At 6'1", Johnny Unitas had a vision of the field virtually unparalleled in the NFL at the time. Y.A. Tittle also successfully looked over his linemen at 6'0". Today's quarterbacks, however, are better.
In fact, nothing today is anywhere close to the same as in those days. In addition to height and weight (neither quarterback weighed that much), the other ingredient where these quarterbacks of the dark ages in NFL football don't compare was their talent.
You can make whatever arguments you want about the greater sophistication of the game today, the bigger importance of the quarterback in the modern game and all the rest. But there is little question in my mind that both Big Ben Roethlisberger and Pretty Boy Tom Brady are what the statistics show: far better in every way.
The true test today of a quarterback's raw talent is his quarterback rating. Yes, you benefit from better wide receivers and all the other excuses for those that achieve less. Yet the Unitas and Tittle ratings at 78.2 and 73.6 are far eclipsed by Big Ben's and Pretty Boy Tom's lifetime ratings so far of 92.5 and 95.2 respectively.
You can argue that rules have changed, but there is little question but that both may be more durable. You can say that sports medicine is better. Yet for all of that, the game is better and with it the talent much improved over yesteryear.
This Super Bowl showcased the talents of two quarterbacks. Only one has two rings. The other now has one.
There are few qualities that are required to make a quarterback great. Because longevity is required for any great quarterback, Roethlisberger's seven seasons make his current run (five fewer than Brady) less impressive. But when compared with the past, Roethlisberger's two Super Bowl wins do not yet rank with Brady's total, and there are almost certainly more to come.
With his current statistics, Roethlisberger has the edge for the future. If considering the two players' level of performance, this season's rating by Brady of 111 outstripped Roethlisberger's 97 by a considerable margin.
Another quarterback of note is Terry Bradshaw. Often maligned as less important, stupid or not quite all there, Bradshaw was a huge talent whose quarterback rating still pulls him far down the scale, for he has a rating in the 70s.
Roethlisberger has some career parallels to Bradshaw so far. Both went to fairly unimportant football schools, and both are Pittsburgh Steelers quarterbacks.
The sad truth is that popular quarterbacks are far more likely to be appreciated. While Bradshaw was in a somewhat different era and suffered different problems, Roethlisberger's off-field activities do not bode well for him. He certainly still ranks below the best, especially if considered in light of the quarterback ranking system I proposed for quarterbacks a few weeks ago in this column.
To become Bradshaw, Roethlisberger has to win more Super Bowls and playoff games, and he has to keep it up for a few more years.
If he does this, will Roethlisberger go the way of Terry Bradshaw? Will he still be less recognized because of personal traits?
Roethlisberger has everything going for him except another ring. Assuming he gets a few more, his runs through the playoffs should count. A better quarterback rating and he will rank higher than Bradshaw. Today, however, he does not.