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Best Quarterbacks Ever: Results

So let me tell you my thinking with the Five Greatest Quarterbacks Ever survey — I was kind of interested in seeing if Peyton Manning’s ridiculous, amazing, spectacular season would have an obvious effect on the numbers. It seems that, many of us, even if we consciously TRY to avoid it, cannot help but allow the latest bits of news to disproportionally sway our opinions. Think how often one announcer will say, “he broke out of a 2-for-23 slump with a game-winning double,” and the other will say, “It’s great to see him hitting again.” The game winning double STILL meant that the batter was still three for his last 24. By that measure, he’s still hitting lousy. But because that LAST hit was a double, there’s a sense that something has changed.

The last thing — it just sticks in our minds. Peyton Manning certainly was viewed as an all-time great quarterback before this amazing season. And he should be — I mean, he’s pretty much first, second or third in just about every meaningful passing category. He’s second in completions, second in yards, second in touchdowns — all to Brett Favre — but he’s still 19th in interceptions with 126 fewer than Favre. He’s third all-time in passer rating, just a tenth of a point behind Steve Young (and well behind Aaron Rodgers, who has only been a starting quarterback for five-plus seasons). He’s amazing and everyone knew that before this season began.

BUT … I’m not sure where people would have put him on the all-time list before this year. Because there are knocks. We all know that. He has won just one Super Bowl, and while I’m very much against conflating individual excellence with team excellence other people strongly believe a quarterback’s greatness is reflected in the championships won. Most of the other greats — Montana, Unitas, Graham, Star, and of recent vintage Brady — have won more than Manning.

Also, there was always the thing about him playing most of his games in domes. Here are a few numbers for you: Manning has played 128 of his 229 regular season games in domes (before Sunday’s game against Jacksonville). His quarterback rating in domes is 104.3. His quarterback rating outside is 93.6. Now, this is not necessarily direct cause and effect — obviously the vast majority of the dome games were home games in Indianapolis and quarterbacks obviously play better at home. Still, that’s a sizable difference and part of the story.

My sense is that before the season began, people generally had Brady ahead of Manning. It was an argument, of course, and many people are staunch Manningites. But I think more had Brady. But this year has obviously been striking. Brady has been beat up and his receivers have been pretty terrible and the numbers have been what announcers like to call “very un-Bradly-like.” He even had a game without a touchdown pass. Meanwhile, as discussed, Manning is putting up absurd, ridiculous, video game numbers — 76% completions, 20 touchdowns in his first five games, 1 interception, crazy. He’s on pace for 6,000 yards, 64 touchdowns, three interceptions, I mean, seriously, SHUT THE GAME DOWN. It would be like a Gretzky season or a Bonds seasons.

So I was curious if five games would alter people’s all-time quarterback rankings.

I’ll let you decide if it did. Here are the ten quarterbacks with the highest point totals in our survey:

10. Sammy Baugh (547 points)

Yeah, I was kind of surprised too. Baugh finished ahead of Terry Bradshaw (11th), Bart Starr (12th) and Roger Staubach (13th) not to mention a personal favorite, Dan Fouts (19th). That’s not to say he wasn’t an excellent choice. Slingin’ Sammy Baugh was a pioneer — he was really the first NFL quarterback as we now know it. Baugh didn’t run much, he dropped back, scanned the field, controlled defenses through the air. Understand that in his first NFL season, 1937, Baugh completed 47.4% of his passes and had a 50.5 passer rating and LED THE NFL IN BOTH (this was obviously before the passer rating was invented — we’re measuring retroactively). After that, he developed the quarterback position into something new. He led the NFL in completion percentage NINE times, my favorite being 1945 (admittedly, a war year) when he completed more than 70% of his passes, and only two other quarterbacks compete even half their passes. He was ahead of his time. In fact, he helped create the future.

9. Steve Young (1,042 points)

I’ve long thought that, other than the brevity of his career, Steve Young has his own argument as the best quarterback in NFL history. That brevity matters — Young only played 16 games three times in his career. But I think Steve Young is like Sandy Koufax in that his peak is as great as anyone’s ever. From 1991 to 1998, he posted a 102.4 quarterback rating because he completed 66.7% of his passes, threw 195 touchdown passes against 76 interceptions and averaged a fairly remarkable 8.7 yards per pass attempt. And that does not even incorporate his brilliance as a runner. His teams went 82-29 over that stretch, won one Super Bowl, reached three other conference championships, I’m not sure any other quarterback ever has combined the athleticism, accuracy and awareness of Steve Young.

8. Brett Favre (1,475 points)

I’m a little surprised he’s this low, or more to the point, surprised he finished behind Dan Marino. He now holds every major passing record at this point — most completions, most attempts, most yards, most touchdowns, most interceptions, most starts, most sacked, most jeans commercials, most “he’s like a kid out there” references, just most everything. Favre’s seeming indestructibility was always his most awe-inspiring aptitude. He started all 16 games for 17 consecutive years. When you think of the violence of the NFL, this is mind-boggling. He really was a force of nature the way he would force balls into coverage year after year — many of his records will get broken, but I’ll bet that his interception record of 336 will last pretty much forever. Favre began to annoy a lot of people the last few years of his career — the Deadspin stuff, the retire or not retire Hamlet stuff, the disastrous final season — and I can’t help but wonder if this is why he’s only eighth on the list.

7. Otto Graham (1,559 points)

People have an easier time, it seems, imagining old-time baseball players in the modern day than they do for football players. I supposed that makes sense when you consider the two games. Still, any baseball poll you ever see will have Babe Ruth listed as the best player ever (or certainly in the top two or three) even though he started his career almost 100 years ago.

And then there’s Otto Graham, who did not play in Ruth’s time but much more recently — his career overlapped with Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron, etc. Heck, he even overlapped with Brooks Robinson, Roberto Clemente and Sandy Koufax. But football is a much younger sport than baseball, and football has changed much more than baseball, and so Graham is tougher for many to place in a modern context. You probably know that he led the Cleveland Browns to the championship game of their league every single year of his career, from 1946 to 1955. The Browns won seven titles (four of them in the old All-American Football Conference) and Graham was the clear leader and star, leading the league in passing yards five times, in touchdown passes three and his teams went a mind-boggling 104-17-3.

6. Dan Marino (3,293 points)

More people chose Otto Graham (116) as the greatest ever quarterback than Marino (99) but Marino appeared on almost 800 more ballots which is why there is such a huge points difference between No. 7 and No. 6. Many people will insist that Dan Marino was the best passer of footballs who ever lived. I go along with that. His release was lightning, his arm impossibly strong. Remember: he came to the Miami Dolphins who were led by the famously conservative Don Shula. That team never had a quarterback who thrown the ball even 375 times in a season. The team’s iconic quarterback before Marino was Bob Griese — he had topped out at 355 passes in a season, and that was BEFORE Shula took over. Under Shula, he only twice threw the ball even 300 times in a season.

But Marino was so ridiculously good at throwing footballs that Shula IMMEDIATELY changed the entire offense and his lifelong philosophy for Marino’s arm. Marino only made nine starts his rookie season, but threw the ball 296 times. The next year, he threw the football FIVE HUNDRED SIXTY FOUR times. That, of course, was Marino’s Wayne Gretzky season, the one where he smashed every record imaginable. He threw for more than 5,000 yards — never been done. He threw 48 touchdown passes — the record had been 36. His top receivers — Mark Clayton and Mark Duper — were young and tiny and entirely unproven until Marino came along. And the Dolphins went to the Super Bowl. It was, all-in-all, a season unlike any in pro football history.

Two years later, by the way, Marino threw the ball 623 times.

Everybody knows Marino never went back to the Super Bowl after 1984. He put up amazing offensive seasons — he led the league in passing yards four more times and he would retire with pretty much all the career passing records Brett Favre would break — but being blunt, he was never quite as good as he was on ’84. His passer rating in that extraordinary 1984 season was 108.9. He never again came close to breaking 100, and for the rest of his career his passer rating was a blandly disappointing 84.3. He threw for a lot of yards, he threw a lot of touchdown passes, he threw a lot of interceptions, and Shula never really was able to build a great team around him. People will always argue if that was a Marino shortcoming or simply a failure of imagination by Shula’s Dolphins.

5. John Elway (4,405 points)

Bill James once, rather famously, filed a one-word entry on Jeff Bagwell in the Historical Abstract. That word: “Pass.” Some have guessed that Bill was making a coded statement about Bagwell and PEDs, but Bill says that’s was absolutely not the reason — this was the late 1990s, when nobody was talking about PEDs. Why did he do it? He won’t say.

I will: John Elway destroyed my Cleveland Browns and, in many ways, my youth.

So: Pass.

4. Johnny Unitas (4,411 points)

Very, very close voting between Elway and Unitas, which is kind of fascinating. Eighty more people included Elway on their ballot. But 33 more people voted Unitas as the best ever which is why he’s ranked ahead.

You certainly know Unitas’ basic story. He was a ninth-round pick by the Pittsburgh Steelers — of the top four all-time quarterbacks, only one was a first round pick.* Dan Rooney, in his fun book “My 75 Years With The Pittsburgh Steelers” writes that Steelers head coach Walt Kiesling never liked Unitas because — get this — he wasn’t SMART ENOUGH to be an NFL quarterback. Rooney, perhaps exaggerating and perhaps not, would write that he PLEADED with Kiesling to give Unitas a chance. But Kiesling did not. The Steelers released Unitas in 1955 and he ended up playing semi-pro football for a team called the Bloomfield Rams.

*Not to ruin the ending but of the Top 4, only Peyton Manning was picked in the first round. Joe Montana was a third rounder, Tom Brady a sixth-rounder and Unitas, as mentioned, a ninth round pick.

Unitas signed with the Colts the next year and started seven games. The year after that he led the NFL in passes, yards, touchdowns and yards per attempt. The next year, Unitas led to the Colts to the NFL Championship game against the New York Giants and engineered what is probably the most famous final two-minute drive in NFL history. That ended the greatest game ever played. One year later, the Colts played that the Giants in the championship game again. This time, Unitas threw two touchdown passes and ran for another and the Colts blitzed New York 31-16.

He was the essence of 1950s cool — crewcut (the one Grandpa Simpson would say was “a haircut you can set your watch to!”), high-tops, perfect over the top throwing motion, tough as sandpaper. He led his team on 29 game-winning drives, a record when he retired in 1973. He liked to take the big risk when you least expected it figuring that in that moment of nervous fury, he would hold up better than his opponent.

When Unitas retired, he was pretty widely viewed as the greatest quarterback ever, much in the same way that Wilt Chamberlain (or his nemesis Bill Russell) were widely viewed as the greatest basketball players ever when they retired. Eight percent of our voting block still voted Unitas as the best.

3. Tom Brady (5,025 points)

2. Peyton Manning (8,971 points)

Well, that sort of gets to the heart of the experiment, doesn’t it? Of course, I wish I had this vote before the season began to compare the numbers. But I’m willing to bet that it would have been A LOT closer before the season began — and Brady might have been ahead.

I just think we just cannot help but be swayed by what we just saw. For instance, I just watched a game where Tom Brady was pretty terrible against the New Orleans Saints. Admittedly his receivers are beat up, and the Saints sacked him five times and all that. Still, he looked very much out of sync. In the fourth quarter, on what appeared to be his last chance, he launched a prayer of a pass that was easily intercepted — it was just not the sort of thing you ever saw Tom Brady do. And I thought: “Man, Brady’s kind of losing it.”

And then the Patriots got the ball back with more than a minute left because the Saints did not even TRY to get a first down. Then Brady hit Julian Edelman for 23, hit Austin Collie for 15, whipped a quick pass to Aaron Dobson for six, just barely missed Edelman on a deep pass down the middle, hit Edelman in the chest with a deep pass down the middle that he dropped when crunched from behind, hit Collie for nine yards on fourth down, spiked the ball and threw over-the-top 17 yards to Kenbrell Thompkins for the winning touchdown. The whole series seemed to happen as fast as you just read that paragraph. And, like that, I remember: “Oh yeah, Tom Brady’s a celestial being.”

One thing I always forget is that, pound-for-pound, Manning’s numbers are really not that much better than Brady’s. I think the narrative is always something along the lines of: “Manning has the numbers, Brady has the rings.” But neither theme is entirely right. Manning has played many more games than Brady and he has completed a slightly higher percentage of passes (65.5% to 63.5%). But Manning’s impressive 456-to-210 touchdowns-to-interceptions (2.2 to 1) is not quite as good as Brady’s (341 touchdowns, 126 interceptions, 2.7-to-1). Manning’s astonishing 2005 is more or less matched by Brady’s 2007. Manning’s 96.7 quarterback rating is only a touch better than Brady’s 96.1 … and Brady obviously didn’t play nearly as many indoor games.

On the other hand, Manning gets a bad rap because he’s “only” won one Super Bowl while Brady has won three. Manning’s record after his rookie season is a fantastic 157-57, not so different from Brady’s 141-40. He has won one Super Bowl, yes, but he led the Colts to another and a championship game and they are Super Bowl contenders again this year Those Colts teams often had mediocre defenses along with various other deficiencies. The year before he got hurt the Colts made the playoffs. After he got hurt, they were the worst team in pro football. He went to Denver and led the Broncos to a 13-win season after six seasons of utter mediocrity. And now, with him playing otherworldly football, the Broncos look all-but-unbeatable.

It’s a classic argument, Brady vs. Manning, that goes beyond the cliches. I think Manning right now has a huge lead because he’s been so great this season. But once that settles down, I’ll be interested to see where this ends up.

1. Joe Montana (10,004 points).

In the end, the top spot was not particularly close. More people voted Joe Montana the greatest quarterback in NFL history than Manning and Brady COMBINED. His genius was in his precision (five times he led the league in completion percentage), his sense of the big moment and the effect he would have on opposing teams. Howie Long once said that the 49ers could just prop Montana up like “El Cid” in the movies and defenses would cower. Long also offered a great quote about Montana’s ability to beat teams with soft, seemingly harmless passes: “He would knock you out in a pillow fight.”

Of course, his most famous moment came in the game-winning drive against Cincinnati in Super Bowl XXIII. The drive itself was legendary — 90 yards, 10 plays, completions to Roger Craig (8 yards), John Frank (7 yards), Jerry Rice (7 yards), Rice again (17 yards), Craig again (13 yards), Rice again (27 yards), Craig again (8 yards) and John Taylor, finally, 10 yards and the touchdown. But the famous moment came before it began when everyone gathered around in the huddle and Montana suddenly and oddly pointed to the stands and said, “Hey look, there’s John Candy.”

The players took from this that Montana was so loose and free in that extraordinarily tense moment that he was noticing famous people in the stands. That’s one explanation. Another is that Montana’s mind simply does not work like most minds do, that he simply did not FEEL pressure the same way most of us do. A third is that, hey, it was John Candy.

Montana was nothing at all like his younger self when he finished his career in Kansas City — but they propped up El Cid and, dammit, the Chiefs won 17 of the 25 games he started, he led them to the AFC Championship game (and the Chiefs last playoff victory to this day) and Montana is still beloved in Kansas City. I wouldn’t say Chiefs fans consider him their own — they know he’s San Francisco’s. But I would say they feel like they got their own piece of the greatest quarterback in NFL history.

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66 Responses to Best Quarterbacks Ever: Results

  1. Sam says:

    I voted Manning over Brady, and would have before this season. Several reasons:

    Brady has had the benefit of Belichek. Tony Dungy is a great person and a good head coach, but Belichek is stupidly good.

    Earlier in their careers, Brady had a much much better defense. While the NE defense has gotten worse these last few years, Belichek has managed to come up with some pretty effective (and off the wall) schemes to cover for it. Indy basically paid Freeney and Mathis to go all out for sacks and filled the rest of the roster with rookies (and an oft-injured Bob Sanders). They never could stop the run and were only truly effective when they had a lead and played against bad teams.

    In terms of offensive talent, it’s difficult to say whether one had an advantage. Harrison only played with Manning (and after the Colts dropped him NOBODY even tried to sign him). Other ex-Colts struggled on new teams. Only Reggie Wayne has proven himself with a different quarterback. Brady’s cast has gotten stronger lately, but still, it’s tough to compare.

    Patriots minus Brady = 11 wins (and Cassel didn’t really show much in KC). While the Colts were awful without Manning.

    Manning also seems to have had much more control over play-calling/offensive schemes than Brady (subjective, which most of this is, but this is a subjective rating).

    Honestly, they’re both very very close. I know that rings hold a lot of sway (and Manning hasn’t always been great in the playoffs, though Brady has struggled as of late), but Manning has an edge in my mind, particularly because this question gives me chills: imagine if Manning had Belichek as his coach?

    • jgidleon says:

      Folks: Montana was a product of Walsh as Brady is a product of Belichick. I guess everyone is blind to what actually happens on the field. John Elway is the greatest quarterback to ever play the game. Perfect size, incredible arm, scrambling ability, playmaking ability, the comebacks, the drive, inferior coaching concept (Reeves) and talent around him–no chance anyone could do what Elway did. Could Montana throw or create plays like Elway? Is Brady or Manning the athlete Elway was? Here is the all-time list: 1) Elway; 2) Staubach; 3) Brees; 4) Marino; 5) Manning; 6) Bradshaw; 7) Montana; 8) Tarkenton; 9) Unitas; 10) Brady. I just continue my amazement that John Elway has always been overlooked. I think he’s actually the greatest football player of all-time in the NFL, with serious consideration to Lawrence Taylor and Emmitt Smith. No one gets it about Elway.

  2. H.Y. says:

    Joe Montana is on top because of his playoffs legend. It’s debatable whether relatively small sample like playoffs record should be valued more than regular season record, but at least ‘Montana was superb in playoffs’ is a fact, so I get that. And Montana was no slouch in regular season as well. (though he was worse than both Manning and Brady, I think….)

    About Manning vs Brady argument, I want to add followings on the discussion.

    1. Stat wise, Manning and Brady seemed close. But you forgot to mention that Manning has quite a big advantage in sacks. Despite playing 47 more games, Manning got sacked 257 times while Brady sacked 314 times. Considering Brady played behind better offensive line than Manning for the most part, it’s even more impressive.

    2. Supporting cast argument is always tough, but I think Manning had more helps in skill postion, while Brady played behind superior offensive line. I think it’s not unreasonable to call it a wash.

    3. Bill Belichick is better than Jim Mora, Tony Dungy, Jim Caldwell, and John Fox without a doubt. I think it’s not even close.

    4. Ring argument is almost always stupid, and in this case it’s even worse. Because Brady’s individual playoffs record is no better than Manning. One can argue Manning has been better, especially recent times, but it’s very close anyway so I don’t think it’s that meaningful. Brady got more rings because his teammates played better than Manning’s teammates.

    5. It’s already mentioned in No.1, but Manning played almost 50 more games than Brady should not be overlooked. Manning played almost 3 full seasons more and put up better or at least similar rate numbers with Brady. That should count.

    6. Manning played many games at indoor stadium is a legit argument for pro-Brady side. And I think that’s the only one for them.

    So it goes like this: Manning has better regular season numbers than Brady in both quality and quantity wise, and their supporting cast is a wash. Brady played under superior coach, and their individual playoffs records are very close. But Manning played at indoor more than Brady.

    If someone think that last one is big enough to put Brady over Manning, then I won’t argue. I have no idea how much impact does it have on the record, and there could be many opinions.

    However, in my opinion that’s not enough to put Brady over Manning, so I’ll go Manning over Brady.

    • Kyle says:

      You’re wrong about Manning and Brady’s respective playoff records (point 4). Brady is 17-7 while Manning is 9-11. That is a _huge_ difference. Winning playoff games is really hard and Brady has won more than any QB. And if you’re going to claim that rings don’t really matter, then you also have to give Brady some credit for his two Super Bowl _losses_. Just getting there is very difficult. (Which, admittedly, should probably raise Elway in my estimation: I didn’t have him in my top five.)

      Overall, I agree, it’s really close, but I have to go with Brady because I’m a Patriots fan.

      • Dan says:

        Brady was also 9-0 in his first 9 playoff starts, putting up such lines as:
        12/18 – 115y – 0 TD
        16/27 – 145y – 1 TD
        21/41 – 201y – 1 TD
        22/37 – 237y – 1 TD / 1 INT
        18/27 – 144y – 1 TD
        14/21 – 201y – 2 TD

        A truly Dilferean performance over 3 years.

        Since then — 8-7, which is NOT all that far from Manning.

      • H.Y. says:

        W/L record is not about individual. It’s about team. Brady didn’t win 17 games. Patriots did.

        Let’s break down Manning and Brady’s individual post season record.

        20G / 481/761(63.21%) / 5,679yds(7.46Y/A) / 32TD / 21INT / 7.06AY/A / 88.4Rating

        24G / 553/887(62.34%) / 5,949yds(6.71Y/A) / 42TD / 22INT / 6.54AY/A / 87.4Rating

        Brady played 4 more games, threw more passing yards and touchdowns. Manning has better passer rating, better adjusted yards per attempt.

        Brady has volumes, Manning has quality.

      • Jovins says:

        He’s not talking about playoff records. He’s talking about playoff performance. When you’re judging an individual, it’s silly to give them all the credit for their team’s performance.

  3. Bruce Corigliano says:

    I’m old enough to remember Otto Graham and Y.A.Tittle but recall more of Terry Brradshaw, Roger Staubach, Ken Stabler and Jim Plunkett (I am not a Raiders fan).
    What strikes me about Brady is he’s great with a great team around him but he’s good enough without same. It’s the old Jordan, Johnson and Bird argument. He makee those around him so much better. Close call between Brady and Montana.

  4. abe_froman says:

    thats ridiculous. manning is the greatest QB ever. you can argue aaron rogers, or marino, or brady, or steve young; but saying montana is like saying cy young is the best pitcher b/c he had the most wins. it’s stupid, and lazy.

    • Yan says:


      I don’t think you have watched enough football to call anyone stupid or lazy. Joe Montana was a part of 4 winning Super Bowl teams and won 3 MVP’s. The first two Super Bowl’s he won featured wide out’s of Dwight Clark and Freddie Solomon, solid, not spectacular players. He has “The Drive” and “The Catch” to his resume which are shown at two of the top plays of all- time. Peyton Manning has the game that he beat the Pats to go to his 1st Super Bowl, but lacks those special moments. Steve Young’s only problem was getting a late start or we may have a different view. Abe, i am not sure of what your background is watching NFL football, however calling others stupid and or lazy makes you look bitter and foolish.

      • John says:

        I have to agree with Abe, though I might not have been quite as adamant. People put toooo much stock in Super Bowls. I am not saying it should not count for something. But let me ask you. If you insert an above average quarterback for the niners during Montana’s run, how many super bowls do they win? I still think 2 o r 3. Especially, when you are winning 55-10. Montana was a great system QB. My idea of a great quarterback is one that can transcend teams. Marino could elevate any team. Certainly Manning. I am not sure that Montana can. Montana not in my top 5. and by the way, I am a Notre Dame fan, so it has nothing to do with disliking him. Peyton is the greatest. After that, not sure.

        • Bill u says:

          Joe was such a horrible qb that he elevated the chiefs to their only playoff win since SB III. So he did have an influence on those around him where Marino only ever played for the fins so we’ll never know what he woulda coulda shoulda done elsewhere. Joe took a losing team to the Super Bowl his first season as a full time starter. And did it without Rice or Craig. Look up the old Niners roster and you won’t find many recognizable names.

  5. Jeffrey says:

    So glad you said that about Steve Young. As much as I loved the play of Joe Montana, Young is my choice as greatest QB ever. Always amazed by his football IQ, skill set, and accuracy.

    • Rob22 says:

      Young played in the USFL, then at Tampa for two years where he was not greata and still a better runner than a passer. Then the 49ers got him and he was a backup for four years. So, Young was 30 years old before he was a regular starter for the 49ers. Then for seven years he was, arguably, the best QB in football…. though he only got one Super Bowl.

      By comparison, Manning has been in the league 14 seasons. Outside of his first season and his injured season, he has been arguably the best QB in football every other season. Brady has much the same type of an argument.

      So, in arguing Young, you are essentially trying to compare 7 great years to other QBs, and I haven’t listed them all, who had many years where they were great. Young is a HOFer, but his career was short & not compable to QBs who did it as well for longer.

  6. RotoValue says:

    Speaking of the latest news skewing perceptions, how many votes came after Brady’s last-second TD drive to beat the Saints yesterday, and how did Brady do in them, compared to the earlier ones?

  7. Chris says:

    It’s always kind of a bummer that Bart Starr gets overlooked in these. The JS recently had a great piece on him:

    • David says:

      Starr, along with Otto Graham, are great examples of the “football-didn’t-exist-before-the-Super-Bowl” mentality that most fans have. A lot of fans rank these QBs ranked by championships… but they don’t include non-Super-Bowl championships. Which is silly. Well, the whole argument of including championships to the extent that most people do is silly… but even taking for granted that I’m not going to change anyone’s mind about that, it’s STILL silly to not give these two (and Unitas, as well) as much credit they deserve. That said, Starr was not in my top five, nor was Unitas, nor was Brady. There are almost 7 QBs whom I have trouble separating, and I could see myself going any of 5040 ways with those 7 guys (Montana, Graham, Manning, Brady, Favre, Unitas, and Elway). And the tier right below them is another 10-12 guys, among whom distinctions are even MORE difficult to make. Golly, this is harder than arguing about baseball…

  8. Rob22 says:

    I think the Brady/Manning argument amounts to some pretty minute hair splitting. They have both put up huge numbers, led their teams to many great seasons & lots of wins. They are almost always in the Top 3-5 in the league, and frequently #1. It’s like arguing Mantle vs. Mays. You can make an argument either way…. but it doesn’t really matter. Both are among the greatest of all time. Not surprisingly the vote has them 2 and 3. You really can’t get any closer than that. For me, Manning’s current season had nothing to do with it. I think the season where Manning was injured and the Colts became horrible overnight established his value to the team…. just in case anyone was unclear about it.

  9. ceolaf says:

    Obviously, people differ on the importance of evaluating the rest of the team and the coaching, and of counting rings. We know that. We could as much ask reader to vote on those issues as vote on the players themselves.

    But I think that there’s another issue in the Manning vs. Brady debate that is not a values/priorities issue: aging.

    Manning SHOULD have better counting stats. He is older and was a starter earlier. He should have hit his peak earlier — and stat-wise, it looks like he did. Brady has had some absolutely incredible statistical seasons, but they came years after Manning’s incredible statistical seasons started.

    Two years ago, it looked like it was over for Manning. Make injury late in his career, and even if he DID come back, no one beats Father Time. Meanwhile, Brady was having one of his best individual seasons (i.e., statistical).

    And then, these 20+ games of 2012 and 2013.

    We know that players age. We know that players peak, and decline. But we also know that some players age better than others.

    So, it’s not just these past 5 or 6 games by Manning that are impressive. It’s the last 24 (?), and what they tell about Manning’s aging curve.

    So, then we turn to Brady. The thing is, despite their different playing experience — nearly 50 regular season games — they are only a year apart in age. It turns out that Brady might be facing the downside of the aging curve, too. And it’s HIS performance this year — including yesterday — that makes one think he’s past his prime. Those are the recent info, which we can add to what we know about aging players.

    So, if it was tied or close to tied 14 months ago? Well, it shouldn’t be at all, anymore.

  10. Chris Smith says:

    I still so absolutely no knocks against Elway as the best ever. He guided a team to three Super Bowls in a row (though they lost,) then won two in a row later. Physically speaking, he could throw a football like it was a dart and he had wheels to go with it. I don’t know that his accuracy was as good as Steve Young’s, but he wasn’t zipping them to Jerry Rice, either.

    As a side note, it’s too bad Big Ben fell on harder times. Early going, it looked to me like he would be the best ever. Won a Super Bowl right out of the gate, had (still has) GREAT mobility for a guy who could have been a fullback, and was lighting things up with Ward and Co. Even now, he carries what’s left of the team on his shoulders, but everyone else grew old around him.

    Back on topic….Montana won a lot, Manning is probably the best brain, Brady has the coolest head, and Marino/Favre had the best arms ever. Elway was the complete package…

  11. jim louis says:

    Peyton’s maybe the smartest and most efficient QB ever. Peyton IS his team’s offense. He’s remarkable. He doesn’t have the strongest arm and isn’t the best runner, but he’s very accurate, knows how to avoid sacks, and knows where the ball should go.

    But playoff records matter. Marino (8-10) is the only elite NFL QB I can find with a worse playoff record than Manning. Guys like Lamonica, Kosar and Fouts are all in the .400’s as well. As for Elway, some will say that that his legacy was bailed out by Terrell Davis. But even if you take away Elway’s 7 playoff wins in ’97 & ’98, Elway would be 9-7. Elway carried multiple teams to the Super Bowl in the 80’s almost single-handedly.

  12. Steve N says:

    No Roger Staubach?

  13. Ericanadian says:

    With regards to Favre, I’d say his willingness to sacrifice his team in order to continue his consecutive starts streak was the biggest knock against him for me. Watching him play terribly with a hurt thumb with Rodgers on the bench made it hard to respect him professionally and the fact that he did it again in New York when his shoulder was done just made it all the more clear what kind of player he was.

    That he was a turd outside of football certainly doesn’t help his case, but that was outside of football. I’d add his unwillingness to acknowledge Anthony Calvillo taking the record for most passing yards in pro football to his list of non-football douchebaggery.

    • David says:

      I don’t agree at all about Favre’s streak. If the coaches had wanted him to sit, what could he have done about it? I’m a Packers fan who’s football watching began about 1995 – just a couple years after Favre took over as QB (yes, I’ve been a football watcher for nearly 20 years, and my team has had only 3 starting QBs in that time – and one of them was for one game… and HE had the most yards of any of them in a single game). Coaches were afraid to bench Favre, in my opinion, because of the backlash from fans. I mean, look how bad it got when they finally DID let him go. Should Favre have volunteered to sit out, to make that choice easier for the coaches? Maybe. But football players often do whatever they can to stay on the field. It’s an admirable quality. The kind of hubris you need to think “Even at 50%, I’m STILL better than the other guy” is EXACTLY the kind of hubris you need to succeed as an NFL player. So I get it, and I don’t knock Favre for it. I understand why someone would, but I respectfully disagree.

    • Ed S says:

      I don’t disagree with the gist of your comment but I am wondering what season Favre played with a hurt thumb and Rodgers on the bench?

      As far as I remember, Favre’s ‘hurt thumb’ misadventure was in 1999, 6 years before Rodgers was drafted. The GB backup at that time was Matt Hasselbeck in his 2nd year, and likely not yet ready for multiple game action as an NFL starter.

      I put the ‘decline of Favre’s reputation’ to the playoff game at St. Louis after the 2001 season where he threw something like 6 INTs.

  14. blair says:

    Are you going to post full results?

    I want to see where Sonny came in.

    Just so I can continue to say “underrated” whenever he comes up/I bring him up in conversation.

  15. Bob says:

    This whole debate speaks to the problem of comparing individuals from a true team sport. It’s just too hard to isolate the QB from the coaches, O-lines, skill players, etc.

    I would ask this poll another way… “If you had to win one game, which QB would you choose?”

    My choices:
    1) Montana
    2) Brady
    3) Manning

    209) Marino
    210) Fouts

    642) Favre

  16. Shawn says:

    I find it hysterical how much the Brady – Manning argument is to the Montana – Marino argument. They are two different styles of quarterback, even though they’re both “pocket passers”. Like Marino, Manning is the greatest thrower the game has seen. However, when the moment is biggest, Montana (and Brady) have been bigger. Manning and Marino can have offenses running like a finely tuned watch. Montana and Brady on their best days could too, but their strength was that they knew how the watch worked, and could make the watch work how they wanted – even if not as finely tuned. Brady and Montana can “will” a game to go how they want, while Manning and Marino can “will” plays to go the way they want. Ultimately time told the tale of the greatest quarterback of all time for Montana just as it will for Brady Manning will always be in the conversation, but a few spots behind Brady and one before Marino……unless Manning secures a few more rings and some legenday playoff performances (positive ones : ) – then there is a different argument. For my money, Otto Graham was the best QB of all time – can’t match his ability to win. Just can’t.

    As a New Englander, and obviously a Patriots fan, I have a bias. It has been very difficult for me to be able to truly enjoy Manning’s greatness because I always felt like it made my guy less great. In the past few years I realized how stupid that was. They’re both great, and the argument will never really be definitively over. What that has given me is the ability to watch Manning with the same awe and appreciation that I have watched Brady with since he took over for Bledsoe. Manning is awesome. It is just plain fun to watch him play the game. It is rare that we have these type of players to watch. It has essentially been since Marino and Montana. There have been plenty of great quarterbacks in the league since Marino/Montana, but none of them ended up in the conversation for greatest all time – as there are many great quarterbacks today. Most will not enter the conversation either. I just hope that the Manning fans can come to the realization that I did, and enjoy Brady for what he is – in the same conversation for the best of all time, and damn fun to watch play the game.

    • H.Y. says:

      Though it is arguable, I get what you said about Joe Montana. His post season record is head and shoulders above others.

      But Brady? His post season performance isn’t better than Manning. His TEAM played better, that’s for sure.

      It is a typical myth about Brady and Manning’s post season performance.

    • Ajit says:

      I share pretty much your same experiences. As a colts fan, I hated brady from day 1 and held the opinion that he was massively overrated for years. I still think he was overrated in his early days, but amazingly, he got better in ways I thought were unimaginable. I don’t know if there’s ever been a qb who has completely morphed within the middle of his career. To go from pretty good to one of the best players ever was just surreal. I suppose, once his career is over, I’ll appreciate him much more. He probably has the best pocket movement of any qb I’ve ever seen.

  17. Paul M says:

    It is sad, really, that the winningest QB of all time– in terms of NFL championships, as opposed to Graham winning in the All-American Conference– did not crack the Top Ten. Sad because people simply forget, or choose to believe it was all a head coach, or an outspoken guard (who has yet to make Canton), or two great running backs, or a frozen field. Well Young and Montana, to name two others, had that type of greatness surrounding them– why don’t we deduct placement for them? I’m not arguing that, in fact I wouldn’t be upset of Young was higher to. But the greatest QB in Green Bay Packer history is not the one who is 8th on the list– in fact that man will ultimately go down as only the 3rd best Packer QB. Not one of these great players, and that includes the Catch, the Drive, the Other Drive (John Candy and the Bengals), the Other Drive (Greatest Game Ever Played), ever had a moment as singular as the final series vs. Dallas that culminated in a decision by the QB, not the coach, to risk everything in a sneak that if had failed would have cost his team the game when a tying field goal was available. Bart Starr should not only be in the Top Ten, he should be in the Top Five. I blame the current journalistic trend to glorify performance in a league set up to have the Quarterback succeed over the performance in a different era.

    • Bill U says:

      I agree Bart should be near the top. As far as everyone always wanting to take away from a qb because of his supporting cast, let’s reverse that. Let’s say the reason Jerry Rice is the goat is because he had 2 hof’ers tossing him the ball. But yes Starr is way under rated.

  18. visigoths says:

    After yesterday’s game vs. the Saints, you may want to re-run this poll. I bet Brady gets a little more love.

  19. Anon says:

    “Stats” might have the two QBs close, but advanced stats disagree. One main reason is that sacks are generally not included. This is akin to batting average (leaving out walks) vs OBP.

    Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt (includes sacks as well as bonuses for TD and INT) has Manning at 7.20 for his career and Brady at 6.97.

    Advanced NFL Stats tracks EPA (like RE24) and WPA. Manning has 0.25 EPA per play to Brady’s 0.18 (2000 total EPA to 1500). For WPA, Manning is at 0.25 WPA per game, Brady is at 0.19 (54 total WPA to 40). These numbers include reg season and playoffs since 2000.

    And Brady’s postseason performance being better than Peyton’s is a myth:

  20. Ajit says:

    List was overall ok, though we can’t help but be swayed by the media, can we? Fouts, Tarkenton, and Marino will forever be hit by the loser’s stain and its sad. All three arguably were better pure passers than some of the others on this list, but 2 were never put in. Contrast that loser’s stain with the ultimate winner’s halo: Montana. I never watched montana play, so I don’t feel it’s accurate to judge him against those I have, but I suspect a good majority of the voters never did either. They voted Montana largely off the mass media perception that he was unbeatable and a clutch like a demigod. Fair? Maybe, though I’d prefer to ask someone who actually watched 80s football to tell me if Montana really was an overall better player than elway or marino. Hell, was he definitively better than Steve young? Or was it a matter of circumstance that dictated who got 1 ring and who got 4.

    As for Manning v Brady. I would think the way Brady’s career has played itself, the clutch/choker theme would vanish. Hes an infinitely better qb in the last 6 years than he was his first 6, and yet last 6 years of brady’s career have been playoff duds(even in the games he’s won). The point is, the postseason is a small sample crapshoot that we draw WAY too much meaning from. Take his final drive of his last game. He was ghastly for most of the game, including that terrible int. And if the saints ran out the clock, think of what the narrative would be. And then he proceeds to win on an amazing throw. And that’s the problem of trying to draw narratives on single plays/single drives/single games.

    Ultimately, Perception will i think favor brady unless Manning wins another sb. But to me, trying my best to put aside biases, the single greatest reason I put manning ahead of brady was the stark contrast between their injury seasons. The colts imploded, in every possible way. Cassel, who by now everyone knows is terrible, had a probowl worthy season. This despite not having started a game SINCE HIGHschool. I think its very clear that players around you have a big say in how good you are and these 2 seasons illustrate that Manning was on far more flawed teams than Brady was. We would like to think they each played in similar circumstances, but they don’t. You simply expect a fair race between 2 world class sprinters, when one runs on pavement and the other is running on sand.

  21. Rob says:

    I dont remember which book it was, but Bill James wrote an essay on how he became bagwells biggest fan after he inadvertently predicted that he would win the batting title as a rookie and the media made a big deal about it. I always assumed that James passed on the bagwell comment because that was one guy he couldn’t be objective about or he’d already spilled enough ink…

  22. H.Y. says:

    W/L record is not about individual. It’s about team. Brady didn’t win 17 games. Patriots did.

    Let’s break down Manning and Brady’s individual post season record.

    20G / 481/761(63.21%) / 5,679yds(7.46Y/A) / 32TD / 21INT / 7.06AY/A / 88.4Rating

    24G / 553/887(62.34%) / 5,949yds(6.71Y/A) / 42TD / 22INT / 6.54AY/A / 87.4Rating

    Brady played 4 more games, threw more passing yards and touchdowns. Manning has better passer rating, better adjusted yards per attempt.

    Brady has volumes, Manning has quality.

    • Mike says:

      …because all of those other stats aren’t impacted by the team as well? Please. Brady’s receivers against the Rams: Brown, Redmond, Wiggins, Edwards, Patten. I hope they put their plaques in Canton next to each other. His go-to red-zone option during the three Super Bowl wins was a linebacker.

      What I find interesting about Brady is how overrated the early part of his career was, and how underrated the later part of his career was. At least according to some of the newfangled stats like Football Outsiders has. From 2007 to last year, he was pretty clearly ahead of Manning. But from 2001 until then, he really shouldn’t be mentioned in the same breath.

      Which makes me a little bit suspicious, to be honest. Manning has had, in my qualitative viewpoint, a pretty constant stream of all-stars to throw to. Brady has not. But once he did, he seems to have turned the corner overnight (again, according to the newer stats).

      It could be that the WRs make these guys look better or worse than they should… or it could even be that when coaches know they have good WRs, they call more high-yield plays because they now believe they’ll be successful with them. In any case though, it’s going to be a long time (and a whole lot of Mountain Dew cans in mom’s basement, amiright guys?!) before we know with any certainty which of these guys was better.

  23. Having seen Peyton Manning command a game once, I knew I was looking at the great QB I’d ever seen. Other QBs, Montana included, play in systems. Famous systems. Successful systems. Peyton Manning walks up to the line and tells everyone what to do – pointing included. The NFL is a fancy sandlot to Peyton Manning, nothing more. Much like our disagreement over baseball’s MVP, he may not have the ultimate statistics, but every team he plays on is MUCH better with him at QB than they could possibly be with anyone else. Peyton Manning is The Man. At least since 1965, when I knew I understood what I was watching. Others have been amazing. Improvisational. Inspirational. Peyton Manning has been in control. Is in control. This years is what happens when you give him the tools he need to destroy the opposition.

  24. Devon says:

    I voted for Peyton, but with only 5 choices, I didn’t have room for Brady. I would’ve done that before this season too. I’m not “amazed” by Manning this year, I feel like this kind of season should be expected by him by now. It’s awesome, but it’s not surprising. So I’m pretty sure I would’ve voted him ahead of Brady before the season started, just as I did now.

    My top QB was Otto Graham. I didn’t expect him to get many votes though, ’cause I just never hear people talk about him so I figure most people don’t know who he is. In fact, I’ve only met one person in my whole life who knew who he was. Which is kind of sad. Like you said, he led the Browns to the championship game every year of his career……. not even Montana or Brady or Bradshaw or any Cowboys set of QB’s can make that claim.

    That being said, I’m not a huge football fan, so I don’t know too much about the game. I’m much more familiar with baseball.

    PS. nice to see you back on your own site.

  25. Grover Jones says:

    Joe writes:

    “He has won one Super Bowl, yes, but he led the Colts to another and a championship game and they are Super Bowl contenders again this year.”

    So Manning gets credit for the Colts’ being SB contenders this year? Why? Because his departure led to Andrew Luck?

  26. Grover Jones says:

    Joe wrote of Marino:

    “He threw for more than 5,000 yards — never been done.”

    Tell that to Drew Brees (2008, 2011, 2012), Tom Brady (2011), and Matthew Stafford (2011).

  27. Alex says:

    For everyone complaining about ascribing W/L to individual players, I would posit that ascribing statistical performance to an individual player in the NFL is almost as egregious. The reality is that there is no great measure of individual performance in a game where each piece is so interdependent on others. So when the stats are relatively close, they become rather meaningless to me. Similarly, when the W/L is relatively close, it is also meaningless as a way to distinguish between quarterbacks.

    Brady and Manning are relatively close on both regular season stats and regular season W/L (excluding Manning’s rookie season). There are reasons to explain some discrepancy in stats (Brady played more outdoor games / bad weather games, and perhaps has had less skill position talent particularly in some years like 2006 and 2013) and also discrepancy in W/L (Belichick is a better coach than anyone Manning has had, although Dungy is excellent).

    The only measure that isn’t close is playoff W/L. The playoff stats are close, but I would say that a fair argument for Brady is that a much larger % of his playoff games have been in bad weather and also deeper into the playoffs where presumably he faced more difficult teams. How meaningful is the W/L difference in the playoffs? Really hard to say.

    What’s the point of all this? There is no objective way to truly distinguish these two players in my mind. Who you prefer is in the end likely to just be some matrix of (a) who you like more and (b) who has done better recently.

  28. Just imagine its the 2014 Draft and your the Jacksonville Jaguars with a time machine. You can go back and get the greatest quarterback of all-time at 21 or 22 years old and then rebuild your franchise. Does anyone seriously think they would go back and get Joe Montana first?

    Joe is an incredible player, a Hall of Fame talent, who also happened to be on a team with a brilliant head coach and stocked with other Hall of Fame talent and Pro Bowlers, but there is no way he is at the top of my list.

    Give me Elway or Young… even with a lack of wide receiving talent or a porous offensive line, my team would still be competitive. And if somehow I get some elite complementary players, I’ll have multiple rings and playoff wins.

    • Justin says:

      I think with the way the game has evolved, specifically at the middle & high school levels, that you are better off taking a more recent rookie phenom, i.e. Andrew Luck than you are rookie Marino/Elway/Manning etc. They players today are just further ahead in their development -both mentally and physically- when they come out than their piers from previous decades were that picking an equally talented QB from this decade makes more sense.

  29. nscadu9 says:

    Just imagine you are in the Superbowl. Who do you want? I still think Montana is in the top spot, maybe Elway, but definitely Brady before Manning.

  30. will says:

    To me, the total yardage difference between Manning and Brady is a huge factor at present. Manning leads Brady in passing yardage by 15000 yards, and is one year older. His higher usage and the ability to perform strongly despite that usage is the reason I see Manning as superior currently.

  31. bigbigbuck says:

    As of today, Joe Montana is the greatest quarterback of all time. Brady and Peyton are clearly 2 and 3, and they are both far from done, and much could still change by the time they’re done. As of today, Brady is clearly ahead of Peyton. This could change if Peyton wins some rings, but as of today it’s Brady.

    Brady is 142-41 all time. Tom Brady has made the playoffs every time he has started for the entire season since the day he took over for Drew Bledsoe. Tom Brady has played in as many Super Bowls as any quarterback in NFL history. Sixth round draft pick Tom Brady has taken the New England Patriots to five Super Bowls. Brady currently holds the championship belt for greatest quarterback season of all time with his 2007 dominance of the NFL going undefeated completing 68.9% of passes for 4,806 yards with 50 touchdowns to only 8 interceptions. He also stood on the precipice of becoming the reigning greatest qb of all time in the 2007 Super Bowl where he had a chance to tie Joe Montana’s rings with an undefeated season and the greatest quarterbacking season of all time on his resume. He struggled in that game but actually came up with a big touchdown drive to take the lead and win the game late in the 4th quarter. He walked off the field after that touchdown with 2 minutes left and only a defensive stop against a struggling Eli Manning away from taking the greatest quarterback of all time belt. Eli was all in, and he got lucky and sucked out big time, hitting runner runner on the river with the David Tyree miracle helmet catch and Asante Samuel dropping a pick for perfection that hit him in the chest.

    Tom Brady already owns the record for most postseason wins all time. He is 17-7 and has won 3 titles.

    Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have very similar individual career numbers. Brady career 95.4 QBR and Peyton career 96.7. Brady put his up in blizzards and Peyton put his up in a dome. Peyton is 9-11 all time in the playoffs and has 1 ring.


    • bigbigbuck says:

      I’ll take the guy who’s 17-7 in the playoffs with 3 rings, the undefeated season and all the wins, 142-41 all time. By the way, he’s married to a supermodel, literally one of the most attractive women in the world. He is just a winner, winning in every way possible.

      You guys have been debating for a while now between this guy and a guy with similar numbers as him who is 9-11 all time in the playoffs. I don’t even understand why there’s a debate? It’s not even close, and Brady still has a shot at becoming GOAT if he has a few more near peak seasons. Peyton could only change this discussion if he goes full on Elway and wins back to back titles here with Denver, breaking all the Favre records in the process and walking out on top. As of now, though, it’s Brady and it’s really not close.

      • Ajit says:

        You know…if its all about rings, then why is terry bradshaw not a clear 2nd, ahead of tom brady and peyton manning. In fact, why is marino, favre, or manning even on this list when there are a number of other qbs with multiple sbs. The trouble with the rings crowd is they like to have it both ways. Look to the rings but then make exceptions when people like brad johnson, trent dilfer, plunket, bradshaw, griese, mcmahon, doug williams, etc all have rings too.

        As I’ve done many times, I’m going to show the folly of using this line of thinking. Tom brady won 3 sbs early in his career. He went 10-0 in the postseason to start. He was the truest definition of the word clutch, right? Only his regular season numbers implied he was solid to pretty good. Ok, then from 2007 and onward, he becomes this elite master. Huge numbers. Only what happened in the postseason? No rings. What’s more, take a look at some of the playoff games he’s played in. Remember that 2010 jets playoff disaster? What about that 2009 horrible performance against the ravens? or what the 2nd sb against the giants or the ravens afc champ game in 2012? Hell, take a look at some of the playoff games hes played poorly in and won. 2011 afc champ game against the ravens. 2007 afc champ game against the chargers. Both games he was terrible. He was also bad against the 2006 chargers, but a pick fumble from marlon McCree aided his team in the victory.

        So what happened? Did he have clutch and lose it? Did he screw up by marrying Giselle? What happened? For ring pundits, this ought to be a really hard think to accept. How can brady be an obviously better qb and be much worse in the postseason?

        The answer is, rings make a terrible way to judge an individual player. A ring represents a team victory. We don’t grade hall of fame offensive linemen on how many rings they have or how many postseason games they won. So why do qbs get that treatment? What’s more, why do we pretend like all qbs play on the same quality team? Why do we assume their jobs are equivalent? I would argue, some qbs have it easier than others, another reason to explain why brady won 3 sbs early and has struggled late. The talent naturally declined, but more importantly, the reasons for victory became more about brady playing well than having your defense win you the game. Why is it that your opinion of elway is now better after he wins 2 rings(on the back of a great running game) vs the elway in his prime that got to 5 sbs with far weaker teams?

        Finally, for me, the best evidence of which qb was better- brady or manning, came down to a very unusual experiment we got to witness. Both qbs missed a year unexpectedly. Brady’s injury still meant his team went 11-5 and fielded a pretty good pass offense anyways(with a now well established horrible matt cassel who hadn’t started a game since high school at that time). Peyton manning’s injury ironically sewed the seeds of his own exit, as the team cratered to the WORST IN FOOTBALL.

        • toolkien says:

          Rings aren’t exclusively what it’s all about, but it stands that rings follow for the better EFFICIENT QB’s rather than the BULK STAT GATHERING QB’s. The top passing QB’s all time with regard to yards have 8 total championships, while the most efficient QB’s, as measured against their contemporaries (that is, common sized) have 21 championships (27 if you include championships while playing in leagues that fed into the the NFL eventually (AAFL and AFL)).

          Some of the most efficient QB’s all time include Graham, Montana, and Brady and they have a lot of hardware to boot. Stat gathering QB’s include Tarkenton, Marino, and Favre, and they have one ring between them.

          So rings may not be the be-all, end-all, but neither are bulk statistics. It’s about efficiency as a QB and not having much of a hole in the game. That’s what makes for championships.

          • Ajit says:

            The flaw in this argument is BRady’s stat efficiency didn’t start till AFTER he won his 3 sbs. He certainly wasn’t the same qb back then, but we retroactively pretend like he was the same tom brady in 2001 that he is in 2013.

            Also, I think most would be hard pressed to view bradshaw as a highly efficient qb and he happens to have the most rings(tied).

            Bulk statistics aren’t always a good measure either. No one said they were.

            I think, however, someone could make the case that marino was as good as Montana(something Montana has stated many times over). Someone could make the argument tarkenton was the era adjusted greatest qb of all time.(and I’ve seen the argument, it’s not that silly). The point is, the ring becomes a kind of character flaw that pushes them out of the conversation, which to any reasonably educated fan, is nonsensical.

  32. jgidleon says:

    I will just state my conclusion. Again, if you don’t think John Elway is the greatest ever at the position, I’m not sure you understand the position. I think Manning is exceptional, but has no where near the overall ability Elway had. Can Manning run like Elway, or throw deep like Elway? Brees is the one to keep your eye on; incredible instincts, but still measures up as limited compared to Elway. Brady is a great team-player, but like Montana, he is a product of great coaching (Belichick). Aaron Rodgers is an impressive combination of arm strength and mobility–but Elway had more of both. Dan Marino and Troy Aikman had efficient throwing motions and quick releases–but Elway could do the same and even better whenever needed. Staubach was a great scrambler and comeback quarterback, but Elway was better at both. Montana was accurate and precise, but so was Elway and in ways deeper and more powerful. Montana and Young threw those little two year dump passes—big deal; that’s Walsh’s coaching genius. Bradshaw had an extremely strong arm, but Elway’s was stronger. Tarkenton was a great scrambler, too, but Elway was better at that too. I’ve just never seen a combination like what John Elway had. If he hadn’t been wasted in Dan Reeve’s archaic offense the first ten years of his career, the Broncos would have won seven or eight championships and Elway would own every conceivable quarterbacking record. He is the prototype for an NFL quarterback: 6’3″, 215 lbs., unbelievable arm, playmaking ability, perseverence, decisionmaking ability (Stanford Economics grad)–just the most gifted individual to ever suit up in the most unique and difficult position on the field. And he delivered the goods over that 16-year career. He was extremely durable, rarely missing games, and extremely reliable, rarely making mistakes despite his taking such huge risks (because he had to). I just don’t think we will ever see a talent at quarterback again like John Elway.

  33. vjb007 says:

    You can’t compare athletes of different eras, boys—-in any sport. Particularly football—where the rules have been so changed we’re not even talking about the same game anymore. So you’re faced with apples-to-hamburgers comparisons. Thus comparing records and various other attributes is a lot of fun….but meaningless.

    • toolkien says:

      Sure you can. If you have any mathematical ability at all. Pro football reference has their “indexed” calculations which “common size” a player (e.g. QB) as a measurement based on average of contemporaries. Ergo, different eras/rules/physicality are in the numerator and denominator and therefore cancel each other out, leaving a measurement of how much better Otto Graham was than his contemporaries and how much better Aaron Rodgers is than his. Based on AY/A (adjust net yards per attempt), Graham is #1 and Rodgers is #2. Just because you lack relatively simple mathematical ability (or if you do, don’t have the gumption to apply) doesn’t mean other people haven’t and therefore have greater insight. So you can take your airily arrogant “taking you all to task for your meaninglessness” and stick it.

      • vjb007 says:

        Sorry, but growing angry doesn’t make your point. You’ll have to prove mathematically that an exercise to “index” has total probabilistic/scientific validity for this particular problem. (In which case I would expect everyone to agree and all the “greatest lists” to agree to the letter.) The ball is in your court.

        • toolkien says:

          Continuing to use big words that I don’t think you fully understand is certainly no argument whatsoever. I made my argument already, and I don’t need to expound on it. Comparisons across generations is EASILY done for people for which only ratios will suffice in drawing conclusions without resorting to in depth analyses. It has nothing to do with probabilities or other notions. It’s simply exercising the ability to measure from average, which a 5th grader can do. But for those that can’t imagine doing such, and breezily dismiss everyone in a thread as if one knows so much, is enough cause to rise to some degree of anger. A know-it-all who knows very little is irksome.

          • vjb007 says:

            I recognize you don’t agree with me, but your venom achieves nothing, sir. Because you simply didn’t make your argument. Indeed, I await proof of it, starting now with “ratios will suffice in drawing conclusions without resorting to in-depth analyses.” Then we’ll proceed to “indexing” and why all the “greatest polls” don’t agree. Again, the ball is in your court.

          • Ajit says:

            You are right. Anyone can compare relative to the average, but it takes a little less than two classes in stats to understand why this is not always a great proxy for comparing two qbs across eras. Let me give just one argument that’s intuitive and one that’s more statistical

            We are using statistics of passing output as a measure of qb greatness. However, those statistics are really measurements of the qb, the wr, the rb, and the o line blocking. We’ve already seen what happens when you take a great qb and remove these pieces. Conversely, we’ve seen what happens when you remove the qb from the team. But we do NOT have a precise mathematical way of saying qb contributes X percent to the passing offense, given the wr’s are Y good, the o line is Z good, and the coaches competence is W, we cannot exactly know how good a qb is. In short, our statistic of measure is flawed and thus, cross comparing and calling it a day as if it were some flat earth argument is equally flawed.

            FInally, otto graham’s years also had many eras where the qb was often some kind of gadget scrambler/punter/h back. Many times teams often got by without much passing whatsoever. It was also a much smaller league with primitive passing concepts. And if you read some of the books on the history of football, you’ll note that many times, the qb was playing more so because of his leadership and communication skills than his actual ability to throw a football. In statistics jargon, to act like these statistics come from distributions that are independently and identically distributed is a complete falsehood.

          • vjb007 says:

            We must also add that rules changes specifically intended to open up the passing game, particularly in the post 1979 time frame with many updates thereafter, is another reason why you can’t rate quarterbacks (or wide receivers) over the eras. Many of these metrics don’t “cancel out,” as previously stated.

            For those rules boosted passer ratings, total yards, total receptions, and total touchdowns—and those same numbers are part and parcel of the stats cited in “greatest quarterback” and “greatest receiver” polls. (Often touted as “new records,” they’re actually modern records but didn’t “beat” the old ones because they were achieved under different playing rules.) It also goes a long way to explain why most quarterbacks at the top of the list are modern quarterbacks.

            As touched upon, there’s also the issue of attempting to quantify a quarterback’s capability as field general and his effectiveness as his own offensive coordinator (mainly holds true of older generation QBs). There’s little chance to make that judgement on most of today’s quarterbacks or to speculate on how they would have done. How long they played well is, in and of itself, another parameter that’s basically overlooked..

            Ultimately, the best one can do is to attempt to compare players of their own era. Because a good grading system recognizes that total stats are but one part of the total picture. How much of the picture depends on who votes in what poll—-and there’s quite a difference in the various polls. Not surprisingly, there’s thus no agreement on a universal “truth.” Which ultimately makes the argument moot.

  34. tombando says:

    Oh its gotta be Elway…way to bail on #7 there Pos. What, watching him hit Mark Jackson in the EZ in ’87 still gives you nightmares? Two words: Marty Ball. He’s Gene Mauch. He coached not to lose. And it showed.

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