I realize this is a subjective list. No one can truly rank the best NFL quarterbacks based on pure statistics, otherwise we'd have to include the likes of Vinny Testaverde, Dave Krieg or Boomer Esiason. No offense to those guys, but there's more to being a great quarterback then just stats. You have to consider many factors, including leadership, performance under pressure, and of course, Super Bowls. Spencer, our sports producer, and I sat down to hash out our top 10 list. We first added the no-brainers to the list, then "nominated" a large group of potential candidates. We then considered stats, eras, wins and impact on the team and league. It wasn't easy, but here is what we came up with.
1. John Elway -- Elway was a no-brainer. He probably would have made the list even without his final two seasons, but adding two Super Bowl wins to his resume made him a shoo-in. The Denver Broncos legend leads the NFL All-time in wins, winning percentage, most Pro Bowl selections for a QB (9), most game winning or game-tying 4th quarter scoring drives (47), Super Bowl appearances as a starting QB (5), and most rushing touchdowns by a QB in the Super Bowl (4). Even when the Broncos were bad, he made them good. He could nearly single-handedly win ball games. And, when you can say "The Drive" and everyone automatically knows you're talking about Elway beating the Cleveland Browns in the 1987 AFC Championship game, you deserve to be here. I know there will be argument as to whether or not he's number one, but his sheer athleticism is scary. How soon we forget, Elway hit .318 with 4 home runs, 25 RBI and 13 stolen bases in 42 games for Oneonta of the New York-Penn League in '82, and would probably have been Lou Piniella's replacement in right for the New York Yankees! That sucker was going to be successful no matter what sport he played. (He played 16 years)
2. Joe Montana -- While Elway is known for "The Drive", Montana is known for being a part of "The Catch". As Cowboys fans are painfully aware, it was Montana who lofted that now famous six yard pass just out of the reach of Everson Walls to Dwight Clark in the back corner of the endzone with less than 90 seconds to play to help the San Francisco 49er's beat Dallas in the 1981 NFC Championship game. Nicknamed "Joe Cool", Montana is top 10 all-time in pass completions, passing yards, and passing touchdowns. But, it was the postseason where Montana really made his mark. He holds post-season records for most career TD passes (45), and passing yards (5772). He holds Super Bowl records for highest career passing rating (127.8), most career completions (83 in 4 games), most consecutive completions in a game(13), most career yards gained (1,142), and most career TD passes (11). He was the winning QB in four Super Bowls, and is the only player to win the Super Bowl MVP three times. He's also the only quarterback to play in four Super Bowls without throwing an interception! (He played 15 years)
3. Dan Marino -- OK, there's no doubt the Miami Dolphins great deserves to be on this list, but some will argue this is too high, while others will say he's the greatest of all time. Here are the facts: He's the only quarterback on the list without a Super Bowl win. He took the Dolphins to the playoffs 10 of his 17 seasons, led them to three AFC Championship game and one Super Bowl, losing to Montana and the 49er's in Super Bowl XIX. But this is where statistics plays a huge role. Marino holds or held nearly every quarterback record in the game. Currently, his name sits atop 26 NFL records, including 61,361 career passing yards, a total that may never be caught. A Super Bowl win probably would have solidified him as the best ever. (He played 17 years)
4. Bart Starr -- I know I'm too young to truly grasp the impact the QB's of eras gone by had, but I'm a student of the game, and I know dominance when I see it. Starr was the best player on the best team of his era. He led the Green Bay Packers to six NFL Championship games, winning 5 of them. He also led the Packers to wins in the first two Super Bowls in 1966 and 1967 and was named the MVP of both of them. He made one of most famous plays in one of most famous games, again, Cowboys fans will well remember, the 1967 "Ice Bowl" in which Starr scored on a QB sneak to win it and send the packers to Super Bowl II. (He played 16 years)
5. Brett Favre -- Some will say this is too high for Favre. There are many QB's below him with more Super Bowl wins. But few if any QB's below him played such a large role in his team's success. Take Favre off the Green Bay Packers, and they don't win anything. I know that's a very subjective statement and probably not entirely accurate, but I see the type of talent he has/had around him and I'm amazed at what he's been able to accomplish. Favre led the Packers to three straight NFC Championships game, and two straight Super Bowls, winning Super Bowl XXXI and losing Super Bowl XXXII. The three-time NFL MVP holds 10 NFL records, including most consecutive starts by a QB, currently standing at 221 (241 if you include the playoffs). He's also second in five other records, including career passing yards (53,615) and career passing TD's (396, which is just 24 behind Marino). (He has played 15 years)
6. Johnny Unitas -- There are many old-timers out there who I know are ringing their fists at me, no doubt saying the Baltimore Colts legend should be higher on this list. He was one of the most dominant players of his era. He was the first QB to throw for 40,000 yards, at a time when QB's just didn't throw the ball that much. His career passing yards (40,239), and career passing TD's (290) still rank in the top 10 all-time, and his 47 consecutive games with a TD pass still stands. He's a three-time league MVP, and was on three NFL Championship teams, two Super Bowl teams and one Super Bowl winner. Notice I didn't say he "led" the Colts to those titles. That's why he's not higher on this list. He was hurt most of the 1968 season and only played in Super Bowl III as a last ditch effort to rally the Colts, who ended up losing to the Jets. And, in Super Bowl V, despite throwing a 75-yard TD pass, he wasn't around at the end of the game to see his team win. So in essence, he's only responsible for the back-to-back NFL Championships in '58 and '59. I know this is another one of those players who was before my time, but I just don't see him as a better QB then the five men in front of him. (He played 18 years)
7. Terry Bradshaw -- Some will say, the Pittsburgh Steelers QB is only on this list because of the Super Bowls. I will argue, that is exactly correct! His career numbers are nowhere near the top of the list in any category. Yet you can't deny his knack for winning. The 1978 NFL MVP led the Steelers to 8 AFC Central Division titles, 6 AFC Championship games, and 4 Super Bowl Championships, including two over the Cowboys. He was part of what is arguably the most famous play in NFL history, the "Immaculate Reception", in which Franco Harris plucked a deflected pass just inches from the ground and ran it in for the game-winning TD against the Oakland Raiders in 1972. I'm not going to hold his acting career against him. (He played 14 years)
8. Troy Aikman -- This is one of those players that could go either way. I can hear the argument, "the only reason he won was because he had the best supporting cast in football." That is correct, the Dallas Cowboys had one of the best teams in football. Jerry Jones and Jimmy Johnson assembled an all-star cast. But, you still have to perform when it counts. Aikman never won a league MVP, but he did win a Super Bowl MVP. And the fact he led the Cowboys to three Super Bowl wins in four years secures him a spot on this list. He was an efficient and accurate quarterback who could keep his cool and win ball games. He holds the Super Bowl record for highest career completion percentage (70%). Sadly, concussions forced Aikman to retire after just 12 seasons. It makes you wonder how much more he could have accomplished. (He played 12 years)
9. Tom Brady -- Some say Brady is too young to be on a list like this. I say hogwash! Look at what he has accomplished in six years with the New England Patriots! When you win three Super Bowls in four years, you deserve to make the list. He holds the Super Bowl record for most passes completed in a game (32). He also has two Super Bowl MVP awards. Brady reminds me a lot of Aikman. He has a coolness under pressure, he's accurate and he wins. (He has played 6 years)
10. Roger Staubach -- Led the Cowboys to their first Super Bowl victory in franchise history, while being named MVP of Super Bowl VI. In all, he led the Cowboys to four Super Bowls, winning two of them(Staubach was a backup to Craig Morton for Super Bowl V). "Captain Comeback" as he was nicknamed, had a knack for fourth quarter heroics, leading the Cowboys to 23 come-from-behind fourth quarter wins. Like Aikman, you wonder what he would have been able to accomplish with a longer career. Staubach only played 11 seasons, because, as a member of the United States Naval Academy, he served five years in the Navy following his graduation from college. He was 27 when he started playing for the Cowboys! (He played 11 years)
I can hear the screaming already. How is Fran Tarkenton not on this list? What about Steve Young, or Sony Jurgenson, or Bob Griese, or Warren Moon, or Jim Kelly or Y.A. Tittle? They are all great quarterbacks who received serious consideration. In fact, Spence and I found it very hard not to include Tarkenton. The 1975 league MVP held nearly every passing record at the time of his retirement. But, he never won the big game, losing in the Super Bowl three times. If Young would have been the starter longer in San Francisco, his numbers may have been astronomical. But, Joe Montana (he was Montana's backup for 5 years!) and a concussion (ended his career) put a damper on that. When you include all of Moon's stats from the Canadian Football League and NFL, his numbers are better than anyone who has ever played the game. But, the CFL is considered lesser talent, and he never played in a Super Bowl, much less won one. Again, assembling this list did not entail the use of rocket science, but it was sure fun doing it.