Alabama Football: Top 10 Quarterbacks in School History
History. Tradition. Excellence. Winning.
These are words that can be used to describe the University of Alabama’s decorated football program.
They can also be used to describe the legacy of quarterbacks who have found success during their time in Tuscaloosa.
From the current reigning BCS national championship game offensive MVP A.J. McCarron to the likes of Joe Namath, the Crimson Tide have had a number of gifted field generals who have contributed to their 14 national championships.
With a long list of successful candidates to choose from, undoubtedly a few worthy choices failed to make the cut.
Here are the top 10 quarterbacks in Alabama history.
10. Steadman Shealy
At first glance, looking at the stats that Shealy accrued during the 1979 season in which he finished 10th in the voting for the Heisman Trophy leaves a feeling of wonder.
How could a quarterback that threw four touchdown passes be held in such high regard?
The answer lies in how he executed Alabama’s wishbone offense in a near flawless manner.
The end result was an undefeated season that helped the Crimson Tide repeat as national champions.
9. Greg McElroy
McElroy’s legacy was cemented after leading the Crimson Tide to a 14-0 season in 2009 and national championship No. 13.
Although that accomplishment will be the lasting impression on his resume as a member of the Crimson Tide, his play in leading Alabama to a 32-13 thrashing over then-No. 1 Florida in the 2009 SEC championship game can be considered the turning point in helping Nick Saban overtake the Gators as the nation’s current premier program.
McElroy finished his career with a 24-3 record and ranks highly in several major categories amongst Crimson Tide quarterbacks, including first in completion percentage (66.3), fourth in yards (5,691) and third in touchdowns (39).
8. A.J. McCarron
Ranking the Crimson Tide’s current starting quarterback on this list after one season may seem a bit premature.
However, the fact that he led Alabama to a national championship in his first season as a starter and his potential to add significantly to his legacy make McCarron a worthy selection.
If McCarron can duplicate his stats from this season (2,634 yards passing, 16 touchdowns, 66.8 completion percentage), he has a chance to ascend to the top of the Crimson Tide passing record books if he stays for his senior season.
With a young cast of skill players surrounding him, McCarron will be counted on heavily to lead the Crimson Tide to their 23rd SEC title—and a chance to add to his place in Crimson Tide lore.
7. Jeff Rutledge
Of the adjectives mentioned at the beginning of this story, winning is the one that aptly describes Rutledge’s football career.
He led his high school to two state championships and then guided the Crimson Tide to three SEC titles (from 1975-78) and a national championship as a senior before winning two Super Bowl rings as a backup in the NFL.
Rutledge threw for a modest 3,351 yards in his career, but he accounted for 41 total touchdowns and a 33-5 record for Bear Bryant.
Considering his brother Gary led the Tide to a national championship in 1973, Rutledge earned his place on this list by becoming a worthy successor to his sibling.
6. Steve Sloan
Sloan is a figure that sometimes gets lost due to the fact that he appeared in a golden era for Crimson Tide quarterbacks.
He followed Joe Namath and preceded Ken Stabler, but he managed to play a huge role in the back-to-back national championships in 1964-65.
The latter season is Sloan’s biggest achievement, when he led Alabama to a 9-1-1 record and a national championship with an Orange Bowl victory over Nebraska.
Sloan is also one of only four signal-callers in Crimson Tide history to earn All-American recognition.
5. Harry Gilmer
Gilmer was responsible for Alabama’s burst onto the national college football scene following World War II.
A true athlete, Gilmer returned kickoffs and punted—in addition to leading the Crimson Tide’s single-wing attack where he hurt defenses in the air (29 career passing touchdowns) and on the ground (19 career touchdowns).
His name is still featured prominently among Alabama’s record books, including still having the distinction of being the player who has scored the most touchdowns in Crimson Tide history (52).
His finest season was in 1945, where he finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy balloting and guided Alabama to an undefeated season and a 34-14 Rose Bowl triumph over USC.
4. Pat Trammell
Trammell was the epitome of a field general—and his cerebral approach on the field helped bring the first national championship of the Bear Bryant era in 1961.
While his stats may not jump out like others on this list, his 26-2-4 career record at Alabama from 1959-61 helped to set the foundation of what would become a dynasty over the next two decades.
It’s not coincidental that the next three quarterbacks who followed Trammell found their way onto this list by using his career as a blueprint for success.
3. Jay Barker
At a school that is known for its winning tradition, Barker’s legacy at Alabama is firmly secure because of the fact that his 35-2-1 record as a starter places him second to none in the history of Crimson Tide quarterbacks.
Barker led the Crimson Tide to a perfect 13-0 season in 1992 in his first season as a starter—claiming an upset victory over heavily favored Miami in the Sugar Bowl and helping Alabama win its first national title since the Bear Bryant era.
While he never put up gaudy statistics, Barker enjoyed an outstanding senior season that saw him earn All-American honors and claim the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award as the nation’s top senior quarterback.
Considering the hard times that spelled Alabama’s program post-Bryant and pre-Saban, the success that the Crimson Tide enjoyed during his tenure at the Capstone is even more remarkable from a historical perspective.
2. Ken Stabler
Stabler was a part of the 1965 national championship as a backup to Sloan, but he may remembered more for the title that eluded the Crimson Tide the following year when he took over.
“The Snake” picked up where Sloan left off and guided Alabama to an undefeated season and a 34-7 rout of Nebraska in the Sugar Bowl. But despite the Crimson Tide being the nation’s only unbeaten, pollsters denied Alabama their third consecutive title by voting Michigan State and Notre Dame as co-champions.
Stabler rebounded to claim SEC player of the year honors in 1967 and finished with a 28-3-2 mark under center during his stay in Tuscaloosa.
However, Stabler has remained close to the program since the end of his playing career—he served along play-by-play man Eli Gold as the color analyst for Crimson Tide radio broadcasts for several years before being replaced by Phil Savage in 2009.
1. Joe Namath
Long before he was “Broadway Joe,” Joe Willie made a name for himself by starring for Bear Bryant in the early 1960s.
While on the surface the marriage between the stern and disciplined Bryant and the flair of the gifted Namath seemed like a mix of oil and water, the duo proved to be very successful on the field with a 29-4 record from 1962-1964.
Namath would claim All-American honors during his senior season in 1964, and the Crimson Tide claimed the second of Bryant’s six national titles.
On a list full of outstanding quarterbacks who all brought something unique to the field, Namath perhaps is the best combination of them all—which cements his place as the best quarterback to ever play for the University of Alabama.
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