What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
Football fans love to argue, and one their favorite subjects is the whole “greatest of all time” thing. If you recall back before the Super Bowl, there was a lot of talk about Tom Brady would have to be the “G.O.A.T.” if he won a sixth ring.
Well, he didn’t.
Frankly, by my calculations, it wouldn’t have mattered. Don’t get me wrong, Tom Brady and several others have moved on my list since it’s original publication in 2012. But in my book, “greatest of all time” means EXACTLY that…”all time.” It doesn’t mean “my favorite” or “best I ever saw.”
Just like I said for the creation of the original list, having an intellectually honest debate on the “G.O.A.T.” topic has three inherent problems. For openers, everybody has personal biases and/or their favorites. Trust me, as you read this list, you are likely to find a guy who you will think I rated too low. Conversely, you are likely to find a guy who I rated too high. You may even find a guy you don’t like rated above your favorite. The second issue is the subjective nature of “greatness;” this feeds into the “personal bias” issue and it isn’t easily solved by merely clinging to statistics, which leads to the third problem. The argument over “greatness” takes a major trip over the difference in eras; let’s face it, professional football is not the same game in 1940 as it is today. This is why I developed a list of criteria designed to mitigate those problems as much as possible.
Really I’m trying to expand beyond the shopworn “who won more championships vs. who had better stats debate;” ESPN gives us a steady diet of that, but it also presents us the problem that really isn’t solvable. Not only is that debate an important part of the discussion, but any list of criteria is going to leave somebody out. Thankfully, this is why blogs have comments section. Peruse this list and share your thoughts.
First, look at the notable quarterbacks who didn’t make the cut. Just like last time, there are some guys on this list who have potential upward mobility…which means we may be revistign this in six more years.
– Bold indicates a quarterback who dropped out of the top 30, italics indicate a quarterback who is still active.
Now, for the updated Dubsism list of the 30 Greatest Quarterbacks to date:
* Indicates a quarterback new to the list, italics denote a quarterback who is still active.
30) Eli Manning*
The younger Manning brother may very well be the only guy on this list who was benched twice in his career. The first came in his rocky rookie season when he got the pines in favor of future Hall-of-Famer Kurt Warner; the second as a result of the disaster which was 2017 for the New York Giants.
The last time I did this list, we didn’t yet know how the Peyton Manning story was going to end. Now it’s Eli’s turn to spin the “Wheel of Whatever.” As it stands today, Manning the Younger lands at 30th on this list, and staying on this list seems tenuous at best. He still has playing time left in his career, but we have no idea where that might be.
Eli Manning is the first guy on this list who suffers from a problem which plagues a few others further on up this list. When he is “on,” Manning the Younger is one of the all-time greats of the game; hence how he nabbed two Super Bowl MVP awards. But when he was “off”… well, let’s just say leading the league in interceptions three times is going to cost you in my scoring system. In other words, Manning the Younger’s career is defined by the term “inconsistent.”
That won’t be the last time you see that term here.
29) Bart Starr
Starr is the quintessential model of efficiency and not beating one’s self. Starr is not the guy who will blow you away with his huge stats or game-winning plays, but he did lead the Packers dynasty that won five championships in seven years during the 1960s. His .900 winning percentage in the post-season may be the most efficient passer ever and his 9-1 post season record is the best by a quarterback. As I said, Starr doesn’t have the huge stat sheet, but he does have 5 championships, an NFL MVP award, and 2 Super Bowl MVP’s. Let’s be honest, the great ones win when it matters.
28) Kurt Warner
Warner might just be the ultimate NFL “rags-to-riches” story. During journey from the fields of Iowa to the NFL, Warner at times bagged groceries and starred in the Arena Football. Nobody drafted him out of Northern Iowa and ended up having one the great careers of all time. He was the NFL MVP twice, Super Bowl MVP once, and owns the three highest single-game passing yardage totals in Super Bowl history.
27) Bobby Layne
For a guy who was never considered an “elite” passer, when Layne retired he held the league record’s for most career pass attempts, completions, passing yards, and touchdown passes. He was also one of the best running quarterbacks on this list. He won NFL Championships in 1952, 1953, and 1957, and just missed a fourth in 1954. The Lions haven’t won a championship since they shipped Layne to the Steelers in 1958. Bobby Layne is also the only player on this list who has a Dubsy Award named for him.
26) Norm Van Brocklin
‘The Dutchman” is the only quarterback to split the signal-calling duties with two other Hall of Famers during his career; Bob Waterfield in Los Angeles and Sonny Jurgensen in Philadelphia. Van Brocklin played in 9 Pro Bowls and was a first-team All Pro selection in 1960. He won two NFL championships and is the only quarterback to beat a Vince Lombardi-coached Packers team in a championship game.
25) Philip Rivers*
If you were going to make an instructional video on playing the quarterback position, Rivers might be last guy you’d put in it. He doesn’t have the prototypical “big arm” NFL scouts covet in a passer, and his mechanics are certainly unique. That’s really a nice way of saying that if Rivers weren’t one of the most accurate passers ever, his “skipping a rock across the creek” side-arm throwing motion would have his coaches gulping Maalox by the gallon. As of this writing, Rivers has thrown for at least 4,000 yards in nine of his last ten seasons, and one can only imagine what he could do on a better-than-mediocre team.
24) Len Dawson
Dawson was never flashy, and he never blew your mind with eye-popping statistics, but he was great nevertheless. Efficiency was his main weapon. Dawson led the AFL in completion percentage and passer rating six times and led the Chiefs to three championships. Along the way, he was a six-time AFL All-Star and was the MVP of Super Bowl IV.
Yelburton Abraham Tittle is like the 1960’s answer to Jim Kelly. Tittle had the pieces around him and he was good enough to get his guys to the Championship on multiple occasions, but was never able to get over the hump. He came the closest in 1963 when he set a single-season record with 36 touchdown passes; a record that stood until Dan Marino threw 48 scores in 1984.
22) Ben Roethlisberger
Roethlisberger became the youngest Super Bowl-winning quarterback to date when he led the Steelers to a 21–10 victory over the Seattle Seahawks in his second professional season at the age of 23. Four years later, Roethlisberger led the Steelers to a second Super Bowl Championship. Roethlisberger never gets credit for what an efficient passer he is because of his ability to scramble and extend plays. He currently ranks 11th all-time in completion percentage at 64.1%. Roethisberger isn’t done yet, he still has time to move either up or down this list.
21) Jim Kelly
Kelly is another quarterback who spent time in an inferior league (the USFL wasn’t a bad league, but it was closer in terms of talent to the CFL than the NFL). Even though he lost them all, playing in four straight Super Bowls was impressive; one can make an argument the Bills were over-matched in talent in two of them. If Scott Norwood makes that field goal in 1991, so many things change. The Bills become discussed as one of the great teams of all time, the Bills likely win at least one more championship, and Kelly moves up this list.
20) Warren Moon
The fact that Moon had over 49,000 passing yards and 291 touchdowns in the NFL is astonishing considering he spent the first five years of his pro football career in Canada. If one were to consider his CFL stats in the total, he becomes one of three guys with 70,000 passing yards (P. Manning, Favre, and Brees) and one of only five quarterbacks as of this writing (P. Manning, Favre, Brady, Brees, and Marino) with 400+ touchdowns. Moon was never a successful play-off quarterback, but he was selected to nine Pro Bowls was named NFL MVP in 1990.
If Dan Fouts isn’t the best pure passer on this list, there’s no denying he is in the top five. He was a six-time Pro Bowler and was twice a first-team All-Pro. He was the first to throw for over 4,000 yards in three consecutive seasons, and his 4,802 passing yards in 1981 was a single-season record. However, his won-loss record was only 86-84-1, and he never appeared in a Super Bowl, having gone 0-2 in conference championship games.
18 ) Terry Bradshaw
Bradshaw started out as a bumpkin in cleats, and ended up winning four Super Bowls. However, in between, Bradshaw was a model of inconsistency. He would rapidly alternate between greatness and gruesome. He put together seasons which made him a 3-time Pro Bowler and once was named first-team All-Pro; he also had seasons in which he threw 25 interceptions, or only completed 45% of his passes, or got benched for some other reason. Inconsistency is a brutal enough factor to keep a league MVP and two-time Super Bowl MVP in the bottom half of this list.
Tarkenton greatness as a passer gets overlooked largely because he was such great runner (3,674 rushing yards) and he was the first quarterback to lose three Super Bowls. His 47,000 career passing yards was #1 all-time when he retired. He completed 60 percent of his passes in five of his final six seasons, which is incredible given that he played for 18 seasons, and at the time a completion rate that high was not common.
16) Brett Favre
Brett Favre was the ultimate riverboat gambler. He played at a high level into his 40’s. Of all the records he set, the one that nobody who is alive today will live long enough to see broken is 285 consecutive starts. He’s got 70,000+ passing yards, 500+ touchdowns, and he was an 11-time Pro Bowler, 3-time first team All-Pro, and a 3-time league MVP. That seems like a guy who should be in the top five. So, why isn’t he?
For starters, there’s the fact he threw 336 career interceptions, which is almost 60 more than the 2nd-place guy. More importantly, he threw way too many of those picks in “crunch” time, which helps to explain how a quarterback with a 186-112 regular season win-loss record was only a 13-11 performer in the play-offs, and only 3-6 in conference championship games and Super Bowls.
15) Troy Aikman
The New York Mets offered Aikman a contract when he cae out of high school, but instead he chose to pursue football. 94 career wins, three Super Bowl championships and six Pro Bowls later, Aikman landed in the Hall of Fame as the quarterback with the most wins in any decade until he was surpassed by Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. Aikman retired as the Cowboys all-time leading passer despite the fact his career was cut short by injuries.
14) Roger Staubach
The only reason Roger Staubach isn’t higher on this list is his career simply wasn’t long enough to rack up big numbers. He was a 27-year-old rookie in 1969 because he had a four-year service commitment after graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy. His career gets even shorter when you consider that head coach Tom Landry didn’t name him as the full-time starter until 1971. But when he was on the field, there was none better. Between 1971 and 1979, Staubach won two Super Bowls and was a six-time Pro Bowler. The fact that he put up over 22,000 passing yards and 2,200 rushing yards in what really amounted to only 9 full seasons, it isn’t hard to see that if Staubach had a more traditional-length career, he would easily be a top ten guy.
13) Peyton Manning
Manning the Elder’s position on this list begs a question begs a serious question. How is it that a guy who retired with more passing yard than anybody EVER, more touchdown passes than anybody EVER, and as of this writing is the only five-time league MVP…how is that guy barely in the top half of this list?
Let’s hit the positives first. Aside from what I’ve already mentioned, Manning the Elder was also the fastest quarterback in history to reach 4,000 completions and 50,000 passing yards, was an 11-time Pro Bowler, and was selected All-Pro eight times.
Having said that, here’s the negatives. Manning the Elder suffers greatly in two categories, performance in the “clutch” and athleticism. His play-off record is dismal and like Tom Brady, he is an immobile pocket passer who would have only flourished in this league in the last twenty-five years or so. Put him and Brady in the 1960’s when defenders were allowed to literally beat the stuffing out of quarterbacks and neither of them would have survived.
To understand the greatness of you really have to consider the power of the difference in eras, and the length of season and individual careers. Considering Luckman played in an era when the forward pass was treated as a “trick” play, it’s difficult to look at sheer numbers and appreciate his greatness without considering the difference in eras. While Sammy Baugh (see #6) was inventing the modern passing game in the 1930’s and 1940’s, Luckman’s 2,194 passing yards and 28 touchdowns in 1943 seemed like an impossiblilty in those days; it would be roughly equal to a quarterback tossing for more than 6,800 yards and 57 touchdowns today.
11) Aaron Rodgers*
If you were to ask me who was the the one guy the embodied the “complete package” for an NFL quarterback, the answer would be 1976 NFL MVP Bert Jones. Athleticism, the “cannon” for an arm, accuracy, leadership, you name it…Jones had it. Jones was on the verge of super-stardom when a shoulder injury essentially ended his career. But before that, it was obvious that Jones was in the most select of classes.
In the four decades since, the one guy who reminds me the most of Bert Jones is Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers might very well be the closest thing to the “complete package” since Jones. Just look at what this guy has done in ten seasons, two of which were shortened by injuries. He’s already got over 38,000 passing yards, he’s already has over 300 touchdown passes, and did all that with only 78 interceptions. Imagine where his numbers might be if he had been able to play the three seasons at the beginning of his career backing up Brett Favre…and if he hadn’t spent much of his career on mediocre teams.
10) Sonny Jurgensen
Jurgensen is perhaps the #2 or #3 pure passer of all-time. Vince Lombardi once said that Jurgensen was the best he’d ever seen. Jurgensen was the dominant quarterback of the 1960’s. He led the NFL in passing yards five times and led the league in touchdowns twice. Even though he spent time as a back-up early in his career, if he played today, an average Jurgensen season in today’s terms would be ~ 4,800 passing yards, yards and 37 touchdowns against 11 interceptions per season.
9) Steve Young
Young had a run of dominance enjoyed by only a select few in league history, but it was only long enough to rate him at #9 on this list. Young easily could have rated as high as Elway in the overall rankings had he not wasted two seasons in the USFL, two seasons in Tampa Bay, and played back-up to Joe Montana for four more. By the time he became the starter in San Francisco, half his career was over, but in the seasons he started, Young was a seven-time Pro Bowler, first team All-Pro three times, two-time NFL MVP and won a Super Bowl in which he was also the MVP. By the way, in that Super Bowl, he threw a record six touchdown passes. That’s just for openers on Young’s impressive stats. He retired with the highest career passer rating (98.6), he had a passer rating of 100 or greater in seven seasons, while racking up 4,239 career rushing yards and 43 rushing touchdowns.
8 ) Sammy Baugh
Without a doubt, Sammy Baugh is the greatest all-around football player on this list. At one time, Baugh held 13 NFL records at three different positions (quarterback, punter, and defensive back). As a quarterback, spot number eight may be too low. Baugh was a 6-time Pro Bowler, a 4-time first team All-Pro, and he won two NFL Championships. The most amazing performance was Baugh’s 335 passing yards when he led the Washington Redskins over the Chicago Bears in the 1937 NFL Championship game. Remember, the league average for passing yards that season was 102.2 yards per game, so Baugh’s performance would be like somebody throwing for about 750 yards today. Oh, and he was a rookie when he did it. It’s still the best performance for a rookie quarterback in a playoff game.
7) Dan Marino
Marino is the highest ranked guy on this list that never won a Championship, and it really doesn’t matter. No matter what your criteria, if Marino doesn’t grade out as a top ten quarterback, your list is wrong. His 48 touchdown, 5,000-yard campaign in 1984 is one of the great single-season performances in all of sport, not just football. Marino retired holding many NFL passing records, including total yards, touchdowns, and career completions.
6) John Elway
Not only is Elway perhaps the best pure athlete on this list, he also made so many mediocre players around him better. Elway made legitimate receiving threats out of no-names like Ricky Nattiel, Mark Jackson, and Vance Johnson, and the threat of Elway’s passing game meant defenders played back in coverage, which allowed bench-jockeys like Gaston Green, Bobby Humphrey, and Sammy Winder to become Pro Bowlers at running back.
Elway’s dominating performances were the sole reason the Broncos mattered for a decade and a half. Along the way, Elway won two championships, was selected to nine Pro Bowls, was a Super Bowl MVP, and 1987 NFL MVP. Not to mention, he was nicknamed “Captain Comeback” because pulling a fourth-quarter comeback might as well be called an “Elway.”
5) Drew Brees
Here’s a guy who as of this writing has led the NFL is passing yards in more seasons more than anybody else (7). There have been six seasons in which an NFL quarterback threw for over 5,000 yards. Brees has four of them. He’s also the current career leader in completion percentage. Barring unforeseen issues, he’s likely going to retire as the all-time leader in passing yards (only needs 1,495 to pass Manning the Elder) and he and Tom Brady only need 51 touchdowns each to pass Manning.
At age 39, I don’t k now how much sand is left the Brees hour-glass, but his place as a top-ten quarterback seem pretty secure given he’s been earned six Pro Bowl Selections, one first-team All-Pro selection and a Super Bowl MVP award.
4) Tom Brady
Here’s where this is going to get ugly. Here’s where the “Brady is the greatest of all-time” crowd is going to come after me. These will be the same people who broke out the long knives when I had Brady at #11 on the original version of this list. Then as now, I’m sure I’m going to get a lot comments about how Brady should be higher on this list.
First, let’s look at the things that got Brady on to the list in the first place. Brady’s NFL record of 358 consecutive passing attempts without an interception would be astounding in any era. So would the fact that he has five NFL Championships, four Super Bowl MVP, and three NFL MVP awards. So is his 196-55 record as a starting quarterback in the regular season and 27-10 in the play-offs.
Again, the major issues which keep Brady from being the “G.O.A.T.” are one he shares with Manning the Elder. Oddly enough, Brady’s accomplishments are somewhat over-valued by the era in which he played.
First of all, he and Manning the Elder both have a lack of mobility, which when coupled with rule changes made in the last twenty-five years mean neither would have been able to play in or before the 1970’s when quarterbacks really were “fair game,” and “bump-and-run” pass coverage was perfectly legal.
Second of all, Brady is great, but he simply isn’t that much better than many of his current colleagues…50 touchdowns or 5,000 passing yards aren’t such shocking numbers as they were in 1984 when Dan Marino was the first to approach them. Again, the league values the forward pass, has made rule changes to facilitate the passing game, and let’s be honest…there’s guys who have performed better than Brady under those rules.
Lastly, I understand that Brady’s 8 Super Bowl appearances and 5 Super Bowl wins is a major accomplishment, but it’s also fair to look at Brady’s playoff performances in the twelve years between the Super Bowl wins in the 2004 and 2016 seasons. In the eight play-off appearances between those Super Bowl wins, Brady sports a post-season winning record of 10-8, 32 touchdowns against 19 picks, and a completion percentage of 60.98%. Those aren’t bad numbers, but they aren’t MVP-caliber either, and they don’t play well in categories like “Skill as a Passer” and “Performance in the Clutch.”
3) Joe Montana
Montana wasn’t big and athletic. Montana wasn’t lightning quick. Montana didn’t have the quickest release. But he was the definition of “cool under pressure;” the ice water which flowed through his veins allowed him to dissect defenses with surgical precision. This is why in a 10-year span in San Francisco, Montana won four Super Bowls, was named Super Bowl MVP three times, and was NFL MVP twice.
2) Johnny Unitas
Unitas was a three-time NFL MVP and was first-team All-Pro five times. Unitas has 3 championships, 10 Pro Bowls, was voted All-Pro 6 times., and set the record for most consecutive games with a touchdown pass (47); a record which stood for almost 40 years.
More importantly, he was the inventor of the modern passing game. Unitas revolutionized football, without him there would be none of the guys the under-40 crowd will try to claim are greater than he was.
1) Otto Graham
Anything you say about Otto Graham starts with this sentence: Graham was the greatest winner in the history to date of pro football. Given the listed criteria with which this list was built, “Automatic Otto” was a lead-pipe cinch for the top spot. Graham was the living, breathing definition of what being a pro quarterback is. Stack him up against the criteria:
Toughness/Durability: Graham played in an era when there were few rules to prevent defenders from turning quarterback into potted plants. Graham never missed a game, even after having his face split open in a game in 1953. Graham returned to that game with 15 stitches in his mouth to lead his team to a comeback win.
Leadership: Before his career in football, Graham served in the U.S. Coast Guard during World War II. After his pro football days, he served as the head football coach and athletic director at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy
Winning as a Team: In his entire 10-year professional football career, Graham never finished a season without playing in a championship game. That means in 10 years, he played in 10 championship games and won 7 of them. That’s more than twice as many championship appearances as Joe Montana or Terry Bradshaw, with nearly twice as many victories. Not to mention, his regular season winning percentage of 80% is still the all-time record as well.
Athleticism: With 44 career rushing touchdowns, there’ really no question that Graham was a top-flight athlete. Not to mention, he spent a year playing professional basketball with the Rochester Royals (now the Sacramento Kings).
Skill as a Passer: Just look at the numbers. 9.0 yards per pass attempt still ranks #1 on the all-time list.
Performance in the “clutch:” .700 winning percentage in championship games, and an .800 winning percentage overall. That ought to cover it.
Ability as Compared to Others in his Era: Because Graham spent the first four years of his career with the Cleveland Browns while they were still part of the All-American Football Conference (AAFC), and because the NFL doesn’t recognize AAFC championships or statistics, Graham rarely gets a high ranking in most discussions. That’s just ridiculous for a host of reasons, not the least of which was the fact Graham and the Browns dominated the NFL after the leagues merged in 1950. In many respects, the AAFC was a better league than the NFL, and the NFL recognizes AFL records.
Administrative decisions aside, there’s really no debating Otto Graham is the greatest quarterback of all-time.
Now for the fun part: I’m hoping you will comment on this list, but before you do, consider the following. When you are going to tell me about how wrong I am, be sure to include what you would have done differently. Otherwise, go make your own list.
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Otto Graham played in 10 straight title games, but he had a slew of talent around him, and he played with a HC in Paul Brown that was ahead of his time. I would like to see how someone like Elway would have done in that system. He took three teams to the SB in the 80’s in spite of his coach, Dan “square peg in a round hole” Reeves. I would have Unitas, Elway, Marino, Montana, and A-Rod as the best ever.
Impressive list, my friend.
And imagine that. Not a single Brown or Buccaneer to be found.
Coincidence? I think not.
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The only thing better than this list would be hearing Tim Tebow and Johnny Manziel debate openly about this list… after about six shots of whiskey each.
Of course, six shots wouldn’t give Manziel a buzz and Tebow would probably opt for a fine chardonnay but still whiskey, and lots of it, mandatory.
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