As Tom Brady and Peyton Manning thumb wrestle for quarterback supremacy, I should remind you that there will be many Hall of Fame quarterbacks left off this list, as I'm only interested in the best of the best. These rankings are based on overall game impact, consistency, championships, in some cases (Marino) stats, and how superior they were/are to their peers. Aside from the top 10 I've also listed 5 others who just missed the cut, feel free to chime in on their merits as well as those of the actual top 10. Enjoy!
Tom Terrific takes the cake here. His well documented rise to stardom has already produced four Super Bowl appearances and three World Championships. The 2007 NFL MVP and two-time Super Bowl MVP has won titles with conservative play and great decision making (2001), with all out arial assaults (2003, oh by the way, he also beat BOTH NFL co-MVP's in the playoffs that season), and with cold-blooded efficiency (2004). He made the likes of David Givens, Deion Branch, and David Patten legitimate receiving threats. The single-season record holder for TD passes (50) owns the best TD/INT ratio of all time at 2.29 and the best winning percentage (.789) of any QB in the Super Bowl era. He's even better in the clutch with a remarkble 14-3 career playoff record, as well as a 30-6 record in games decided by less than a touchdown, including a perfect 7-0 overtime record. Brady flat out gets the job done better than anyone else. He has a 7-3 record vs. Peyton Manning, his closest contemporary, including 2-1 in the playoffs, as well as Brady's first ever NFL start. He has the Patriots poised for another title run, and if, as he says, he is at the halftime of his career, he could end up with more championships himself than any other franchise in history.
The elder Manning brother is often regarded as the best QB in the league today, and it's easy to see why. He's the most physically gifted quarterback I've ever seen, and there isn't a single throw he can't make look routine. The 9-time Pro Bowler owns the single season passer rating record (121.1) and has a Super Bowl title to his name. If he didn't have the misfortune of facing New England in the playoffs so often he might have two more titles to boot. The three-time NFL MVP led the league in passer rating each year from 2004-2006, and owns the second highest career rating (94.7) behind only Steve Young. He's averaged 4,148 yards passing per season and has led the Colts to the playoffs nine times in his eleven year career.
If Young hadn't lost several seasons of production backing up Montana and playing for the hapless Buccaneers, he'd be higher, but as it is he only had 8 seasons of great production as a starter. In those 8 saesons he was as good if not better than anyone else listed here, and he had a more diverse skill set than the players above him did, posing a threat as a runner, an extra dimension to defend against the others don't posses, having rushed for over 4,000 career yards and 43 TDs. Upon taking the starting job after fellow Hall of Famer Joe Montana was knocked out of the NFC Championship following the 1990 season, Young posted four consectutive seasons with a passer rating over 100 en route to seven consecutive Pro Bowls starting in 1992, including three consecutive first-team All Pro nominations and two NFL MVP awards. His six seasons leading the league in passer rating are tied with Sammy Baugh for the most all time, and his career mark of 96.8 stands alone as the best all time. He led the league in TD passes each year from '92 to '94 and again in '98. He was forced to retire due to concussion problems but he certainly finished with a bang, leading the 49ers to the NFC title game in his last full season after throwing for 4,170 yards, 36 TD and 12 INT. Although his final playoff bid fell short in '98 he does have a Super Bowl win as a starter, beating SanDiego in Super Bowl XXIX en route to MVP honors.
The Chiefs?! You're talking about Joe Montana and you use a picture of him on the Kansas City Chiefs?! Yes, that's right, I'm talking about Joe Montana circa 1993 and '94 when he led the Chiefs to a 17-8 record in the 25 games he started. I'm talking about Joe Montana, exiled from San Fransisco after being relegated to backup duty following an injury, going to Kansas City and showing the entire NFL that he still had it, that he had no business being anybody's backup, and that his success had so much more to do with his skills than it did with San Fran's legendary west coast offense. In fact, after riding the pine in the '92 playoffs, Montana went to KC and immediately earned a Pro Bowl nod. And in case you forgot, this was after the 8-time Pro Bowler and 2-time NFL MVP won four (tied with Terry Bradshaw for the most ever) Super Bowls in the 1980's. Steve Young's arrival after the '87 season lit a fire under Montana and after two consecutive first round playoff losses, he went on to win back-to-back Super Bowls, winning the game's MVP award in Super Bowl XXIV (his third, an NFL record), and cementing himself as the best ever at the time. Beating Young head to head in 1994 must have felt pretty good. That's just my guess, only Joe Knows.
Dan the Man, the greatest QB to never win a Super Bowl, had an arm for the ages. His quick release (the fastest release of any NFL QB ever timed) and uncanny in-pocket elusiveness made him one of the hardest quarterbacks ever to sack. On average he was only sacked once every 32 dropbacks, or roughly once per game. In 1983 he led Miami to the playoffs and became the only rookie quarterback to ever start in the Pro Bowl despite only starting nine games, and he followed that up by setting six (at the time) single season NFL passing records including passing yards (5,084) and TD passes (48, since broken by Manning and later Brady) en route to NFL MVP honors in 1984 while leading Miami to the Super Bowl only to taste defeat at the hands of Joe Montana and the 49ers. The 9-time Pro Bowler led the league in passing yards five times, tied for the most all time. He suffered a torn achilles tendon in 1993 only rebound the following season with 4,453 yards and 30 TDs, winning NFL comeback player of the year. He led the Dolphins to 10 playoff berths and won at least one playoff round seven times despite having a notable lack of offensive talent around him. The second all time leader in career passing yards and touchdowns was the precursor to Peyton Manning, though his accomplishments are made even more impressive by the fact that he played his entire career outdoors and never had Marvin Harrison or Reggie Wayne.
The 10-time Pro Bowler and 3-time league MVP won three championships with the Baltimore Colts, although he's probably most famous for the game he didn't win...Joe Namath's guarantee. The final six years of Unitas' career were mediocre at best, which skew his overall numbers and help hide just how good he was during his prime. Unitas made 10 out of 11 Pro Bowls starting in 1957 and although the game has changed drastically since then, few quarterbacks have shown that type of consistent excellence in their era. He was easilly the best of his day, leading the league in yardage four times (tied for 2nd all time), passer rating three times (including 97.4 in 1965), and passing TDs four times (tied for 1st all time), all in an eleven year span during which he only threw more INTs than TDs once. In a run-heavy league he eclipsed 3,000 yards three times and from 1957 to 1967 he averaged 2,865 yards passing. Namath's guarantee may get all the publicity, but you don't become legendary without beating the best.
Cue up the Madden jokes, we're talking about Brett Favre here, folks! While he failed to lead the New York Bretts to the promised land, don't let the grey-haired, flustered, broken-down Wrangler Jeans model fool you. He was once at the pinnacle of his craft. Unfortunately, once age caught him and he could no longer throw heat-seeking knuckle busters, his gunslinger attitude became a liability. Nevertheless, Favre won three, count 'em, three consecutive NFL MVP awards from 1995-97, and he would have won in '98 if a certain Terrell Davis hadn't rushed for over 2,000 yards. The all time career leader in passing yards and touchdowns had 17 straight seasons of over 3,000 yards passing, five of which were over 4,000. He led the Packers to 11 playoff berths, including a Super Bowl victory over Drew Bledsoe's Patriots. One of the best improvisors to ever throw a pigskin, he was just as dangerous throwing on the run as he was in the pocket. He led the league in touchdowns four times, with three of those seasons coinciding with his MVP years. The comical Maddenisms that most fans assosciate with Favre tend to mask just how fierce a competitor he's been throughout his career, he led Green Bay to five season of at least 12 wins and with him under center the Packers were a perrenial favorite to win a division title, if not more.
Otto Graham was the best player in the All-America Football Conference, the NFL's most formidable rival league from 1946-49. He led the Cleveland Browns to the AAFC title each of the league's four years of existence before the Browns joined the NFL in 1950. He continued his success in the NFL, winning three championships from 1950-55. In 10 years of professional football he won 7 titles, and never missed the playoffs. Between the two leagues he was a 7-time First Team All Pro, and if he'd started enough NFL games to qualify, his .803 winning percentage would be the highest ever. He gets knocked down a peg because of the era he played in (he can't match modern numbers due to shorter seasons, although he did lead the NFL in yardage twice), and the fact that four of his titles were won while playing outside the NFL. That being said, Graham dominated his competition more than any other quarterback. Ever.
January 11, 1987. AFC Championsip.
The Cleveland Browns have just taken a 20-13 lead. After muffing the ensuing kickofff, Denver takes possession on their own 2-yard line with 5:32 remaining in the 4th quarter. Game Over.
Not so fast. Elway completes a 5-yard play-action pass to get out from his own endzone. What happened next will forever be immortalized simply as "The Drive". Elway marched the Broncos down the field on a 15-play 98-yard scoring drive culminating in a 5-yard touchdown pass to send the game to overtime. Elway was 6 of 9 for 78 yards and the tying TD, including a crucial 20 yard strike on 3rd and 18. He also scrambled 11 yards for a first down from his own 15-yard line. Oh yeah, by the way, Elway also led Denver on a 60-yard game winning field goal drive in OT. The Broncos went on to lose the Super Bowl. In fact Elway lost his first three SB appearances, but he made up for lost time after the 1997 and 98 seasons by winning back-to-back titles before riding off into the sunset. In Super Bowl XXXII he provided one of the most memorable moments in SB history when on a key 3rd down he scrambled toward the 1st down marker, desperately plunged himself forward, got blasted by two Green Bay Packers and miraculously helicoptered his way to a 1st down. For the NFL's all time leader in 4th quarter come from behind wins, it was just another day at the office.
Hopefully you're not saying to yourself "Sid who? Who the (bleep) is that?" In case you are, here's a brief rundown...Luckman played for the Bears from 1939-50. Under George Halas, Luckman became the first QB to successfully run the T-formation. The T-formation is what gave birth to the modern position as we know it. In the T, the quarterback stood directly under center, called the plays, and could either hand the ball off, run himself, or pass it downfield. Luckman revolutionized the position and the game forever. It's a reasonably safe bet to say he wouldn't get very far in today's game with so many defenses geared up to stop the forward pass, but judging by his assault on the record books (he still holds the record for most TD's in one game with 7) I can't completely rule him out either. The 5-time All Pro led the league in yards and TD's three times apiece and won five world championships including a record-setting 73-0 blowout of the Redskins in 1940. Those who don't learn from their history are doomed to repeat it...if only all QB's could be that luck(man)y.
Dan Fouts- Set an NFL record (at the time) with 4,802 yards in 1981. Averaged 284 yards per game started from '79-'86 (that's 4,544 yards every 16 games)
Roger Staubach- 6-time Pro Bowler won two Super Bowls with the Dallas Cowboys
Fran Tarkenton- 9-time Pro Bowler was a duel threat to run and pass. 3rd all time in TD passes thrown and was the league MVP in 1975.
Terry Bradshaw- He was the beneficiary of playing for some of the greatest teams of all time and his passing numbers are decidedly mediocre, but the man won four titles, that's gotta be worth something.
Kurt Warner/Ben Roethlisberger- They share the spot because neither of them belong here as of right now, but they're both still active and they both have some (a lot in Big Ben's case) of great play left ahead of them. Roethlisberger has more of a shot than Warner because Warner falls behind Brady and Manning whereas Big Ben has a shot to play well and win after they retire and take up their mantle himself without having to beat them for it. If Drew Brees had won a Super Bowl by now I'd be inclined to throw him in this category as well.