I was heartbroken in the early 1990s. I had to make the transition to this new quarterback replacing an icon. The new guy was Steve Young. The accurate throwing and gutsy running style of Young won me over pretty quickly. He blossomed into a two-time NFL MVP in 1992 and 1994. The 2005 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee was the Super Bowl XXIX MVP. That night in Miami he tossed six touchdown passes setting a Super Bowl record. Speaking of six, Young won six NFL passing titles. In a brief time, Young compiled 33,124 passing yards, a 64.3 completion percentage, 232 touchdowns, 4,239 rushing yards with 43 rushing touchdowns. The best dual-threat quarterback in NFL history.
- Dan Marino
Teams: Miami Dolphins
OK, let’s get it out of the way. Dan Marino never won the Super Bowl. The 1984 San Francisco 49ers destroyed the Dolphins in Super Bowl XIX systematically. The young Marino never got back to the big game.
He started off his NFL career on a mission. After being passed up by the entire league just about in the 1983 draft, Marino earned the NFL Rookie of the Year in 1983. The next season, Marino was named the NFL MVP. He went on to be a nine-time Pro Bowler.
Before being inducted into the 2005 Class of the Hall of Fame, Marino was a three-time first-team All-Pro (1984-1986). Later in his career, he overcame an Achilles injury to be the NFL Comeback Player of the Year in 1994. Marino went on to break or hold several passing records.
- Brett Favre
Teams: Atlanta Falcons, Green Bay Packers, New York Jets, Minnesota Vikings
The phrase “he loves to play the game” perfectly describes Brett Favre. The kid from Mississippi made the game of football look like fun. Favre paved his way to the Hall of Fame in 2016 enjoying the game on the field. Winner of Super Bowl XXXI, Favre is second in the NFL in career passing yards with 71,838. He has the most career starts of any NFL player with 298. Add another 24 games with the postseason.
Favre was the first player to record 500 career TD passes. He was a three-time First-Team All-Pro and was named league MVP three times. Favre was the first quarterback to beat all 32 teams in the league.
- Otto Graham
Teams: Cleveland Browns
Otto Graham is the Bill Russell of the NFL. He won a lot. Graham was a three-time NFL champion, a four-time AAFC champion and a three-time NFL (UPI) MVP in 1951, 1953 and 1955. Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1965, Graham quarterbacked in 10 championship games during his career.
Graham’s numbers are modest with 174 career touchdowns, 23,584 yards passings and QB rate of 86.6. But he was a leader and intelligent field general. He was valuable.
- John Elway
Teams: Denver Broncos
The most gifted man to ever line up behind center is John Elway. His arm was a rocket launcher. And Elway could make plays happen with his legs. His legacy was about to be questioned with three devastating Super Bowl losses. Then right before he rode off into the sunset, Elway led his Denver Broncos to wins in Super Bowl XXXII and XXXIII.
Before he was surrounded by a good team, Elway was the Denver Broncos. He earned the 1989 AP NFL MVP and was a nine-time Pro Bowler. He carried that franchise for a decade and a half. So this one is for John… you’re one of the best to ever play the position.
- Johnny Unitas
Teams: Baltimore Colts, San Diego Chargers
This entry is for Johnny U, the Golden Arm and Mr. Hightops. One of the best to ever play quarterback in an era is Johnny Unitas. Before there was a Super Bowl, Unitas was a three-time champion. He did help the Colts win Super Bowl V.
To understand Unitas’ greatness, remember the era he played in was dominated by the running game. So his record of longest TD passing streak of 47 was set between 1956-60. It took several decades for Drew Brees to break it.
Unitas was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1979 and is still the gold standard for several quarterbacks.
- Peyton Manning
Teams: Indianapolis Colts, Denver Broncos
Thank the heavens Peyton Manning has two Super Bowl champions. His stats are good enough to be called the best of all time. But a thorn in his side, kept him from winning a bunch more titles. Tom Brady and the New England Patriots were the Darth Vader in Manning’s career.
Despite the playoff defeats to the Patriots, Manning enjoyed success with five MVP awards. Manning took home two NFL Offensive Player of the Year and holds several major NFL passing records like career TD passes (539); most passing yards in a single season (5,477 in 2013); second most passing yards in NFL history (71,940); third most passes completed in NFL history (6,125).
Manning’s greatness lasted his entire career winning his first MVP in 2003 and final award in 2013. Like John Elway, Manning walked off the NFL stage as a champion with the Broncos.
- Tom Brady
Team: New England Patriots
Tom Brady has won the most Super Bowls for a quarterback with six. Here is the rest of resume’:four-time Super Bowl MVP; three-time NFL MVP; three-time First-team All-Pro; two-time Second-team All-Pro; two-time NFL Offensive Player of the Year; NFL Comeback Player of the Year; holds NFL record for most Super Bowl wins as a player with 6. Brady holds multiple Super Bowl records including most TD passes (18), most passing yards (2,838), most completed passes (256), most passing attempts (392) and most consecutive competitions in a single SB (16). He has the NFL record for most games won by a quarterback with 207 and is the only QB to have three consecutive games with 300-plus passing yards, 3-plus TD passes and 0 interceptions. He is tied for most Pro Bowl selections with 14.
We’re almost done, Brady holds NFL record for most postseason games played (40) and holds NFL record for most postseason TD passes with 73. But he did drop two Super Bowls to Eli Manning and one to Nick Foles. Sorry TB12, I have to deducts some points from your G.O.A.T. resume’.
- Joe Montana
Teams: San Francisco 49ers, Kansas City Chiefs
The man known as Joe Cool ranks No. 1 in my countdown for best NFL quarterback ever. Joe Montana is a four-time Super Bowl champion, a three-time Super Bowl MVP, two-time NFL MVP and holds several Super Bowl passing records.
Montana went into the Hall of Fame in 2000. He was the best of his era and led the 49ers to the team of the decade in the 1980s. Montana had eight Pro Bowls, three First-Team All-Pro selections, and two Second Team All-Pro honors.
But what makes Joe No. 1 is what he did on the biggest stage. He beat the Cincinnati Bengals twice against two solid quarterbacks in Ken Anderson and Boomer Esiason. Then Montana destroyed icons on this list like Marino and Elway. Joe holds a Super Bowl record passer rating of 127.8 and holds Super Bowl records for most throws without an interception with 122. I’ve thrown as many interceptions in a Super Bowl game as Montana.
THOMAS SELLERS JR. is the editor of The Millington Star and both the sports editor and a weekly personal columnist for West 10 Media/Magic Valley Publishing. Contact him by phone at (901) 433-9138, by fax to (901) 529-7687 and by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.