The Best Pro Football Players in Mississippi History, Pt. 1: Quarterbacks
Even though Mississippi has no professional sports teams and not much national success in several years that has not stopped the Magnolia State from producing great pro football players.
Most people may or may not realize how many great players have come from the state of Mississippi. Over the next few installments, we will look at some of the great players that have come from the university level.
Mississippi could boast some of the greatest players to ever play their position. We will look at Hall of Fame players and players that will be in the Hall of Fame after their careers are over.
Some you will know they played in Mississippi and some might surprise you.
The first position we will look at is great quarterbacks from Mississippi in no particular order.
One note most players play for several teams in their NFL careers, the team listed is the team they are associated with most.
Charlie Conerly: New York Giants via Ole Miss Rebels
Conerly played for the University of Mississippi in 1942, but left to fight in World War II and returned from 1946-47. At Ole Miss, Conerly played tailback but, handled all of the passing duties and is considered one of the greatest players in Ole Miss football history.
Conerly was drafted in the 13th round in 1945 by the Washington Redskins. In 1948, the Giants acquired Conerly from the Redskins. Conerly played for the Giants from 1848-61.
Conerly led the Giants to NFL Championship games in 1956 and 1958-59. Conerly was able to lead the Giants to an NFL Championship in 1956.
The 1958 championship game is known as the “greatest game ever played.” Conerly was the losing quarterback. The Giants lost to the Colts in overtime 23-17. The game is credited with putting pro football on the map.
Conerly played in three Pro Bowls (1951, 1952 and 1957), passed for 19,488 yards on 1,418 completions, both Giants records at the times. Conerly still ranks 90th in passing yards and 100th in completions, and his 2,833 attempts are still 90th in NFL history.
Conerly threw for 173 touchdowns, which is still 55th in NFL history. Conerly also was the Rookie of the Year in 1948 and NFL MVP in 1959. Conerly’s No. 42 jersey was retired by the Giants after his career was finished.
Conerly played the “Marlboro Man” in television ads while he played for the Giants. Mississippi gives the Conerly Trophy annually to the best college football player in the state.
Archie Manning: New Orleans Saints via Ole Miss Rebels
If Conerly is considered one of the greatest players in Ole Miss history, Archie could be considered the greatest. Archie was fourth in the Heisman voting in 1969 and third in 1970.
Archie’s number was retired by Ole Miss and the speed limit on campus is 18 MPH in honor of his number.
Although Archie never played for a winning team his entire career, he is still beloved in New Orleans. Most fans remember the Saints did not have a good offensive line and no running game during his entire career.
Even so, Archie made two Pro Bowls (1978-79) and was the NFC Offensive Player of the Year in 1978 as well. Archie completed 2,011 passes out of 3,642 which still ranks 55th and 54th place in NFL history.
Archie still ranks 90th in touchdown passes with 125 and 64th in passing yards with 23,911 in his career. In 1988, the Saints inducted Archie into their Hall of Fame.
Eli Manning: New York Giants via Ole Miss Rebels
Eli followed his father’s footsteps and headed to Ole Miss to play football. During his time in college, Eli tied or broke 45 school records.
He won the Conerly Trophy twice and in his senior year won just about every award a quarterback could win. Eli finished third in the voting for the Heisman Trophy as well his senior year.
After his senior year at Ole Miss, Eli was drafted by the San Diego Chargers with the first pick in the 2004 draft. The Giants traded Phillip Rivers for Eli with the deal turning out to be a winner for both teams.
In his short pro career so far, Eli has accomplished something his father could never do. Eli was able to lead the Giants over a heavily New England Patriots team for a win in Super Bowl XLII. Eli was the game’s MVP after driving the Giants down the field for the game-winning score.
Eli has one Pro Bowl appearance in his career in 2009.
Early in his career, so far Eli has 42 career wins. Eli has thrown for 14,623 yards for 124th place in NFL history so far.
He also has 98 touchdown passes for 84th place in history in just five years in the NFL. Eli could be a future Hall of Famer after his career is over.
Steve McNair: Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans via of Alcorn State Braves
Mississippi has three historically black universities, and all three have given the NFL some of the best players to play the game. One such player was Alcorn State’s Steve “Air” McNair. McNair followed in his brother Fred’s footsteps to play for the Braves.
By the end of his college career at Alcorn State, McNair was a legend, breaking several records his senior year and finishing third in the Heisman Trophy voting.
McNair also won the Walter Payton Award his senior year and beat arch rival Jackson State for four straight years.
In 1995, the Oilers picked McNair with the third pick in the first round of the draft. He sat most of his first two seasons.
In 1997, McNair led the Oilers to an 8-8 record in his first season as a starter. When the team moved to Tennessee the following season, McNair’s career took off.
In the 1999 season, McNair led the Titans to the best season ever in Houston or Tennessee. McNair led his team to Super Bowl XXXIV against the St. Louis Rams. McNair drove the Titans on a last-second drive that fell a yard short in a 23-16 loss.
Injuries forced McNair into retirement following the 2007 season.
McNair’s career was still stellar earning a Co-NFL MVP in 2003. He was named to three Pro Bowls (2000, 2003, and 2005) and was named an All-Pro in 2003.
McNair passed for 31,304 yards for 28th place all time, to go along with 4,544 pass attempts and 2,733 completions for 23rd and 20th place, respectively, in NFL history.
In his 13 NFL seasons, McNair passed for 174 touchdowns and won 91 games for 29th place and 20th place.
Brett Favre: Green Bay Packers via Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles
Arguably one of the greatest players ever to play quarterback, Brett Favre is one of the handfuls of players from Mississippi to be in the discussion of greatest NFL players.
Favre was a legend for the Golden Eagles way before he ever stepped onto an NFL field.
Favre’s mystique started his freshman year at USM the only school to offer him a scholarship. Favre started his freshman season as the seventh-string quarterback.
Everything changed the third game of the season against Tulane. Favre came off the bench to lead USM to a comeback victory, throwing for two touchdowns while vomiting from a hangover from the night before.
In Favre’s junior season, he led a comeback over the sixth-ranked Florida State. Before his senior season, Favre was involved in a near-fatal car accident.
Six weeks after the accident, Favre was able to get USM a rare win over Alabama as he led a Golden Eagle comeback.
Favre owned nearly every record in the Southern Mississippi record book when he left. To this day, he still owns or is tied for most of the records in the USM history.
Favre was drafted in 1991 by the Atlanta Falcons in the second round with the 33rd pick, but he was not wanted there by head coach Jerry Glanville. That off-season, Ron Wolfe left the New York Jets to become the general manger for the Packers.
Wolfe traded the Packers first draft choice to Atlanta (turned out to be fellow USM alum Tony Smith) for Favre bring him to Green Bay.
In his time with the Packers, Favre was able to lead the team to two Super Bowls (XXXI and XXXII) in back-to-back years, beating the New England Patriots for a Super Bowl win in XXXI and losing to the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXXII.
Favre was able to win three straight NFL MVP trophies from 1995-97 and was a first team All-Pro during the same time.
Favre was selected to 10 Pro Bowls (1992, 1993, 1995, 1996, 1997, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2007, and 2008) during his NFL career.
In his great career, Favre owns just about every passing record in the NFL. He is first in passing yards with 65,127, passing attempts with 9,280, passing completions with 5,720, touchdowns with 464, and wins with 169.
No matter how you feel about Favre’s comebacks to play in the NFL, you have to agree he is one of the best to ever suit up behind center. He's an all-time NFL great who got his start and whose legacy began in the Magnolia State.
Next in this series are great running backs and wide receivers from the state of Mississippi.
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