By Austin Hough and Mitchel Summers
It’s one of the greatest debates in football. “Who’s the greatest quarterback of all time?” There are so many names you could make a legitimate case for, and all well deserved. Fortunately for all of you guys, myself, along with my co-host on MUTV’s “Triple Play” next year Mitchel Summers, were able to compose our top 10 list of the greatest quarterbacks of all time.
Mitchel and I did a lot of research on this. Listed below will be the years a player played and with his respective teams, his overall record, passing yards, touchdowns, interceptions, passer rating, playoff appearances, playoff W-L, Super Bowl W-L, their best single season stats, their career accomplishments, and either their best or most important game (usually both are the same thing). We took into account as many factors as we could to determine who is the greatest quarterback of all time.
From there, we developed a point system, awarding a certain value to each achievement. The following is what we developed: a Super Bowl loss, every 50 TDs, every 5,000 passing yards, a passer rating over 80, regular season MVP, 5+ pro bowls, and important accomplishments or stats are all worth 1 point, a Super Bowl MVP and 10+ pro bowls is 2 points, and a Super Bowl win is 3 points. Does that make sense? If not, it’ll be explained in the writing.
Before we dive in to the actual list, here are some of the honorable mentions that, unfortunately, didn’t get enough points in our system to be considered for the top 10.
Jim Kelly- A revolutionary quarterback, Kelly was the first guy to adapt the “run and gun” system in his 11 seasons with the Buffalo Bills. Kelly finished with an 101-59 overall record, throwing for 35,467 yards, 237 touchdowns and 175 interceptions. Unfortunately, though, Kelly and the Bills weren’t able to win a Super Bowl, losing four in a row in the mid-90s. Also, never winning an MVP really hurt Kelly, as he played in an era with a couple guys who will be mentioned later in this countdown. Nonetheless, Kelly will remembered for changing the game and helping bring Buffalo football back to prominence in the 90s.
Sammy Baugh- He’s the original quarterback. If Sammy Baugh didn’t exist, this list wouldn’t be written. He is credited with creating the forward pass, which is the ultimate “revolution” of the game. Baugh won 2 NFL titles in his 16 seasons with the Redskins, throwing for 21,886 yards, 187 touchdowns and 203 interceptions as well. He also excelled as a defensive back and a punter. He once lead the league in passing yards, interceptions (as a defender), and punting in one year. He held 13 records when he retired across all three of his positions. If he had primarily focused on quarterback, he may have made this list. Not having as strong of numbers, though, hurt his chances of making the list.
So with those two guys not being on the list, who indeed did make it? This is part one of a two part blog. Today, we will reveal who are the player ranked 10-6 on the countdown. Tomorrow, we will reveal our top five greatest quarterbacks of all time. Without further ado, let’s begin with number 10.
10. Terry Bradshaw- 31 POINTS: 14 seasons, all with Pittsburgh (1970-1983). 107-51 overall record. 27,989 yards, 212 TDs, 210 INTs, 70.9 passer rating. 9 playoff appearances, 14-5 playoff record. Won Super Bowl 9 vs Minnesota, Super Bowl 10 vs Dallas, Super Bowl 13 vs Dallas, and Super Bowl 14 vs Los Angeles Rams
- Career Accomplishments: 4X Super bowl winner, 2X Super Bowl MVP (13 and 14), 1978 MVP, 3X pro bowler, 1970s all-decade team, 1989 HOF inductee. One of two men to win 4 Super Bowls (Montana).
- Greatest season: 1978: 2,915 yards, 28 TDs, 20 INTs. Won MVP, Won SB 13 vs Cowboys, was game MVP
- Greatest game: Super Bowl 13 vs Dallas: 17-30, 318 yards, 4 TDs, 1 INT. Steelers defeat Cowboys 35-31. Bradshaw is game MVP.
- POINT SCORING:
- 4X Super Bowl Champ – 12 points
- 1978 MVP – 1 point
- SB 13 and 14 MVP – 4 points
- 212 TDs – 4 points
- 27,989 yards – 5 points
- AP All pro – 1 point
- 1970s all-decade team – 1 point
- Undefeated Super Bowl record – 1 point
- One of 2 men with 4 Super Bowls – 1 point
- 14-5 playoff record, best winning percentage on this list – 1 point
To kick off the countdown, the blonde bomber reigning from the steel city christens this list. Terry Bradshaw will forever be ingrained in NFL history as the commander in chief of one of the most dominant teams ever to grace the gridiron. Derived from a play of words on the famous Winston Churchill phrase, the Steelers were known as the Steel Curtain. To say those Steeler teams were stacked with talent would be a disservice to their names. Bradshaw played with eight other Hall of Famers during his NFL career, along one of the greatest NFL coaches ever to prowl the sidelines in Hall of Famer, Chuck Noll. Bradshaw was surrounded by Hall of Famers on offense with Franco Harris in the backfield and Lynn Swann pairing with John Stallworth outside. Together, they became the original NFL dynasty by winning four Super Bowls. Bradshaw still remains one of only two QBs to win four Super Bowls, joined by a QB that will appear later on this list. That in itself is more than enough to cement Bradshaw’s spot on our list.
9. John Elway- 33 POINTS: Played 16 seasons with the Broncos (1983-1998). 148-82-1 overall record. 51,475 career passing yards. 300 Passing TDs. 226 INTs. 56.9 career completion percentage. 79.9 Career Passer rating. 3,407 career rushing yards. 33 rushing TDs. 9 playoff appearances. 14-8 playoff record. Won Super bowls 32 and 33.
- Career Achievements: 2004 Hall of Fame inductee. 9X Pro Bowler. 1987 NFL MVP. Member of the NFL 1990s All-Decade team. Won Super Bowl 32 and 33. Super Bowl 33 MVP. 4th most career passing yards. 6th most completed passes. Tied for 3rd most career regular season wins. Oldest quarterback to win a Super Bowl (38).
- Greatest Season: 1997: 12-4 regular season record. 3,635 passing yards. 27 Passing TDs. 11 INTs. 87.5 passer rating. Won Super Bowl 32.
- Greatest Game: 1999. Super Bowl 33. Broncos defeat the Falcons 34-19. 18/29. 336 passing yards. 1 passing TD. 1 INT. 1 rushing TD. 62.07% completion percentage. 99.2 passer rating. Wins Super Bowl MVP. Final NFL game
- POINT SCORING
- 2 Super Bowl Victories – 6 points
- 1 Super Bowl MVP – 2 points
- 2 Super Bowl Loses – 2 points
- ‘87 NFL MVP – 1 point
- 9X Pro Bowler – 1 point
- 300 career passing TDs – 6 points
- 1990s All-Decade Team – 1 point
- 51,475 career passing yards – 10 points
- Oldest QB to win a Super Bowl – 1 point
- 4th most career passing yards – 1 point
- 3rd most career regular season wins – 1 point
- 7th most career passing TDs – 1 point
Of all the quarterbacks on this list, nobody may be more resilient than John Elway. After losing the first three Super Bowls he played in (including a 55-10 beat down to the 49ers in Super Bowl 24), Elway was finally able to get over the hump, beating the Green Bay Packers 31-24 in Super Bowl 32, 15 years after he debuted in 1983. He then won another Super Bowl the next season against the Atlanta Falcons, putting an exclamation point on one of the greatest careers a quarterback could have. His stats, listed above, validate that he was one of the best to ever play the position. Combine that with moments like “The Drive” against the Cleveland Browns in 1987 and his helicopter dive in Super Bowl 32, and it’s easy to see why Elway comes in at number nine on the countdown.
8. Dan Marino- 34 POINTS: Played 17 seasons with the Dolphins (1983-1999). 147-95 overall record. 61,361 passing yards. 420 passing TDs. 252 INTs. 86.4 passer rating. 59.4% career completion percentage. 10 postseason appearances, 8-10 record. 0-1 in Super Bowls.
- Career Achievements: 2005 Hall of Fame inductee. 9X pro bowler. 3X first team all pro. ‘83 Rookie of the Year. ‘84 MVP. ‘84 Offensive Player of the Year. ‘94 Comeback Player of the year. First QB to throw over 5,000 yards in a single season. First QB to throw 40 TDs in a single season. Second most career fourth quarter comeback victories (36). 3rd most career passing yards, TDs, and completions.
- Greatest Season: 1984: 5,084 yards (then an NFL record). 48 TDs (then an NFL record). 17 INTs. Lost in the Super Bowl 19 to the 49ers.
- Greatest Game: 1984 AFC Championship game. Won 45-28 over the Steelers. 21/32. 421 passing yards (an AFC Championship record), 4 TD passes (an AFC Championship record). 1 INT.
- POINT SCORING:
- Lost Super Bowl – 1 point
- 1984 MVP – 1 point
- 1983 rookie of the year – 1 point
- 1984 offensive player of the year – 1 point
- 1994 comeback player of the year – 1 point
- 420 TDs – 8 points
- 61,361 yards – 12 points
- 9X pro bowler – 1 point
- 86.4 passer rating – 1 point
- 3rd in passing yards – 1 point
- 3rd all time in TD passes – 1 point
- First QB to throw for 5,000 yards in a season – 1 point
- First QB to throw 40 TDs – 1 point
- 3X AP first team all pro – 3 point
The more you look at Dan Marino’s ‘84 season, the more it blows your mind. 5,084 passing yards and 48 passing touchdowns. In 1984? Nowadays it isn’t as big of a deal when quarterbacks routinely pass for 5 thousand yards and throw over 50 touchdowns, but, at the time, it was mind blowing to the NFL community. To better put this into context, here’s what the NFL single season passing records looked like before Marino’s ‘84 season. Of the 119 times a QB has logged a 4 thousand plus passing season, it had only happened six times before 1984. The previous passing touchdown record was shared by George Blanda and YA Tittle, at 36. On top of that, of the 85 times that a QB has thrown 30 plus touchdowns, it had only happened 18 times before Marino’s historic ‘84 campaign. The records he set that season stood for over 20 years. And this was just his second season as a pro at the young age of 23. The quarterbacks that passed his records (besides Peyton Manning in ‘04) were all over 30.
Man, makes you wonder what have you done with your life. Huh?
But what defines Marino’s career wasn’t that impossible 1984 season, instead Marino will always be remembered for not winning a Super Bowl. That really hurt his legacy. Then think later down the line, when his stats and records become old news, Marino doesn’t have that Super Bowl title to permanently supplant himself in the top 10. But for the time being, Marino is rightfully placed on this list.
7. Drew Brees 35 POINTS: 13 seasons, 5 with San Diego and 8 with New Orleans (2001-). 110-75 overall record, 51,081 yards, 363 TD’s, 177 INT’s. 95.3 passer rating. 6 playoff appearances, 6-5 record. Won Super Bowl 44 with the Saints
- Career Accomplishments: SB 44 MVP, 8X pro bowler, 2010 AP Male Athlete of the Year, 2X offensive player of the year, 2004 comeback player of the year (in San Diego), co-Walter Payton Man of the Year winner in 2006. Currently 5th all time in passing yards. Most consecutive games with a TD pass (54). Has four 5,000 yard passing seasons, most all time
- Greatest Season: 2011: 5,476 passing yards, 46 TD’s, 14 INT’s. Broke Dan Marino’s 27-year old single season passing yards record. 2nd in MVP voting behind Aaron Rodgers
- Greatest game: 2011 playoffs vs Detroit: 33-43, 466 yards, 3 TD’s.
- POINT SCORING
- Won Super Bowl 44 – 3 points
- Super Bowl 44 MVP – 2 points
- 363 TDs – 7 points
- 51,081 yards – 10 points
- 95.3 passer rating – 1 point
- 8X pro bowler – 1 point
- Broke single season passing record – 1 point
- 2010 AP male athlete of the year – 1 point
- 2X offensive player of the year – 2 points
- 2004 comeback player of the year – 1 point
- 5th all time in passing yards – 1 point
- Most consecutive games with a TD pass (54) – 1 point
- Four 5,000 passing yard seasons – 4 points
In an era defined by passing, there may be no greater pure passer than Drew Brees. After five seasons in San Diego that saw him suffer a severe shoulder injury, Brees was able to re-invent himself in New Orleans, leading one of the most potent offensive attacks in NFL history. He currently only sits 394 yards away from passing John Elway for fourth all time in passing, and Elway has played five season more than Brees. His four 5,000 yard seasons is mind boggling, as no other guy has more than one. Not only has Brees become one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, but he has helped the city of New Orleans heal from Hurricane Katrina. Brees arrived in New Orleans three months after Katrina hit, and his play on the field helped people take their mind off what happened to them and their loved ones. He also was great off the field, winning the Walter Payton Man of the Year award in 2006. Four years after arriving, he led the Saints to their only Super Bowl in franchise history, fully culminating the four years of hopes and dreams of an entire city. For that, Brees comes in at number seven on the countdown.
6. Johnny Unitas- 41 POINTS: Played 18 seasons (1956-1973). 17 seasons with the Baltimore Colts and 1 with the Chargers. 118-64-4 overall record. 40,239 career passing yards. 290 passing TDs. 253 INTs. 54.6% completion percentage. 78.2 career passer rating. 6 playoff appearances. 6-3 playoff record. Won 3 NFL Championships in ‘58, ‘59, and ‘68. 1-1 in Super Bowls *as a starter*
- Career Achievements: NFL Hall of Fame 1979 Inductee. 10X pro bowler (3X pro bowl MVP). 5X first team AP. 2X Second team AP. NFL MVP of 1959, ‘64, ‘67. Won Super Bowl 5. Won NFL Championships in ‘58, ‘59, ‘68. When retired, finished second in almost every major passing stat. 2nd most passing yards. 2nd most passing touchdowns. 2nd most attempted passes. 2nd most passes completed. Most career wins for a starting QB. Now all passed. Still stands 9th on the most career passing TDs. Threw a TD in 47 straight games (surpassed by drew brees in 2012). Member of the 1960s All-Decade Team. NFL 50th & 75th Anniversary All-Time team member.
- Greatest Season: 1959. 9-3 regular season record. Led the league in passing yards, passing TDs, passes attempted, and passes completed. 2,899 passing yards. 32 Passing TDs. 14 INTs. 92.0 passer rating. 52.6% completion percentage. Won NFL MVP. Won the NFL Championship 31-16 over the Giants.
- Greatest Game: 1959 NFL Championship game. 18/29. 264 passing yards. 2 passing TDs. No INTs. 1 Rushing TD. 62.07% completion percentage. 114.7 passer rating. Was down 9-7 going into the fourth quarter, but scored 24 unanswered points to win 31-16.
- POINT SCORING:
- 1 Super Bowl victory – 3 points
- 1 Super Bowl loss – 1 point
- 3 NFL Championship victories – 9 points
- 3X NFL MVP – 3 points
- 10X Pro Bowler – 2 points
- 5X first team AP – 5 points
- 290 career Passing TDs – 5 points
- 40,239 career passing yards – 8 points
- Threw a TD in 47 straight games, 2nd most – 1 point
- 1960s All-Decade Team – 1
- NFL 50th Anniversary Team member – 1 point
- NFL 75th Anniversary Team member – 1 point
- 9th most career passing TDs – 1 point
Whenever a list is compiled, it’s often created based off ones own opinions. However, it would be asinine not to carefully observe the testimonials of the true experts of evaluation, a players peers. Sid Luckman himself said glowingly of Johnny U that: “He was better than me. Better than Baugh. Better than anyone.” For a quarterback, especially a Hall of Fame quarterback, to put another quarterback ahead of himself, it is just another testimony to Unitas and the perfect example of why he belongs here.
For how undeniable Unitas’ greatness is, his road to glory wasn’t smooth sailing. As an undersized, six foot one, 145 pound quarterback, he was turned away from his college of choice, Notre Dame. After his Louisville career, he was drafted in the 9th round of the NFL draft by the Steelers, but was cut because he was deemed “not smart enough” to be a starting NFL quarterback. Now, out of football, Unitas worked in construction during the weekdays and played on a semi pro football team for six dollars a game. If not for a teammate encouraging Unitas to tryout for the Baltimore Colts, we may not have known the name Johnny Unitas.
Unitas played 18 seasons, won three NFL Championships and a Super Bowl, and won three NFL MVP awards, but Unitas’ greatest importance to the game goes beyond numbers. He’s credited with creating the two-minute offense, a type of late game offense that defines the best of quarterbacks. He also played an important role in popularizing the NFL. In the nationally televised 1958 NFL Championship game, Unitas won 23-17 over the New York Giants in the first overtime game ever in the NFL. The game itself was given the name “The Greatest Game Ever Played.” With all of those aspects taken into consideration, Unitas’ name rightfully ranks high on this list.
So what do you think of the list so far? Any surprises yet to you? Curious who makes the top 5? Well, stay tuned as we reveal 5-1 tomorrow, right here, on Game of Sports.