The Last of a Dying Breed: Kurt Warner and Brett Favre Truly Elite Quarterbacks

Dave SerkochCorrespondent IJanuary 28, 2010

As we prepare ourselves for what will undoubtedly be a quarterback duel for the ages between Peyton Manning and Drew Brees in Super Bowl XLIV, I have one piece of advice for you.

Enjoy it while you can. We’re beginning to run extremely thin on our supply of truly elite quarterbacks.

With Kurt Warner set to announce his future on Friday and Brett Favre supposedly set to do the same not long after, we’re on the verge of losing two of the greatest talents the game has ever seen at the quarterback position.

Both are leaning toward retirement, and can you blame them?

Warner and Favre both withstood absolutely hellish beatings in their final games. Warner, attempting to make a tackle after an interception, was blindsided and nearly knocked out cold. Favre, known for his durability and willingness to play despite any injury, put that toughness on full display as he absorbed hit after hit from a ferocious Saints defense, somehow getting up after each and playing the full 60 minutes.

My guess is neither guy had a very fun Monday morning following those games.

So can you really blame them if they want to walk away, their bodies telling them that there’s nothing left despite their minds demanding one more go at a championship? No matter how much you want to do something, if your body says no, the answer is no.

In all likelihood, we’ve seen the last of these two great quarterbacks, and it’s a shame.

Not for them, although you can’t help but feel bad anytime a great athlete decides to call it quits. Then again, the last thing you want to do is see them hang around long past their prime and potentially embarrass themselves.

But it’s a shame for us, the fans, because the truth is neither of these guys had passed their prime yet. As a matter of fact, they just might have been playing their best football ever.

At 38 and 40 years old!

Over the last two seasons, Warner had transformed what was a laughingstock of a franchise into an offensive juggernaut. They might not have put up the same numbers as his “Greatest Show on Turf” St. Louis Rams did a decade earlier, but the Cardinals nearly pulled off one of the most spectacular Super Bowl wins of all time last season. And had they had any sort of defensive support, his offense looked primed for another shot at the title this year.  

Favre, as unfair as it might be, will most be remembered this season for his ill-advised interception in the NFC Championship game that allowed the Saints to go on and win the game in overtime. But before that, Favre was having his best statistical season ever, which is impressive in itself until you consider just how many seasons the guy has played. To put up some of his best numbers (4,202 yards, 33 touchdowns, seven interceptions) at his age is truly a thing of wonder.

Both guys, though, seem spent. Both have been talking of retirement for a few years now, and as tired as we’ve grown of the will he/won’t he drama, it appears as if both will seriously walk away from the game for good. I think.

But the soap opera spectacle that surrounds their offseason decisions, Brett Favre’s in particular, overshadows one big, important fact.

These guys are among of the last of a dying breed. They are an endangered species of truly elite quarterbacks that have made the NFL the awesome spectacle that it is.

Without question, Favre and Warner are first ballot Hall of Famers. There’s absolutely no disputing that both have the numbers and the reputation that it takes to become enshrined in Canton.  There’s also no denying that if they do choose to walk away, they leave their respective franchises in unenviable situations when it comes to having a franchise quarterback. And those teams aren’t alone.

Aside from these two, there are only a handful of absolutely dominant, elite-level quarterbacks left in the NFL. Two will be on display in Super Bowl XLIV—Peyton Manning and Drew Brees. The others, Brady and Roethlisberger, have made their forces felt with a combined five Super Bowl victories between them.

Some might argue that Carson Palmer and Donovan McNabb belong in the mix. While I’d agree that you could make a strong case for McNabb, he’s never been a Super Bowl champion. As for Palmer, he appeared headed toward elite status before his gruesome 2005 injury, from which he’s never truly recovered.

Dispersed throughout the rest of the league, there is an array of young talent. Philip Rivers, Tony Romo, Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan, Eli Manning, Matt Shaub, Vince Young,  Mark Sanchez—all have shown promise and each has the tools and potential necessary to have long, prosperous, successful careers.

But none have begun to approach the level of play and pure spectacle that the elite quarterbacks hold, Eli’s Super Bowl victory notwithstanding. While I’m in no way dismissing any of these guys from having a Hall of Fame career, my gut tells me that only one or two of them will have us as mesmerized and enthralled at 40 years old as Kurt Warner and Brett Favre do.

As for the rest of the league, it’s a smorgasbord of either unproven or just plain mediocre talent. Nobody outside of the names I’ve already listed have shown even a glimmer of elite talent, none suggesting we’ll be talking about them two decades down the road. While many are young and still have time to develop, it appears we’re in store for more disparity than we are truly dominating talents.

So while Warner and Favre string us along on their farewell tours, perhaps as likely to call it quits as the Rolling Stones are, be thankful for one thing; the opportunity to have basked in the brilliance that was their careers, because you never know how many of them we have left.