When You Think Of The Greatest Quarterbacks Ever…

When You Think Of The Greatest Quarterbacks Ever…
M.D. Wright

***EDITOR’S NOTE: We have to put this argument to rest until it becomes viable again. People are allowing hatred of certain players and teams, and their irrational and unexplained fandom of another team/player cloud their judgment. Let’s be OBJECTIVE about this one.

Out of the 10 Quarterbacks that people like to list as all-time greats, and the 4 or 5 that people like to tout as “Best Ever”, let’s break them down and look at what made them great and also find potential areas to SHARE credit, rather than bestow it all upon one guy.


Off the bat, we can eliminate Tarkenton (never won anything), Young (great, but didn’t play as a starter but 10 full seasons, and only won one Super Bowl as a Starter) — I’ll leave Aikman on the fence for now, because he did win three. But the basis of my argument will push him off the fence, with three other QBs who receive far too much credit having the same argument levied against them as well.

You cannot bestow an INDIVIDUAL DISTINCTION (“Best Quarterback Ever”) and then bring in TEAM ACHIEVEMENTS (Winning multiple Super Bowls). That’s just like changing tenses within a sentence when writing proper English. Your professor will dock you points for going from past tense to present or future tense incorrectly. It weakens your argument, and for football’s sake, it’s INVALID. People just use this Best QB/Super Bowl Wins argument to bolster their already-irrational and questionable objectivity and to further prove their point.

And without further adieu.

Joe Montana.
Montana was great. He was cool under pressure (although he readily admits he was nervous as hell during those comeback wins), didn’t make mistakes to kill his team and ran the West Coast Offense that was designed to play to his strengths. If you are a QB, that is what you do within that system.

But let’s take a moment and assess things. Montana had ALL-WORLD players at darn near every position during his entire tenure in San Francisco (1979-1991). WR Jerry Rice (Best in the NFL the entire time, best of all-time), WR John Taylor (The Prototypical “Z” receiver, even though a WCO doesn’t feature one), WR Roger Craig (Highstepped like Deion Sanders and was a 1,000 yard rushing AND receiving player in the same season in the 80s), RB Ricky Watters (Craig-Lite), FB Tom Rathman (One of the Best Fullbacks since the merger), TE Brent Jones (one of the best TEs of this generation and certainly the best in the 80s/early 90s), a stellar, if not dirty offensive line that never allowed defenders to touch Montana (until ’86 and ’90 Giants got to him, of course), a very good defense, including ALL-WORLD SECONDARIES — not to mention one year where their ENTIRE. DEFENSIVE. SECONDARY. were voted as All-Pro/Pro Bowl STARTERS. Are you kidding me?

Montana didn’t play on a team of slouches. The 49ers won 4 Super Bowls in his tenure (and later a 5th with QB Steve Young at the helm) because they had the best players in the NFL at a number of positions. Not just QB. Montana’s great, but he’s not the best of all-time. He’s #2 in my book.

John Elway.
For me, what sticks out about Elway was watching him while I was growing up in the 80s. They could never win. Sure, part of that was Dan Reeves’ philosophy and bad breaks. But now, all of a sudden Mike Shanahan becomes coach, the Broncos go to a Zone Blocking Scheme so that your grandfather with two bad hips could rush for 1,000 yards for them (I mean, one of the guys who did it, RB Terrell Davis, was a 6th Round pick, and RB Clinton Portis could get 1,000 yards in his sleep — but the other guys were bums and still did it), they land a great receiving corps, implement a great system and played tough defense (their offensive line was notorious for “Leg Whips” like the 80s/early 90s San Francisco 49er offensive lines were known for) and “VOILA!” they win back to back Super Bowls in 1997 and 1998. Elway has the numbers, and even won 2 Super Bowls, but ineptitude for an entire decade and a HALF has to push him down to 3 in my book.

Dan Marino.
He could zing it all day. Best arm I’ve ever seen. He couldn’t run. Nor could his team (especially when it mattered). The Dolphins always seemed one-dimensional to me. Sort of like Dave Kingman — it was all Home Runs or nothing with them. If Marino wasn’t on, they couldn’t run the ball effectively, and while their defenses were usually Top 10 while Marino was QB, they still never won a Super Bowl. And in the one Super Bowl that Marino played (Super Bowl XIX vs. San Francisco), they get utterly destroyed in losing fashion.


#4 for me.

Johnny Unitas.
He played in an era where defending the pass was still somewhat a new art. Pass rushers were just becoming the vogue thing (i.e. Deacon Jones and those of his ilk), defensive backs were mostly clumsy and weren’t athletic as they are now. They took poor angles and most weren’t even good tacklers (excluding D. Lane, D. LeBeau and guys of that ability). Unitas did his thing, however, but it’s hard to put him above the others, even though he did win a Super Bowl.


Brett Favre.
One “lucky” Super Bowl win (more attributable to Reggie White’s clutch pass rush on QB Drew Bledsoe who WAS going to lead the Patriots down the field for a Game Winning Touchdown in Super Bowl XXXI in 1996) and a decade-long trend of killing his team with backbreaking interceptions to kill playoff runs (including a 6 INT playoff game vs. the St. Louis Rams a few years back).

Yes, Favre has numbers for days, played more consecutive games than any non-punter, has all the passing yards, touchdowns (also interceptions), etc. etc. etc. I believe he was very much injured in 1999 and had he sat, and the Packers not gone 8-8 with Favre’s mediocre play, head coach Ray Rhodes would not have been run out of town after just one year (does anyone else STILL find that odd how that turned out — Holmgren stays for 7 years, leaves, Rhodes comes in, Favre is hurt all year, they go 8-8, he gets fired, Sherman comes in, stays for 7 himself and legitimately gets fired after having tons of time to produce results?)

Anyway, I digress.

The number of backbreaking interceptions ’01, ’02, ’07, ’09, just to name a few — if you, the supposed best QB of all-time can’t win FOUR GAMES that could’ve catapulted you to Super Bowls, and you’re the prime reason (not sole, but PRIME — i.e. ’09 Vikes with several fumbles, but they still had a chance to win  despite those fumbles, but “THE INT” killed them) for those late losses, you can’t be the best ever. Sorry.


Tom Brady.
Call me cynical. I don’t care. You can’t call me a hater, because I hated SF more than I have ever hated NE. And I don’t hate Brady, so in this individual vantage point, you really cannot call me a hater for listing him #7, or bringing up what I’m about to say:

THE PATRIOTS CHEATED TO WIN AT LEAST TWO OF THEIR THREE SUPER BOWLS. And the NFL CAUGHT THEM DOING IT. Do (bandwagon) Patriots fans forget this? Do Tom Brady sycophants remember this fact? They were fortunate, due to bad officiating and the NFL’s ongoing hatred for Al Davis, to win the 2001 AFC Championship game and barely eke out a win over the St. Louis Rams, but other than that, while they certainly had good teams for their other two wins, they CHEATED to do so. And since they’ve been caught, they’ve had an 18-0 season derailed by a tougher team and are in a tailspin back to mediocrity.

You cannot put Tom Brady NEAR the top of that list.

Steve Young.
As previously stated, Young simply did not play long enough. He did not become a full-time starter for good with SF until (he did start throughout 1991 while Montana was out for the season, if I recall properly — I’m doing this off dome, forgive me for inaccuracies with years) 1993. While he did have spot starts whenever Montana was nicked up prior to that, only being starter from that point forward. Young retired in 2000, so even though he won 3 total Super Bowls (1 as starter), he didn’t play long enough, and was often concussed (the last one leading to his retirement). #8.

Troy Aikman.
Another frequently concussed QB. He was on teams for the ages, though. The Dallas Cowboys could have easily won 5 straight Super Bowls. God knows the players they had in the years they DIDN’T win it all were there. If not for the 1994 San Francisco 49ers All-Time/All-World squad that wasn’t going to lose to ANYONE and a few bad breaks to start the 1997 season, the Cowboys would have certainly won 5 straight. Aikman had great numbers most of the time, but he never passed for 4,000 if I’m not mistaken — not that you need to with ALL-TIME RB Emmitt Smith in the backfield and some ferocious defensive squads (including All-World/Best of All-Time Cornerback Deion Sanders from 1995 forward). Aikman had a cannon for an arm and threw one of the best deep balls ever, but nah, #9.

Fran Tarkenton.
He ran like Young, Cunningham, Vick all did this generation, he could wing it, but he never won. Plain and simple. And he wasn’t on bad teams in Minnesota either. The Giants were DREADFUL, however. He stays at #10.

Peyton Manning.
As long as he’s healthy, he’s going to have every pertinent passing record (passing yards, touchdowns, rating — close to Young’s all-time record). He may win Super Bowl XLIV, and probably another one or two.

But say he doesn’t?

He hasn’t had all-world players except WR Marvin Harrison — who he didn’t even have this year. His offensive lines were decent, but not great, especially not the past 3 years when they’ve been unable to run the ball. Their running game has been a joke outside of 1999-2005 when Edgerrin James was their feature back and did big things. Their defense’s 2nd best player is almost always on IR (SS Bob Sanders), and their current best defensive player, DE Dwight Freeney, may not even play in Super Bowl XLIV at all. And given all those things, the fact that the Colts run a Cover 2 scheme, therefore, no one really has stellar numbers outside of a defensive lineman, because everyone is in a zone and mans that zone. They have not featured any real superstar players outside of the aforementioned Harrison, Freeney, James and borderline Sanders, but yet I hear people say Manning is not the best ever. He’s the smartest QB ever. His audibles at the line of scrimmage are not posturing. He reads defenses better than anyone ever has. He has the arm to make all the throws. He’s obviously accurate beyond belief, and for people to try to say Montana is the best of all time by mentioning Super Bowl wins (go back and read the way the 49ers broke down as a team top to bottom — if there WAS a bottom — in the 80s and then come back and read what the Colts have had since Manning arrived in 1998) are just ludicrous. You cannot go from making an individual distinction to bring up something that is done by a team (Super Bowls).

And those who will say “well, if he’s so great, he should’ve been able to carry the team”. BS. Montana was able to come back in games because their defense was great. WHAT OTHER TEAM HAS HAD AN ENTIRE SECONDARY VOTED AS PRO BOWL STARTERS IN THE SAME SEASON?

The Colts are fortunate if Sanders is healthy and he becomes that Pro Bowler.

The Colts’ defense ranked 18th overall this season, and that’s usually where they’ve been since Manning arrived. The 49ers were almost ALWAYS Top 5 when Montana was starter in San Francisco.



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