Brady-Manning XV was a flop last week. The debates leading up to the game proved to be better than the game itself. Who is the better quarterback? Who has had the better career? Where do they stack up on the list of greatest quarterbacks of all-time? Well, I haven't been around since the invention of football, but I've seen plenty of football in my lifetime and I've seen plenty of great quarterbacks. Here's my list of the greatest quarterbacks of the last thirty years. Let me know what you think.
10. Warren Moon
It's a shame Warren Moon got such a late start in the NFL. He played his first NFL game at the age of 28 after dominating the Canadian Football League for six years (won the Grey Cup championship five of those six years). If you combined his CFL stats with his NFL ones, Moon would rank second in total yards passing. Despite his late start, Moon ranks 6th all-time in passing yards and 8th in career TD passes in NFL history. Moon threw the best spiral of any quarterback I've ever seen.
9. Troy Aikman
Troy Aikman didn't do anything spectacular, except to lead his teams to three Super Bowl championships (if you put stock in those kind of things). After a rocky start to his career (0-11 record his rookie season), he became one of the more accurate passers in NFL history. Today, completing 65% of your passes is commonplace, but Aikman was one of the first to complete 65% passes on a regular basis. He was the protypical "game manager." He only threw over 20 touchdowns in one season. He didn't have to when he had someone like Emmitt Smith in his backfield. You, simply, can't overlook those three rings.
8. Jim Kelly
Should Jim Kelly be punished because his teams went to four consecutive Super Bowls but never won one? What if John Elway never eeked out two championships at the end of his career, would we think less of Elway? Kelly's overall career was shorter than a lot of the guys on this list. He retired at age 36. Kelly also got a late start to his NFL career (age 26) due to playing a couple of years in that failed experiment called the USFL. You have to give Kelly bonus points for playing in the cold weather of Buffalo as well. Imagine the numbers "Machine Gun" Kelly would have put up playing in the warm weather of California or Florida. I fear history may forget how great Kelly was.
7. Brett Favre
Maybe if Brett Favre retired the first time he said he would, I would have moved him up on my list. Then again, if he didn't play the extra years, he may not have owned basically ever NFL record (yards, completions, TD passes, wins, yada, yada, yada) there is for quarterbacks. There is no denying he is the toughest quarterback I have ever seen. Oh yeah, he also holds the record for most consecutive games started (321) by a QB. He won three consecutive MVP awards (1995-1997) and one Super Bowl. He was a little too unpredictable for my tastes. His improvisational play is why his fans loved him, but it's why I don't place him higher on my list. I just saw him make too many bone-headed decisions. In addition to the other records, Favre also holds the NFL records for most interceptions and most fumbles by a QB. Like I said, he owns almost every record.
6. Steve Young
Similar to Warren Moon, Steve Young had to wait a long time to get his chance at starting in the NFL. Similar to Jim Kelly, Young played two seasons in the short-lived USFL. He got clobbered for two years with the historically-bad Tampa Bay Buccaneers of the mid-1980's. Then he served for four years as Joe Montana's apprentice. But when finally given the chance to take over the reins of a good team at the age of 30, Young proved how good he was. From that point on (1991-1999), Young had a career record of 84-30 and completed 66.4% of his passes while throwing 198 touchdowns and only 80 interceptions. He was a two-time NFL MVP and three-time Super Bowl champion. He was also one of the first really great running quarterbacks I could remember. I'll never forget the run he had against the Vikings in 1988.
5. Peyton Manning
Peyton Manning has a chance to still climb on this list. Manning is 37 years old. Kelly had already retired at this age. John Elway cemented his legacy by winning two Super Bowls after age 37. Brett Favre broke all the QB records by playing into his 40's. A week from now, Manning will have a shot for his second Super Bowl championship. If he sticks around a few more years, he may end up with more than Tom Brady. Wouldn't that be something after all the postseason ridicule he has taken?
I deduct points for playing most of his career in a dome. I also deduct points for playing in what I consider the NFL's Steroid Era. It's not that I am accusing anyone of doing steroids, but the rule changes helping the offenses this past decade have artificially-enhanced all quarterback and receiver stats.
4. Dan Marino
If you ask me which quarterback in history would I want to lead my team in a straight-out, mano-a-mano, aerial-attack shootout, I'd pick Dan Marino. Best pure passer with the quickest release I've ever seen. When Marino came to town, fans shuddered in fear. You could pencil him in for 300 yards and three touchdowns back in the day before those numbers became typical. Marino would probably throw for 500 yards per game with the rules the way they are today. Marino, along with his receivers Mark Clayton and Mark Duper, were pure entertainment during their heyday for Dolphins fans... and a pure nightmare for opponents.
3. Tom Brady
There was a point in time when Tom Brady (circa 2005) was trending to become, indisputably, the greatest quarterback of all-time. Three Super Bowl championships in his first four seasons would do that. So would a 10-0 record in his first ten playoff games. Unfortunately, the second half of Brady's career, while great statistically, hasn't produced any more championships. His play in the postseason the last seven or eight years hasn't been greatest-of-all-time worthy. Unlike the other quarterbacks on this list, with the exception of Randy Moss for a couple of years, Brady was never truly given star receivers to work with. And that's a shame.
2. John Elway
John Elway can probably thank Terrell Davis for being this high on the list. It's always good when you have a 2,000-yard rusher behind you. If Elway had never won a Super Bowl, he'd probably be lumped with Dan Marino as the best quarterback never to have won the Super Bowl. It took Davis to come along late in Elway's career to allow him to get not just one, but two rings. Elway may be the best athlete on this list. He passed up a baseball career to play football. He had the strongest arm I've ever seen. He could throw lasers. He could also run like a gazelle. His mobility is what puts him ahead of Brady and Manning. He also had that clutch gene as evidenced by The Drive against the Cleveland Browns in 1986. Bonus points again for playing in the cold of Denver his entire career.
1. Joe Montana
Joe Montana is the greatest quarterback I've ever seen, and it's not even close. For a time, Brady was soaring close to that rarefied air, but he just couldn't sustain the momentum. Montana was just the perfect quarterback playing under the perfect system with the perfect coach (Bill Walsh) who happened to be an offensive genius. He had the offensive weapons in Jerry Rice and Roger Craig. Montana was the perfect conductor to orchestrate the entire operation. He was poise personified. 4-0 in Super Bowls. 11 TD passes and 0 interceptions playing against the best the AFC had to offer in those four Super Bowls. His game-winning, 92-yard scoring drive against the Bengals in Super Bowl XXXIII was a text book two-minute drill. Montana didn't have the strongest arm. He wasn't the greatest athlete. Montana did know how to win and, after all, isn't that what sports are all about?