Alabama Football: Power Ranking the Tide's Best QBs of All Time
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After leading his club to a second consecutive national title, Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron instantly etched his name into a special place in Crimson Tide football lore.
With a senior season left to play this fall, McCarron has a chance to write a final chapter in his college career that can move him to the top of the list as the greatest quarterback in Tide history.
That previous sentence is an extremely powerful one, considering the legacy of players that have lined up under center over the years at the Capstone.
While McCarron has spearheaded Nick Saban’s modern dynasty, past legends like Pat Trammell and Joe Namath are just a few of the notable quarterbacks that carried the torch for some of Paul “Bear” Bryant’s best teams in the 1960's.
Those field generals represent a long history of winning and excellence that is best personified by a school that has won 15 national championships.
Which signal-callers make the cut as the best to ever suit up for the Crimson Tide?
Find out as I power rank the best Alabama quarterbacks of all time.
12. Walter Lewis
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Despite amassing 5,699 yards of total offense after starting at quarterback from 1980-83, Walter Lewis will forever be remembered in Tide history for a few different reasons.
For starters, Lewis was the last quarterback to lead an Alabama team coached by Bryant, and he was the Tide’s first African-American quarterback in school history.
Lewis ran the wishbone for three seasons under Bryant before adapting his game to Ray Perkins’ pro set for his senior season.
The change resulted in a banner senior season that saw Lewis finish ninth in the 1983 Heisman Trophy balloting.
11. Steadman Shealy
Prior to the 2012 team repeating as national champions, the last Alabama team to accomplish that feat was in 1979.
Steadman Shealy was the architect of that club, and he racked up 1,508 yards of total offense to lead the Tide to what would be the final championship of Bryant’s legendary career.
Shealy also was a backup to Jeff Rutledge on the 1978 title-winning squad, and Alabama went 34-2 during his career—including a perfect 12-0 record after taking over for Rutledge in his senior season.
10. Richard Todd
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The 1973 national title team was led by a pair of quarterbacks in Gary Rutledge and Richard Todd.
Todd—only a sophomore at the time—was more of a running threat of the two that season, and he accounted for 560 yards rushing while averaging more than six yards per carry.
Todd would start for a pair of 11-1 clubs over the next two seasons, and the Tide never lost a game in SEC play during that stretch.
Todd would go on to become a first-round NFL draft choice and eventually succeed Namath as a member of the New York Jets.
9. Greg McElroy
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As great of a run Saban is currently in the midst of, the 2009 Crimson Tide represents the only team he’s led to an undefeated campaign in his coaching career.
Greg McElroy guided the 2009 team to a perfect 14-0 record and notched the first of Saban’s three titles since arriving in Tuscaloosa back in 2007.
McElroy still holds the record for most passing yards in a season (2,987 in 2010) and his career yardage total (5,691 yards) places him fifth all-time amongst Tide quarterbacks.
8. Jeff Rutledge
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Jeff Rutledge—who was the younger brother of the aforementioned Gary Rutledge—was a winner by any definition of the word.
The younger Rutledge won championships at the high school level before leading Alabama to the 1978 national title, and later claiming a pair of Super Bowl rings in the NFL as a backup.
Rutledge guided the Tide to a 33-5 record in his tenure in Tuscaloosa, including three SEC titles.
His 30 career touchdown passes are tied for seventh-most in school history.
7. Steve Sloan
One of just four Alabama quarterbacks to earn All-American honors, Steve Sloan was the bridge between Joe Namath and Ken Stabler (more on those two later).
Sloan was a major contributor to the Tide’s back-to-back national titles in 1964-65.
Sloan accounted for 18 touchdowns (12 passing, six rushing) in 1965, and guided the Tide to a 9-1-1 record and an Orange Bowl triumph over Nebraska.
6. Harry Gilmer
Harry Gilmer ushered in a new era of Crimson Tide football following World War II.
Gilmer was a true athlete under center that could hurt opponents on the ground and through the air, in addition to his ability to punt and return kicks on special teams.
Gilmer—who finished fifth in the voting for the 1945 Heisman Trophy—still holds the record for most touchdowns scored by an Alabama player with 52.
5. Pat Trammell
Pat Trammell was the predecessor to names like Namath, Stabler and Sloan. But it was his leadership that helped Bryant and the Tide embark on their dominant run through the 1960's.
During his tenure as the starter, Alabama compiled a 26-2-4 record—including winning the first of the Bear’s six national titles in 1961.
Trammell took home SEC Player of the Year honors that season and cemented his legacy as one of the Tide’s all-time greats by powering the start of Bryant’s dynasty.
4. Jay Barker
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After guiding the Crimson Tide to a 35-2-1 record as a starter from 1991-94, Jay Barker was largely responsible for Alabama’s first renaissance in the post-Bear Bryant era.
Barker’s first season in charge resulted in a perfect 13-0 record in 1992, and it was capped by defeating heavily-favored Miami 34-13 in the Sugar Bowl to win the school’s only national title between the tenures of Bryant and Saban.
Barker was never a flashy player on the gridiron, but his 5,689 career passing yards place him sixth all-time in school history.
His senior season was his best statistically, which culminated in him winning the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award given to the country’s top senior quarterback.
3. Ken Stabler
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After winning back-to-back titles in 1964-65, Stabler took over for Sloan and guided Alabama to an unbeaten season in 1966.
However, pollsters named Notre Dame and Michigan State co-champions in favor of the nation’s only undefeated team that season.
“The Snake” would compile a 28-3-2 record under center during his time at the Capstone, including capturing the 1967 SEC Player of the Year award in his final season at Alabama.
Stabler went on to have a long career in the NFL, and even served as the color analyst for the Tide’s radio network for several years before being replaced in 2009.
2. AJ McCarron
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How good was AJ McCarron’s 2012 season?
His 30 touchdown passes shattered the single-season record by 10 (McElroy’s 20 scoring strikes in 2010 was the previous best). His 49 career touchdown passes is now a school record.
McCarron—whose 5,956 career passing yards rank fourth in school history—needs less than 2,000 yards this fall to own that mark and become the most prolific passer to don the Crimson and White.
Add his two national titles and a career mark of 25-2, and it’s safe to say that McCarron’s final season shall prove to be the ultimate victory lap if he manages to lead his club to a three-peat.
1. Joe Namath
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Namath may be known to fans across the nation for his exploits in the NFL, but his career at Alabama paved the way for his legacy as one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game.
The Pennsylvania import with a brash flair for the game made for an odd fit with the stern Bryant, but the duo managed to accumulate a 29-4 record together from 1962-64.
His senior season saw him take home All-American honors and lead the Tide to the second national title of Bryant’s career.
Namath’s unique blend of skill, smarts and brawn represent the ultimate blend of characteristics that embodies the excellence of Alabama’s long list of decorated signal-callers.
Long before Namath would go on to make his famous Super Bowl guarantee and become “Broadway Joe,” he starred for three seasons at the Capstone and left a lasting impression as the best quarterback to ever suit up at the University of Alabama.