Monday, August 3, 2009

The HoG25: The 25 Best Quarterbacks Of The Past 25 Years (Part One)

The Iron Triangle of the House of Georges likes to argue. A lot. We bicker over whether that last call was home cookin' or a feat of unbiased umpiring. We quarrel about whose turn it is to buy the next round of drinks. But most of all, we match wits on the topic of greatness: Bonds or Rose? Coke or Pepsi? Neil Diamond or Sergio Mendes? And so we three set off on an epic journey, a quest to rank the Top 25 of the past quarter-century in a variety of our favorite sports and cultural topics. Today's lucky target: NFL Quarterbacks.

That's what I love about these high school girls, man. We get older, they stay the same age. QBs, yeah, they're more like us. Around dusk in the upper Midwest they say it gets late early out here, and so it goes with signal-callers in the National Football League. They get hurt. They get benched. They go to prison on multiple federal felony convictions. It's hard out here for a pimp, and if you can manage to stay upright and hang in the pocket for a decade or so, win a bunch of games and rack up some stats, well we might just consider you for the HoG25.

Due to our massive length and girth, we'll only cover Nos. 25 through 11 on our list today. Join us tomorrow for the Top Ten.


Naturally, an offensive line shifts from conventional thinking when a left-handed quarterback is under center, which makes a drop step look odd. The vision, arm strength, and mobility of Jacksonville Jaguar Mark Brunell, however, set him above some of his counterparts, and, for a moment, he showed flashes of Steve Young. The three-time Pro Bowler out of Washington was taken in the fifth round of the 1993 draft by the Green Bay Packers, and though reports have never been confirmed, it is still widely speculated that the Pack’s incumbent starter--dubbed “Lorenzo”--had murmured something about early retirement at the end of the 1992-93 season, thus prompting the Wisconsin brass to nab Brunell. Turned out they didn’t need him, so they shipped the lefty to Florida for a third- and a fifth-rounder in the ’95 draft.

If you give every expansion franchise a free pass for their first season, and I think you do, then Jacksonville’s late-‘90s success is largely attributable to Brunell and his leadership. Offensively, they had nothing in the backfield beyond Natrone Means and James Stewart until 1998 when Fred Taylor busted the 1200-yard mark. Teams weren’t necessarily carrying a ton of backs on their rosters at that time, frequently leaving the signal caller fairly high up on the total-rushing-yards list. The fact that Brunell was third on the team in total rushing yards every season from 1995-2002 speaks volumes of his pocket presence. Add to that, that from ’96-02, he posted a 60+ completion percentage, threw for over 23,000 yards, and pegged a touchdown-interception ratio of 127:59. There’s no way you leave Brunell off of this list.

At the turn of the century, the team’s success dropped significantly, but years two through five for Brunell and the Jaguars were highly impressive, especially when you toss in a 1996 AFC Championship game appearance in just their sophomore year, one that came at the expense of none other than the Denver Broncos.


Cecil: Jim Everett threw a really pretty ball. He was a gunslinger, could chuck it all around the field. Plus, he tried to physically assault a young Jim Rome on live television, which made for a compelling, and hilarious, cultural touchstone.

But is Jim Everett one of the best quarterbacks of the last 25 years? Well, maybe.

In his defense: he put up massive passing yards in a time before wideouts had every advantage--witness his 4,310 in 1989, when he also threw 29 TD passes and led the L.A. Rams to an 11-5 record. In ’94, with New Orleans, he threw for 3,800+ and had a completion percentage of 64.1. He totaled more than 34,837 yards for his career and passed for 203 touchdowns. Solid, very solid.

The case against, however, is slightly more compelling. Dude only went over a 60+ completion percentage that one year, and also hit the opposing jersey 175 times. After that ’89 season, he never led a team to a winning record, and actually seemed to fall apart--hence Rome’s “Chrissie Everett” moniker. Dude had happy feet years before the dancing penguins. He also threw to some pretty good targets, like Henry Ellard, and had some solid linemen, like Jackie Slater.

But he stays in this list because he hung around for a while and stacked up some numbers. Plus, he’s from Kansas. Gotta throw the Midwest a beefy bone every now and then.


Cecil: I remember seeing Culpepper on Jim Rome’s show when he was still at Central Florida, and thinking, Holy Cats, this guy is a flipping moving hillside.

How many QBs are that size--6’4”, 265--and move the way he did when he came into the league? How many have that kind of escapability married to that kind of arm? And then for such a parcel of raw talent to be drafted by a loaded squad like they had in Minnesota in the early part of the decade, Jesus. The biggest, strongest, quickest QB in the league gets to come in and start throwing to Randy Moss on the first day? They might as well have started engraving his bust right then and there.

And for a while, he didn’t do anything to dispel that notion. In fact, shortly thereafter, he authored one of the single greatest campaigns in NFL history: 2004, when he threw for 4,717 yards, led the league in completions and yards per game (an unreal 294.8) and chucked 39 scores versus only 11 interceptions. Wow.

We all know how that story went--knee injury, Randy leaves, kaboom. Everything went to shit for Daunte, who has bounced around the league, overweight and unwanted, since shortly after that miraculous 2004. But he deserves a place on this list, if only for that brief flash of brilliance at the beginning of his career--although his ghey arm-rolling touchdown celebration very nearly disqualified him.


Old No. 7: As I grew up in Colorado in the mid-80s and watched the Broncos play every Sunday, I could tell each AFC West franchise by its starting quarterback. The Raiders had old Jim Plunkett heaving bombs toward a bevy of slashers and pitching it to Marcus Allen. The Chargers had Dan Fouts and his marvelous beard, acting all Hall-O’-Famey. The Chiefs had either Todd Blackledge or a goofy Frankenstein hybrid of Neil Lomax and a panda bear. I can’t remember really, I was a little kid.

And the Seahawks, the Seahawks had Dave Krieg. You could set your watch to it. Sure, he had an all-time great go-to guy in Steve Largent and an above-average running game built around Curt Warner (if you’re thinking I’m an idiot right now because I misspelled “Kurt Warner” or “Kurt Warner is not a tailback” or the Seahawks aren’t even in the AFC West, well, son, you probably didn’t listen to much Wham! either). But Dave Krieg was just your dictionary definition of a damn good QB. Put up damn good stats (38K yards, 261 TDs vs. 199 picks, 98-77 career record) but could never be considered “great” because he never took his team to a Super Bowl. Which you could always blame on the colossal failure of Brian Bosworth, if you wish.

But peek around the league right now--how many teams would be damn happy with just a damn good QB? I know of a certain club that plays on the west side of I-25 that might could use a Dave Krieg come September.


Bankmeister: Bernie Kosar is one of my all-time favorite quarterbacks. I never speak of it much because he, like myself and the many of ChiefsNation, suffered many a dramatic loss at the hands of John Elway and the Denver Broncos. I do not, however, care much for any form of Florida football, but I don’t hold his decision to matriculate at the University of Miami against him. I love the fact that he and the Hurricanes won a national title at the hands of the stupid Nebraska Cornhuskers, and I felt for him, post hoc, that it was he on the losing end of Doug Flutie’s famous Hail Mary pass. But the kid double-majored (finance and economics), weathered the storm of one heck of a draft conundrum, and although he may or may not’ve had a hand in the final outcome, he played for the team that drafted him, which, as a concept is cool, but it’s even cooler with him because he wanted to play for his hometown(ish) Cleveland Browns.

Kosar made one Pro Bowl (1987) and retired with a career passer rating of 81.8. He ultimately fell one game short of a .500 record both in the regular season and in the playoffs, and that seemed to be the story to his career. After putting together an impressive string of seasons (1986-89), the Browns had a very Clevelandesque 1990, and the following year, new head coach Bill Belichick awarded Vinny Testaverde the starting job over Kosar, the irony being that the two were Hurricane teammates in the ol’ days of collidge. He had short stints with Dallas and Miami, but nothing topped the grit and mustard he left on the field in those three conference-championship losses to Denver, totaling scores of 74-98, while completing 63 of 117 passes for 825 yards, and throwing seven touchdowns and five interceptions. For reasons beyond the scoreboard, Bernie Kosar was a winner.


Bankmeister: The New York Giants of the late 1980s had Bill Parcells in his sleeveless sweater vest. They had Lawrence Taylor terrifying offenses. They had Mark Bavaro as the go-to guy before the tight end became the sleeper. Their Super Bowl wins of 1986 and ’90 were impressive in that they thumped a slowly-but-surely up-and-coming Denver Broncos team in the first, and basically, one could argue that Scott Norwood handed them that second ring. They had a 1500-yard 14-touchdown regular season from Joe Morris in ’86 and a a nice 1470/14 committee effort from Ottis Anderson, Rodney Hampton, and Lewis Tillman the second go-‘round. Not to mention Maurice Carthon and Dave Meggett. The proverbial all-the-right-pieces-in-place argument just fits. Where, then, does two-time Pro Bowler Phil Simms fit into this mix?

Some might say he really doesn’t. You could say that Jeff Hostetler, or Jeff Garcia, or even Jeff George might’ve had just as much success, if not more, in the picture-perfect design for the ultimate football team. After all, he threw one more pick than score in ’86. But on the other hand, he threw for 3500 yards. The next championship season, his yardage dropped by over a grand, but his ratio was better: 15:4. He did earn himself a Super Bowl MVP in ’86, going 22-25 for 268 yards and three scores against Denver, a SB MVP tally that ties the total of one John Elway. But he also went 10-10 in the second half of that game, a stat that suggests that Phil Simms’ talent was precision with decision. To further such a theory, his passer rating: Some of his higher marks include a 90.0 in ’87, a 92.7 in ’90, and an 88.3 in ’93, figures that round his career rating to a solid 78.5, leaving him in some pretty good passer-rating company: Manning: 94.7; Montana: 92.3; Marino: 86.4; Favre: 85.4; Elway: 79.9. Then next time the New York Giants went to a Super Bowl was 10 years after their win over Buffalo, this time a loss to Baltimore. In that game were quarterbacks Trent Dilfer and Kerry Collins, career passer ratings of 70.2 and 73.8. So the blond guy from Morehead State isn’t a Hall of Famer. He might be a goon of an announcer, he might have a spleenless kid, and he might be a pussy. But think game-management a la Collins and Dilfer, only with a knack for quality throws and keen decision-making abilities in the pocket. Those Giants teams were a team to envy. They had all the right pieces, and by golly, Phil Simms was one of them.


Bankmeister: Many are the directions I could go in staking my claim for Rich Gannon as one of the best 25 quarterbacks in the last 25 years. But there’s only one obvious choice: He was meant to be the starting quarterback of the Kansas City Chiefs until retirement. When I say meant to be, I mean “it was written,” like they tell us in “Slumdog Millionaire,” but the brain trust that was Carl Peterson and Marty Schottenheimer--the dynamic duo that restored Kansas City Chiefs football to a few steps shy of greatness--saw it another way. That other way was Elvis Grbac, but that’s another story .

Gannon was drafted in the fourth round in 1987 by the New England Patriots. He was a Viking and a Redskin before becoming a Chief, and 10 years later, as a backup, he had watched Grbac lead the Chiefs to an 8-2 start. Grbac had thrown for 1943 yards, 11 scores and six picks before getting hurt. In came Gannon, he went 5-1, throwing for 1144, seven, and four. That is, in a little over half the time under center, he put up indisputably better numbers. He also rushed for 109 yards and two more scores in that span, but the head Chiefs wanted the starting guy back in the starting role. After a first-round bye eventual Super Bowl champion Denver came to town for the first-ever playoff meeting between the two clubs. Grbac’s numbers in that loss--24-37 for 260, one score and no INTs--were pretty good, but Gannon’s 5-5 efforts the following season (after another Grbac injury) would be his last in the red and gold despite throwing for 2300 yards, 10 scores and six picks while rushing for 168 more and scoring three additional times on the ground.

From there, Gannon would become a Raider. He would also go to four straight Pro Bowls, and lead Oakland to a Super Bowl, only to lose to his former coach who spent the entire week of Super Bowl practice taking snaps and imitating Gannon’s tendencies, leading to his five-interception championship-game frustrations. He retired with almost 30,000 passing yards, a 180:104 touchdown-interception ratio and a passer rating of 84.7, all in only 132 starts. Grbac’s career, for the record, was over a year before Gannon’s Oakland Super Bowl run.

Old No. 7: We’re climbing the ladder here, but we’ve yet to hit anyone who’s either in Canton or a lock for the shrine once they reach eligibility. I know the popular perception of Drew Bledsoe is that of a dour, cement-footed lummox who lost his job to a sixth-round pick and then meandered through the league before being forced into retirement. Allow me to debunk that myth--except the cement-footed part. Drew Bledsoe couldn’t get out of the path of a train if it were six miles away and the horn was blaring.

Bledsoe was the first pick in the 1993 Draft, and life is hard for a No. 1 overall pick. I’ll explore this much more with future entries, but you’re typically headed to the crappiest team and expected to turn them around. Lucky for Bledsoe, his arrival coincided with that of Bill Parcells (the crappiest team almost always fires their coach), so he didn’t have to accomplish the entire turnaround himself.
Bledsoe did his job and Parcells took care of the rest, and lo and behold the Patriots advanced to Super Bowl XXXI, where the Packers pushed them around and beat them. Parcells bailed for the Jets, reconstruction complete, and Drew Bledsoe just kept on putting up 3500-yard seasons in the chilly Foxboro winter.

Then along came new owner Robert Kraft, and Parcells disciple Bill Belichick, and that unknown sixth-round pick out of Michigan, Tom Brady. In the second game of the 2001 season, against Parcells’ Jets, Bledsoe was hit by Mo Lewis as he cement-footedly gimped toward the sideline and in came Brady, who took the team all the way to the AFC Championship. In that game, against Kordell Stewart (how long would this list have to be to include Kordell?) and the Pittsburgh Steelers, Bledsoe valiantly subbed in for a wounded Brady and put his franchise--and it was his franchise, through and through, he’d signed a $103 million contract the previous March--in the Super Bowl a second time. Brady returned for the big game, of course, a shocking win over 12-point favorite St. Louis. And just like that, Bledsoe’s time in New England was done. He cement-footedly shuffled off to Buffalo, then followed Parcells to Dallas, then hung ‘em up. If Paul Zimmerman’s mail got misplaced and I received a Hall of Fame ballot, I’d put Bledsoe in. He was excellent for a long time.


Cecil: Boomer is such a doofus-y media presence these days that it’s easy to forget what a fine quarterback he was—unlike, say, Dan Marino, who is equally as lame on camera but won’t ever let you forget his greatness. Boomer’s enormous forehead, lumpen half-grin and habit of saying the stupidest thing possible at any moment during a broadcast belie what a sharpie he was as a player.

He ran Sam Wyche’s no-huddle attack with √©lan and style; his ball-fakes were the best in the league, he had more than enough arm to make all the throws and he possessed moxie in spades. True, he was surrounded by offensive talent (his blindside protection came courtesy of Anthony Munoz, only the best left tackle in history, and his running attack was the two-headed illiterate hambeast of Ickey Woods and James Brooks) but it would be a mistake to assume that he was merely a cog.

Take Phil Simms (Old No. 7 adds: Please!), for instance. Simms was a cog, and when he left New York, his cog-ness only became more apparent. Esiason, meanwhile, had some pretty solid stats—although nothing approaching his early career with Cincinnati, where he was a lock for 25 or more touchdowns a year including his only two seasons of 60+ completion percentage. Interestingly, his final year (with Cincy in ’97) he threw 13 touchdowns and a mere two picks--in only 5 games. I can’t remember how that season ended for he or the Bungles, but I imagine it was with injury and David Klingler.


Cecil: When all the counting is done, Drew Brees will go down as one of the best quarterbacks of his generation.

There will be the inevitable caveats: he was a quick-strike “system” guy, a player who never wowed anyone with physical skill or unbelievable playmaking ability, a dude who benefited from LaDainian Tomlinson in San Diego and offensive weapons everywhere in New Orleans. All of which are legitimate criticisms. But they pale in the face of one simple, indisputable fact: spot-faced Texas kid can fucking play.

He’s the most accurate passer in the league, a hell of an accomplishment for a guy who throws more than anyone. When he’s on, he’s really on--he doesn’t have the strongest arm, but he doesn’t need it, because he’s so good at anticipation and reading defenses. His mobility is underrated, he’s a leader, he doesn’t throw his offensive linemen under the bus or pout on the bench like a 9 year-old, and he’s been surprisingly durable for someone his size.

Ol’ No. 7 is of the mind, and I don’t necessarily disagree, that guys who put up huge offensive numbers in this wide-open era will find their stats devalued when it comes time for Hall selection. But I really don’t think that we’re going back to an era of 14-7 games. I think the spread out stuff, the 5 wides, the shotgun passing, is here to stay. Brees will be remembered as a pioneer instead of a statistical anomaly.


Old No. 7: This guy was just a God-damned warrior. It doesn’t matter how he died, if you don’t think every man on this list hasn’t looked up from the sofa of his fifth mistress’ house and seen the barrel of a loaded gun you’re delusional. All right, maybe Steve Young only had three slabs of road beef, but still.

When he played, he played to win every single Sunday. McNair would take a lickin’ and keep on kicking your ass. I can’t find any stats for toughness or guile or gumption, I just know that if I could Steve McNair would rank several thousand places higher than Ashley Lelie (it’s hard to rack up bad-ass numbers if your name is Ashley).

You all know, he ought to have won a Super Bowl, and his attempt to do so came up one foot short. And he ought to have played longer and made it to 40,000 career passing yards, but an assortment of nagging injuries--a result of repeated bashing into defenders--kept him off the field a few games every year.

But you know what? Steve McNair rules, and if I want one guy on this list solely on grit and grass stains who’s lacking in measurables, well by golly I’m just going to do it. Call him the Charlie Hustle of football.


Old No. 7: While we were grinding the sausage that is now the masterpiece you’re currently reading, the staff of the House of Georges had a bit of an argument as to whether Phil Simms or Vinny Testaverde should be ranked higher. This is my piece of that argument:

Vinny threw for 13,000 more yards than Simms, which is almost seven and a half miles more. Vinny had 275 TDs to Simms' 199. Both made two Pro Bowls, both threw for right around 200 yards a game, both had similar completion percentages (55 for Phil, 56.5 for Vinny). Phil Simms did have a better yards per attempt (7.2 over Vinny's 6.9), which surprised me.

But what about Phil's title, and all those picks Vinny threw? It's true that Simms won a ring with the Giants and played spectacularly well in doing so, going 22-for-25 against the Broncos and taking the game's MVP. But Jeff Hostetler winning with almost the same team, in my opinion, does serious damage to Simms' claim to be a great QB. As for Vinny's INTs, we have to remember how bad those Tampa teams he played on were, and also the fact that Vinny is colorblind and Tampa wore that really light orange at home. He literally could not tell who he was throwing to. Vinny threw 267 picks, which is an awful lot, 4th all time. But his INT percentage was 4.0, not far from Simms' 3.4. And Simms was sacked 477 times, which is 4th all time, a flabbergasting number for someone who only played 14 years (and only played 16 games four times, becasue he was a gigantic pussy). Basically both of them fucked their teams a lot, they just did it in different ways. Vinny got rid of the ball and threw it to the other team, Phil ate the ball and punted to the other team.

Vinny actually had the most success of his career when he ended up with Simms' coach, Bill Parcells. Where would Vinny have ended up had he started with Parcells (and dark blue uniforms) instead of finishing with him? I suspect we would not be having this particular debate about Phil Simms.

Anyway, take a look at the numbers for both and tell me what you think. While you're at it, compare Simms to Eli Manning, who's only been around five years and is not ranked in our top 25. Eli will shatter every passing mark Simms put up and already has a ring--and his came at the expense of a dynasty, not a cupcake pushover from the weaker conference.

In summary, Phil Simms was a gigantic pussy…that's my main point here.


Bankmeister: Randall Cunningham. Just saying the name brings sparks of electricity to the mind’s eye. Drafted in the second round of the 1985 draft, Cunningham was a football pioneer. He was, on some smaller spectrum, like Jackie Robinson in baseball. That is, it was never a secret that African-Americans could play baseball. It was instead a matter of the white man allowing them to. The same was true in football to a lesser degree. When the American Football League was formed, professional football scouts began to heavily recruit and ultimately sign players from black colleges, which paved the way to mega-success for the African-American NFL athlete. Except for the quarterback position. Let’s back up. Several black dudes took snaps in the 1950s, and the Raiders were the first club to take a black QB in the first round (Eldridge Dickey out of Tennessee State in 1968). And then there were Doug Williams and Warren Moon. Williams took the ’78 Buccaneers to a division title and the NFC Conference Championship game, but he, in the regular season, completed just 41 percent of his passes and threw six more interceptions than touchdowns. Moon was drafted a year ahead of Cunningham, became a fantastic player, and a Hall of Famer, but he played for some miserable Houston Oiler teams.

Cunningham, on the other hand, unveiled the dual-threat quarterback. The legitimate dual threat. The Mike Vick 16 years before Mike Vick and with a good pocket presence and fewer dead Rottweilers. Randall Cunningham made the post-Dick Vermeil Eagles good again. He made defensive coordinators piss their beds on Saturday nights. He made fans of opposing teams say “Holy Fuck” before “Holy Fuck” was popular. Trust me. I know these things. Buddy Ryan, fat racist that he is, continued to milk what he could out of “Jaws,” and when he finally wised up and gave the starting job to Cunningham—Bang. Winning record. He would be in Philly for eight more years after that, and then test the weather in Minnesota, Dallas, and Baltimore before retiring in 2001. In his time though, he would throw for nearly 30,000 yards, over 200 touchdowns, and gain nearly five Gs on the ground while adding another 35 end zone visits to his stat sheet. In 1990 alone, he led the league with eight yards per carry and fell 58 yards shy of the 1000 mark. As a quarterback. He was sixth in the league in passes attempted, completed, and passing yards, while falling only three scores shy of Moon’s 33. He had the fifth-best passer rating and was ninth in the league in total rushing yards. As a quarterback. His feats of greatness were unmatched, and he paved the way for guys like Donovan McNabb, Daunte Culpepper, and even Ron Mexico himself. His career passer rating is 81.5, which, by my calculations, is 1.6 points higher than, um, somebody’s.


Cecil: The fat rapist walked into the best situation for a young QB since maybe Joe Montana when he was drafted by a rising Pittsburgh franchise in 2004. They had it all--veteran leadership on both sides of the ball, an excellent defense, great running game, lantern-jawed coach who wasn't going to take too many chances exposing a young passer. Roethlisberger just had to show up, hand off and throw the occasional pass to Hines Ward. That worked well enough to get the kid a Super Bowl win in his second year.

Then, lo and behold, the Steelers win another one, this time with the fat rapist leading the team, engineering comebacks. Two Super Bowl victories in what will be his sixth year in the league? That's certainly a Hall of Fame trajectory--but is he deserving?

Does it fucking matter? He's quarterbacking the Steelers. The selectors, led by the loathsome Len Pasquarelli, might even waive the 5-year limit in a spasm of fanatic Rooney-sucking. As far as this of ours goes, well, dur. He's matured into the hardest quarterback in the league to tackle, he's surprisingly mobile, and has moments of fine accuracy, although his completion percentages are too inconsistent. Overall, his stats are just OK, but if he puts up more seasons like 2007--32 TDs and 11 picks--he'll warrant a much higher slot. You know, when we do these lists again to generate some cheap content.


Cecil: Look, I think Troy Aikman is a tool. He quit at Oklahoma, he was never the Staubachian figure he was built up to be and he's an insufferable football analyst ("You know, that's just not how the game should be played, etc. etc.") But he deserves his relatively lofty spot on this list for one simple, crass reason: he's got the julery.

When you're the triggerman for three Super Bowl champions, you get a bit of dap from this corner, even if the guys in this corner think you seem like a dickhead. Aikman was a preternaturally accurate passer who threw a very catchable ball, never panicked in the pocket and held things together when his various All-Pro teammates were going batshit crazy, smoking crack and stabbing each other with scissors. His statistics reflect his marksmanship--he ended '93 with a stellar 69.1 completion percentage, and finished his career over 60--but don't look great otherwise; he only threw 20 touchdowns once in 12 years. Which is pathetic, even for a run-first team like Dallas was back then.

If you were judging Aikman solely by the numbers, he doesn't deserve such a lofty place on this list, and looks more like Jim Everett than any Cowboys fan would admit--but as we've made abundantly clear earlier, you can't judge quarterbacks solely by the numbers. Aikman won three Super Bowls, here he is.

Make sure you come back tomorrow for the Top Ten!