NFL's Great Quarterbacks List

JW NixSenior Writer IIMarch 25, 2009

MSNBC and Rueters once asked people to vote on the "Greatest Quarterback of All Time". This question irritates me because it is impossible to determine, or give justice to. Many fans are fair weathered and only can tell by the number of commercials they shoot. Then there's the obvious fact of how the game and rules have changed.

Even into the 80s, not every lineman was over 300, or ran the 100 in 11 seconds. Of course, those guys weren't eating tainted meats like we do today aka genetic engineering.

Guys even in the 70s had two jobs. I have cards where they will tell you a Pro Bowl LB sells used cars in the offseason. Of course, the rules were different and the game was rougher. The quarterback was just another football player up until 1980.

They were poster children after that.

I choose not to try to call one the best. Each on this list is excellent for the era that they played. Certain modern day QB's may not have been as effective if they had played under the old time rules either.


The List


Sam Baugh

Still holds several punt records. Played safety too and led the NFL in interceptions one season. Was in the Inaugural Class inducted into Canton. Known for big arm and toughness.

One popular story was another teams lineman kept hitting him late. Baugh told his line to let the guy through. Baugh drilled the ball right between the linemens eyes (remember. no face masks back then), knocking the guy cold and out for the game. Slingin' Sammy was unique.

Sid Luckman

Still the best QB the Bears have ever had and still holds many club records. Had an unusual throwing motion that worked fine for him. Very intelligent player who got by on guts and guile.

Bobby Layne 

Detroit's best QB still to this day. Layne lived and played fast, loose, and hard. One of the first teams to air it out often.

Otto Graham 

The guy was the Bill Russell of the NFL. He was the leader under an imposing, groundbreaking coach. He seemingly won championships each year he played. Graham was big and ran like a fullback, yet had a strong arm to toss the ball to his Hall of Fame receivers.

Norm Van Brocklin 

The Flying Dutchman split series in LA before winning a championship in Philadelphia. Once threw for close to 600 yards in a game. Not mobile, yet accurate with exceptional knowledge.

Y.A. Tittle 

Perfected the alley-oop ball with R.C. Owens while a 49er. Finished his career strong in New York. Had a nose for the end zone and threw for 7 TD's in one game.

Johnny Unitas 

Many who saw him say either he or Baugh were the best ever. Leadership defined. Tough in mind, body, and spirit. The Colts truly were Americas Team during the Unitas Era. Master of the two minute drill.

Bart Starr 

Great leader with a good arm. Would hang in the pocket until the last possible second before throwing while taking a big hit. Many Packer fans still proclaim him the best to ever line up behind center in Lambeau field.

Len Dawson 

Wily QB who would out think his opponent. The Chiefs were a balanced team, and Dawson was its leader. Still holds many club records.

Joe Namath 

The first media baby, thanks to his playing in New York. Strong arm gave him the first 4000 passing yards in a season in all of football. His guarantee to win the Super Bowl has immortalized him.

Sonny Jurgenson 

The precursor to Air Coryell. Sonny got to throw it to WR's: Hall of Famer Bobby Mitchell, Hall of Famer Charley Taylor (who retired the all-time receptions leader), and TE Jerry Smith (retired all-time leader in TD's by a TE and should be in Canton). His teams gave up as much as he scored, but Sonny was truly great.

Fran Tarkenton 

Known as "The Mad Scrambler", Tarkenton finished his great career with almost every passing record. Took the Vikings to three Super Bowls as well. One of the most under rated all-time greats.

Roger Staubach 

Was an American hero even before he ever took a snap in Dallas. The former Heisman winner and Navy man was unflappable when his team was in dire straits. Many consider him the best ever in the two minute drill. He could beat you with his mind, legs, and arm.

Terry Bradshaw 

Terry had to learn much like many of today's QB. He was thrown out there day one. He was on his way to ending up like Archie Manning—a superior talent beat up and wasted on inferior teams. Chuck Knoll kept drafting gold, and soon the Steelers roster was full of Hall of Famers ready to win four Super Bowls in seven years.

Dan Fouts 

Super smart who frequently had three different 1000 yards receivers each year. Air Coryell made for some of the most exciting football in the early 80s.

Warren Moon 

Was setting records in the CFL even before he finally got his shot in the NFL. Much like Fouts, he was ultra intelligent, prepared, and would make 1000 yard receivers out of just about everyone who went out on routes for him. Could run a conventional offense or the infamous run and shoot system.

Joe Montana 

Took a mediocre arm to the West Coast offense (an offspring of Air Coryells system) and applied his very high I.Q. to four Super Bowl wins. No one will ever mistake him for a great athlete, or having a good arm, but he is recognized as something much more important—a winner. One of the greats.

Jim Kelly 

Took Cincy's no huddle to another level in Buffalo. With a quick release and cannon, Kelly helped take his team to four Super Bowls and is underrated because they never won.

Dan Marino 

The critics point to one Super Bowl appearance with no major wins in his career. A lot like Jurgenson. Best all around arm in the league in his era on teams just falling short of being championship material. Said to have the fastest release of any quarterback who ever played. Many greats on this list never won a championship (Kelly, Moon, Fouts, Jurgenson, Tittle,Tarkenton, and Marino), so that argument is pointless.

John Elway 

Captain Comeback relished having the ball last. Maybe it was the burn from that Stanford/Cal kick off that helped drive him into being one of the deadliest gunslingers in the last two minutes? Finished his career with back to back Super Bowl appearances. Could run or throw for 80 yards at any time.

Troy Aikman 

Pinpoint accuracy, but still an enigma of sorts. His stature in Dallas is divided to—The best Cowboy QB ever to second behind Staubach to third behind Danny White, to even fourth behind Don Meredith. Did win three Super Bowls on some very strong teams. Not a tough guy, but had a gun.

Steve Young 

Went from being the $40 million man in the USFL to being a weak armed flop in Tampa Bay who couldn't throw a 20 yard out to save his life to warming the bench behind Montana in San Francisco to becoming a very accurate passer in the West Coast systemwhere arm strength isn't needed.

Could beat you with his legs as easily as his arm and was a fierce competitor. Practically fought his forced retirement and even talked of returning for a few years afterwards. A winners heart and desire.

Brett Farve 

His gambling style either infuriates you or has you cheering him on. Won more games than he lost with that style. Holmgren settled him down one season just enough to win a Super Bowl. Speaks his mind and wears his heart on his sleeve. At his best when things are crumbling around him.

Payton Manning 

Doesn't have the arm or legs of his dad, but he does have his brains and desire. Manning is a rare QB these days. A QB who calls his own plays and runs his own offense. A true throwback. Won his first Super Bowl in 2006 and the odds are that he will win more. Masterful at setting a tempo on the field.

Tom Brady 

Best compliment I can give him is to call him a modern day Johnny Unitas. Plays without fear, though he realizes he has no back up to speak of. Will take the big hit to give his receiver that extra step to get open. Like Unitas, he was virtually unwanted by most of the league as a rookie. The only question left for him—How many Super Bowls will he end up winning?



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