The success of a quarterback's career is often measured in rings. A quarterback can also single-handedly determine his team's fate in the big game.
But what can make a Super Bowl even more compelling is a strong matchup of all-time quarterbacks. There have been plenty of them through the years, but there have also been one-sided matchups and even clunkers. Here is a rundown of the best quarterback showdowns of all-time.
Trent Dilfer remains the epitome of a "game-manager" quarterback, but is simultaneously the example of how a game-manager can navigate his team to a Super Bowl win. However, because Dilfer's numbers are entirely forgettable, he will never receive the credit for the Ravens winning Super Bowl XXXV given their all-time defense that season.
Kerry Collins was a reclamation project with the Giants. He also had one of his best seasons in 2000, leading the Giants to the top seed in the NFC that year. While Collins remains entrenched in Giants' history, his career is full of potholes that do not add any weight to this matchup.
Much like Dilfer, McMahon just needed to not screw up or get in the way of a team led to a championship by its historic defense. McMahon, more famous for his exploits off the field and attitude on the field, became a league journeyman later in his career and was never again in such a position to win.
Tony Eason was a member of the unforgettable first-round quarterbacks from the 1983 Draft, yet never came close to his peers. He led the Patriots to the AFC Championship in 1985, but played just five more seasons and completed just 911 passes in his seven-year career.
Johnson and Gannon were both 10-plus year veterans when the Buccaneers and Raiders met in Super Bowl XXXVII. The Bucs were Johnson's third team, while the Raiders served as Gannon's fifth franchise. Neither quarterback ever held the status of franchise quarterback. Gannon, who won the NFL MVP in 2002, threw five interceptions that effectively handed the trophy to Tampa Bay.
One side featured Peyton Manning in pursuit of his first ring. The other side featured the much-maligned, erroneous Rex Grossman. Manning alone could elevate a Super Bowl matchup, but when the opponent posts a ZERO rating during his Super Bowl season and six more games with a rating under 50, the matchup will take a hit. Grossman has often been tagged with the "worst quarterback to reach a Super Bowl" moniker.
Much like Manning before him, Elway carried the muscle in a matchup. In Super Bowl XXXIII, Elway, who won his second straight ring this matchup, squared off against the stereotypical NFL journeyman in Chandler. Prior to signing with the Falcons in 1997, Chandler played for five different teams and never spent more than two seasons in any location. The two were polar opposites in terms of job security.
Tom Brady had not yet earned his all-time status prior to Super Bowl XXXVIII. His proficiency at the position had not yet reached later levels. Meanwhile, Jake Delhomme had never been a starter in the NFL prior to leading the Panthers to the 2003 NFC Championship.
Delhomme went undrafted, played three seasons in NFL Europe, and then four seasons as a backup in New Orleans. Delhomme had a few strong years following the Super Bowl berth, but has since seen his career go into a tailspin.
Young famously got the monkey off his back with his record-setting six touchdown performance in Super Bowl XXIX. Across the field was Stan Humphries, however, who had strong seasons in San Diego, but never compiled a resume worthy of moving this matchup further up the list.
Theismann's victory in Super Bowl XVII kick-started the Washington Redskins' dynasty, but his opponent in the game was the forgettable David Woodley. Woodley spent seven years in the league, but was quickly gone as the Dolphins handed the quarterback job to Dan Marino.
Hasselbeck's career took off when he joined Mike Holmgren in Seattle and was named a first-team All-Pro in 2005. Heading into Super Bowl XL, Ben Roethlisberger was still better known for his name and just keeping the Steelers in order while being led by a premier defense. Neither quarterback helped their case with average and below-average performances during the game.
Dawson led the Chiefs to their only Super Bowl win in franchise history in Super Bowl IV, but the quarterback matchup pitted two men who spent most of their careers bouncing around franchises.
It took Dawson five seasons with three difference franchises before finding a home in Kansas City, where he turned 12 seasons in a Hall of Fame career.
Kapp spent seven seasons in the CFL before finally landing with the Vikings where he played four years before retiring from football. Dawson may be underrated in NFL history, but this matchup is forgettable in Super Bowl history.
Bradshaw grabbed his fourth ring and a perfect Super Bowl record when the Steelers defeated Ferragamo's Rams, 34-19, in Super Bowl XIV. Bradshaw is forever known for his postseason exploits, but this matchup is dragged down by Ferragamo.
Ferragamo, better known for sharing his name with an Italian designer, bounced between the NFL and CFL and finished his career with 76 touchdowns versus 91 interceptions. If I didn't tell you his name, could anyone recall who quarterbacked the Rams 30 years ago?
Hostetler, who served as a backup for almost all of his eight-year tenure with the Giants, stepped in for an injured Phil Simms late in the 1990 season. That did not stop him from leading the Giants to a significant upset over Kelly's Bills in Super Bowl XXV. Hostetler later parlayed that success into six years of starting with the Raiders and Redskins.
Kelly would famously go on to three additional Super Bowl appearances, but never won the big one. Nonetheless, that did not stop him from becoming a Hall of Fame quarterback.
Aikman put an exclamation point on his career with the Cowboys' 27-17 victory over O'Donnell's Steelers in Super Bowl XXX. While the win gave the Cowboys three titles in four years—the first to do so in NFL history—the game more defines O'Donnell's career. His two bad interceptions in the second half set the Cowboys up for the win. The next season O'Donnell was off to the Jets and his career never recovered.
Williams became famous for becoming the first black quarterback to win a Super Bowl and denying Elway a ring in his second shot. Elway was on his way to becoming an all-time great, but Williams was already nearing the end of his career. Williams spent two more seasons in the NFL before retiring after the 1989 season with a 100-93 TD/INT ratio.
Namath rode his Super Bowl guarantee to a Hall of Fame career, but his statistics may be the worst of any quarterback enshrined in Canton.
This matchup is salvaged by Morrall, who won three Super Bowls and one MVP award but is NOT in the Hall of Fame, while but Namath is despite a 173-220 TD/INT ratio.
Kurt Warner streaked onto the NFL stage when he came out of nowhere to guide one of the best offenses of the last 15 years. Steve McNair already asserted himself as the franchise quarterback of the Titans and was arguably the best dual-threat quarterback of the 1990s. The matchup did not have much name recognition at the time, which keeps it down the list. In hindsight, however, the game continues to gain notoriety.
Neither Plunkett nor Theismann put up memorable numbers in their career, but that did not stop them from each winning a Super Bowl. It was the one Super Bowl of the 1980s that featured quarterbacks who had already won a ring.
Brady had his ticket to Canton punched prior to Super Bowl XLII. Eli Manning wanted to get out of the shadow of his brother. Manning still has many years left, but was already on an upswing when he cemented his status as an elite NFL quarterback with the Giants upset over Brady's undefeated Patriots.
Plunkett orchestrated the Raiders' second Super Bowl title and kept the Raiders atop the AFC in the 1970s and 1980s. Once upon a time, Ron Jaworski did lead his Philadelphia Eagles to their first Super Bowl appearance before becoming an NFL mouthpiece at ESPN.
Griese led the Dolphins to the only undefeated season in NFL history when he got the best of Redskins quarterback Billy Kilmer. Kilmer played with three different franchises and spent five years in each location, but never put together the ledger to compete with Griese's.
Rypien was the deep-ball chucking quarterback of Joe Gibbs monster teams in the late-'80s and early-'90s. Rypien previously won a ring as Doug Williams' backup, but took the reins to the Redskins' prolific offense and did not miss a beat. Kelly was outdone for the second straight year, but was already one of the best quarterbacks in the league at that point.
Tom Brady became the fourth quarterback to win three Super Bowls when he eclipsed McNabb's Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX. McNabb has put up some of the biggest numbers of any quarterback of the last decade, but misses the one thing that would bump this matchup further up the list: a ring.
Favre entered Super Bowl XXXI fresh off his first of three consecutive MVP awards. Bledsoe was still building up his career under Bill Parcells. The Packers won and Favre became BRETT FAVRE. Conversely, Parcells left New England after the loss and Bledsoe struggled to have similar success for the rest of his career.
Montana earned his third of four rings and entrenched himself as one of the best of all-time. With a career year, Esaison put himself in the discussion as one of the best handful of quarterbacks in the league at the time.
Morton got another shot at a ring, but was denied by Staubach, who captured his second Super Bowl title. Staubach put himself in the discussion as one of the best quarterbacks in the first 25 years of the NFL.
Montana emerged as Bill Walsh's boy when he led the 49ers to a 26-21 victory of Anderson's Bengals. It was just the first step in his legendary career. Anderson was already a 10-year veteran who won his only MVP in 1981. One quarterback entered the back end of his career while the other's had limitless possibilities.
Unitas was already near the end of his career when he led the Colts to a slogging victory over Morton's Cowboys. Morton had three successful stops in his career (Giants, Broncos, Cowboys), but was more of a stat compiler who never attained the highest levels of team or individual success.
Simms was an unassuming quarterback the first few years of his career, but saw his career take off under Bill Parcells. Simms' Super Bowl XXI effort remains one of the best performances in the game's history. Elway got his first shot at a Super Bowl, but truly arrived on the scene with his playoff performances that season.
Starr and Lamonica did not enjoy the explosive passing offenses of later decades, but the two were the best quarterbacks in their era. Starr was the leader of the Packers 1960s dynasty. Lamonica won three AFL titles and was a two-time AFL MVP.
Roethlisberger won his second title in five years in the league and asserted himself as one of the best postseason quarterbacks of the last decade. Warner revamped a second previously-dismal franchise, bringing the Cardinals to their second Super Bowl. It is the only Super Bowl this decade to feature two quarterbacks who previously won rings.
Aikman was a rising star in the league as the leader of the Cowboys high-flying offense took on Jim Kelly. The two were among the top of the fantastic class of quarterbacks that dominated the NFL in the early 1990s.
Griese led the Dolphins to their second straight Super Bowl victory over Tarkenton's Vikings. Griese, the fourth-overall pick in 1967, was later elected to both the College Football Hall of Fame and the NFL Hall of Fame. Tarkenton held nearly every major passing record in league history upon his retirement in 1978.
Simply put, the first Super Bowl ever featured the two best quarterbacks of the 1960s. Starr and Dawson were the preeminent signal-callers in their respective leagues. Both set the tone for Super Bowls to come.
Staubach and Griese were two of the best quarterbacks in their respective conferences throughout the 1970s. Their matchup in Super Bowl VI was a sign of things to come for two quarterbacks who had not even reached their fifth season in the league before they met head-to-head.
In the new era of the NFL when passing games have become full-on aerial bombardments, no two quarterbacks have done it better than Peyton Manning and Drew Brees. Super Bowl XLIV stands to accumulate the highest combined passing total in the game's history.
Aikman got his second ring. Kelly was denied for the fourth time. But when these two hooked up for the second time in Super Bowl XXVIII, it marked a changing in the tide of a league that was dominated by the prime years of Kelly, Marino, Montana, and Elway into one run by Brett Favre and his coattail chasers to come.
Other quarterbacks eventually put up better numbers than Stabler (and Tarkenton too), but these two quarterbacks were as exciting as they came in the 1970s. At the time, Stabler was the quickest to win 100 games
Warner already solidified himself as one of the league's most prolific passers when his Rams met the upstart Tom Brady. Nine years later, it remains the best quarterback matchup of the decade and arguably the biggest upset of the decade.
The one matchup that virtually personified the two conferences during the '70s is Bradshaw and Staubach. Staubach was six years older than Bradshaw at the time of the game, but it was one destined to be rematched two years later.
Bradshaw was the young buck on the scene and Tarkenton the veteran in Super Bowl IX. It was another duo of round-robin matches in the 1970s that helped build the league into what it is today.
It is regarded as one of the best quarterback rivalries off all-time, one that lasted for nearly a decade. Combine that with the fact that two played in one of the best Super Bowls of all-time and you have a top-five matchup.
After too many blowouts in Super Bowls leading up this one, Favre and Elway put on a show that, in this writer's opinion, made for one of the five best Super Bowls of all-time.
Elway got his first ring while Favre was denied his second. Nonetheless, Elway would eventually make room for Favre to take over as the best quarterback of the next five-plus years.
Montana went for his second ring. Marino appeared in his first Super Bowl and what was thought to be many for the Dolphins quarterback. NFL fans never got to enjoy a repeat of Super Bowl XIX, but Montana was already considered the best QB in the game and Marino came off a record-setting season. Only one duo could outduel the firepower in this game.
They were two of the best in the game and are two of the best of all-time. Montana was coming out of his prime, but Elway was in the heart of his. Though the 49ers blasted the Broncos, 55-10, the amount of talent under center in the game is unprecedented in NFL history.