It's an ageless debate that never ends. One that tries to place the individual athlete in context with the team, and the individual athlete in context with history.
Some will examine specific statistics, like pass completion average, ability to run the ball, ability to come from behind, average touch down to interception ratio, or quick release.
Some believe that since a quarterback should inspire a team, the most important factor in determining best quarterback of all time should simply be Super Bowl wins.
Lately, this debate has focused squarely in the hands of two, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, and rightfully so. Both of their history books are yet to be completed; therefore, before you judge this argument I’m about to make, please leave Manning and Brady out of the conversation….you may include Favre if you wish.
So, how great was Steve Young?
Well, Joe Montana, whom many people regard as the greatest passer in National Football League history, called Young ''the greatest passer I've ever seen.'' Fran Tarkenton, whom many regard as the greatest running quarterback in NFL history, calls Young ''the greatest running quarterback I've ever seen.'' Bill Walsh, the coach who brought Young to the San Francisco 49ers, calls him ''the best, most accurate passer I've ever seen.''
Sure, coaches will say anything good about their “man”, but is Steve Young really the best passer anyone has ever seen?
According to the NFL's complex rating system, which takes in all passing categories and figures a composite score, Young, at 96.8 is the highest-rated quarterback of all time; higher than Sammy Baugh, Otto Graham, Johnny Unitas, Bart Starr, Joe Montana, Dan Marino, John Elway, and Brett Favre.
When Young retired, his 1994 season of 112.8 was rated as the best of all time, slightly ahead of Joe Montana in 1989 (112.4), Milt Plum in 1960 (110.4), Sammy Baugh in 1945 (109.9), and Dan Marino in 1984 (108.9).
(Today, he stands 3rd…yup, Manning & Brady occupy the top two spots)
Go ahead, and choose the method you like. According to the NFL, Steve Young was the league's best passer in six of the last seven seasons that he played from 1991 to 1998.
Want to place this dominance in context to another sport? Try baseball, and think about the great Sandy Koufax.
Koufax is generally regarded as the most dominant pitcher in modern baseball. From 1960 to 1966, Koufax won 25 or more games three times, led the National League in strikeouts four times, and led both leagues in E.R.A. for five straight seasons.
Everyone who has watched Steve Young play knows he is good; not everyone understands how good.
That type of dominance places the “player” in context with “history” of the time. It’s rare in any sport, and unequaled in pro football. And that's just the passing part of the game folks.
Young has run for more touchdowns than any quarterback in NFL history. Incredibly, he did this after he turned 30. Though he joined the 49ers in 1987, he began playing regularly for 49ers only in 1991, when he was nearing 31…perhaps that’s the main reason so many people forget Steve Young, similar to the great Bears running back Gale Sayers, his prime-time was relatively short.
There’s also the matter of who came first, especially in the mind of 49er fans. To many, Young's statistical record is of little value, he may never replace Montana in their hearts. (think to a lesser degree Elway and Cutler if they played together)
Let’s all remember, Joe Montana was the most popular football player, not just in San Francisco, but in America. A lot of people blamed Steve for Joe's departure because the 49er organization had to make a choice.
For Steve to then step in and put up better numbers is simply incredible, and shows astonishing professional leadership…you can just imagine that feeling he had after winning Super Bowl XXIX, throwing a record six touchdowns, and being named the MVP.
Something else the stats won’t tell you about Steve Young: He has had seven (recorded) concussions and has been knocked unconscious 10 times as a professional football player.
The way Young played is to run the ball himself when he felt the occasional demands, literally risking his neck against linebackers 40-50 pounds heavier in situations where most quarterbacks would settle for a nice, soft slide.
Young's way was to step forward into a crumbling pocket to get a better throwing angle and take a blind-side hit, when other quarterbacks might put the ball up for grabs. In the end, the decision was a no-brainer for Steve Young: One more solid blow to the helmet and this article would be far different.
So, if you’re looking for character, guts, teamwork, and perhaps the best all-round QB to ever play the position, Steve Young fits that bill, but if you believe statistics rule the day, Steve Young comes through as well. He was one of the most accurate passers in league history, was named All-Pro in 1992, 1993, 1994, and 1998 and earned All-NFC honors three times. The two-time league MVP also was selected to the Pro Bowl seven times.
A few more numbers to please the masses:
Highest Passer Rating, Career—96.8
Most Rushing Touchdowns by a QB, Career—43
Most Passing Titles, Career—6 (tied w/Sammy Baugh)
Most Consecutive Passing Titles—4 (1991-94)
Most Seasons with a Passer Rating Over 100, Career—6 (1991-94, 1997-98)
Most Consecutive Games w/300+ Yards Passing—6 (Young was the first QB to do this in 1998; Kurt Warner (2000) and Rich Gannon (2002) have since tied the mark)
One of only 4 QB's to lead the league in touchdown passes 4 times (tied w/Johnny Unitas, Brett Favre, and Len Dawson)
Most Passes Attempted, Playoff Game—65 vs. Green Bay, 1995
Most TD Passes, Playoff Game—6 (tied w/Daryle Lamonica)
Most TD Passes in one Super Bowl—6
Inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame (2005)
Greatest QB of all time: I say Steve Young.