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.
Welcome back! We hope you enjoyed yesterday's installment of the HoG25, in which we detailed QBs 25 through 11 over the past 25 years. Today we're back for the big boys, the top 10 signal-callers of our collective sports-watching lives. Feel free to leave your own list in the comments.
10. WARREN MOON
Old No. 7: Does Warren Moon belong in the top 10 here, ahead of Aikman and Big Ben, who won five combined Super Bowls? I argue yes, and here again, from our internal deliberations, is that argument:
I think Warren Moon was better than those guys (Aikman, Randall, Big Ben). Of course all but Randall made multiple Super Bowls and won at least one title, and I think that's huge. But it's not the end-all of judging a QB's career. Warren Moon was a terrific college QB at Washington but he came out in 1979, before Doug Williams won a ring and at a time when most of the league was not ready to trust a black quarterback. He went to Canada and put up monster, stupid, ridiculous video-game numbers. I know those numbers don't really count, just like Ichiro's Japanese stats won't truly count when his career is over and we're measuring him against the all-time greats. But I just feel like those Oiler teams were terrific and should have made at least one Bowl had their coaching staff not been made up of glue-sniffing dolts.
It’s kind of fun to quote oneself. As to those Canadian numbers: 21,228 yards, 144 TDs, 9-1 in the playoffs. Or maybe it was meters, or fathoms, or however the fuck they measure football up there. Regardless, as a professional quarterback, Warren Moon threw for 70,553 yards. Seventy thousand yards. If you gave me a million dollars, a football, Eddie Royal running slant patterns and no defense I doubt I could throw for seventy thousand yards before my arm fell off.
9. KURT WARNER
Old No. 7: I was perfectly fine writing Kurt Warner off as a fluke. Sure, he won a Super Bowl, a Super Bowl MVP, and two league MVP awards. But he came out of nowhere, and as soon as Marshall Faulk and Dick Vermeil vanished from St. Louis he seemed done. He held a seat warm for Eli Manning in New York, then took a job to do the same for Matt Leinart in Arizona.
And I was ready to assign him to a peculiar footnote of history, when a never-was QB led a ramshackle bunch of misfits to a couple of crazy-wacky offensive years. The Rams capitalized on a version of the NFL that wasn’t very good, when the 90s dynasties of the Cowboys and Broncos were finished and this decade’s great teams, the Patriots and the Colts, weren’t yet ready. Once the league caught on to Warner’s act, he looked old and tired and average, and “fluke” seemed like the perfect description for his flourish in 2001 and 2002.
But then Kurt Warner took the Arizona Cardinals to the Super Bowl, and damn near won the game.
Put yourself at any point in time prior to 2009 and read that previous sentence to yourself. It’s just about the most batshit nutty thing I’ve ever heard. Combine it with great numbers, and Warner is legendary. He’s the second-most accurate passer in the history of the NFL behind Chad Pennington, and Chad Pennington has never attempted a throw longer than six yards. Sure, he’s short of 30,000 NFL passing yards, but that’s only because of all the years he spent matriculating in the Arena and Hy-Vee Grocery leagues. Don’t make me bust out those stats, Warner may well have thrown for six hundred thousand combined yards.
8. JIM KELLY
Bankmeister: Ah. Jim Kelly. The first (and only) 1983-drafted quarterback I get to write about in this feature. Jim Kelly was fantastic. A sure hit coming out of college. Dude chucked almost 4000 yards and for 44 touchdowns in high school. High school. I don’t think my high school football team has scored 44 touchdowns since I graduated. He too matriculated at the University of Miami, and for that I will not fault him. I will, however, fault him for two things: 1) temporarily refusing to play for the team that drafted him, and 2) being solely responsible for the Chiefs losing at my first-ever professional football game. But that’s cool. What can you say about Kelly? He’s a five-time Pro Bowler. He won four consecutive AFC Championships. He heaved a pigskin for a living and did so very well for 11 seasons. He amassed over 35,000 passing yards, 237 scores, and a career passer rating of 84.4, which is higher than Elway’s. Jackpot. Count it, etc.
He also once led the league in passing touchdowns with 33 (1991), and in the previous campaign, hung a rating of 101.2 in the books, which is pretty impressive. I wasn’t playing fantasy football when Jim Kelly was wearing number 12, but if I had been, I would’ve drafted him and made him my keeper. He was an amazing quarterback that played for a really unfortunate team. Cleveland’s cousin, I suppose. But he’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and by golly, he earned that. He makes this list 100 percent of the time, and 60 percent of the time, he’s in the top 10 every time.
7. TOM BRADY
Old No. 7: I’m a Red Sox fan, but that’s my only interaction with the reviled and maligned species of subhuman sports booster that comes from Boston. I don’t like the Pats or the Celtics, and therefore I look at someone like Tom Brady the way I look at someone like Derek Jeter. He’s awesome, he’s robotically efficient, I respect him, I loathe him.
Brady and Jeter occupy the same rarefied airspace as both champion athletes and tabloid celebrities. They both carry themselves like true superstars: aloof, never controversial, complete dicks. If I were fortunate enough to be that good, I’d like to think that’s how I’d behave myself—banging supermodels, laughing at poor people, but always behind closed doors and never making an ass out of myself. Even when Brady knocked up Bridget Moynahan everyone was like “leave the man alone, respect his privacy,“ almost like the broad was fortunate to be inseminated by such a suave and worldly man. Which she was.
Oh, he’s absorbed a few body blows recently. Brady’s Patriots have now lost three whole playoff games--I was in attendance at the first, and as we all exited Invesco that night it felt awfully strange that Jake Plummer had outdueled the great Tom Brady. A similar feat was accomplished by Elisha Manning two Super Bowls ago, and Brady deserves at least some culpability for delivering an unbeaten team to the shadow of the mountaintop yet failing to reach the summit. And last year, after Brady was felled by the dirtiest hit you’ll ever see, Matt Cassel won 11 games with Brady’s teammates, a poor man’s version of Hostetler taking Phil Simms’ Giants to a title.
But Brady is unquestionably great and is this generation’s Montana -- a diamond in the rough, discovered by a coaching legend, who cashed in when it counted with a dynasty. That’s not as easy as it sounds, the mid-80s Bears should have been a dynasty but only collected one Vince Lombardi Trophy, and a big reason for that is because Jim McMahon was not a great quarterback.
6. STEVE YOUNG
Bankmeister: Growing up, I didn’t have any ties to the San Francisco 49ers, but I do now. A lot of that is thanks to the brain trust I mentioned under the Rich Gannon listing. Thanks to them, we’ve had the pleasure of cheering for Joe Montana and Elvis Grbac. We’ve also had the nausea of admitting that yes, Steve Bono was once at the helm of a 13-3 Kansas City Chiefs team. I haven’t heard much of him since, but I’m told you can see pictures of Bono and Lin Elliot if you type the words lemon, party , and org into your CyberNets browser and plop a period in there somewhere. So as a Chiefs fan, we got Montana for a minute, and that was awesome. It was. Conference championship game. Thanks for the memories. It was great watching him lead the Chiefs, but great in that kind of way where someone comes home right in the middle of a galactic jerk session. Sure. You’ve had thousands of others. A lot of ‘em were good ones, but you want that one. Why couldn’t you’ve gotten that one? Bad analogy? Okay. How ‘bout the SportsCenter you tune into just to see that fantastic diving catch in center field that your buddy told you about at the bar, except, on the way to watch it, you flip past a stupid channel with a stupid program you would never, ever watch, except for right now, there’s a smokin’ brunette with a giant cleave-heavy rack. You’re distracted. Joe Montana was on the verge of selling me a Buick Skylark, but over there, in the corner, was this shiny convertible Corvette.
That’s how I’ll always think of Steve Young. I wanted that guy on my team. Yesterday.
Steve Young was the perfectly polished Mark Brunell, only with more God-given talent. He was wise, football savvy and one gutsy-ass motherfucker. Now, I’m not sure if that last part cut his career short, or if he just has the kind of noodle that doesn’t recover well from traumas, or if it was both. It was probably both. But Steve Young had some courage. And it would be a shame to not look at his numbers. Thirty-three thousand yards passing, 232 touchdowns, and 97 picks. Don’t forget the 4239 rushing yards and 43 rushing touchdowns, either. Or the seven consecutive Pro Bowls, the 96.8 career passer rating, the 8-6 post-season record, or the two-time league MVP, and Super Bowl XXIX MVP.
In terms of raw talent, Steve Young is one of the best quarterbacks I’ve ever seen play. It’s a shame that two years of his career were wasted in Tampa Bay and it took him four years to get the official starting nod in San Francisco. If by playing in those first six seasons, his head didn’t turn into lumpy gravy, he may’ve become the best to ever play the game. May’ve.
And for those that like to diss him as a sportscaster, fuck off. What? You really have good reasons why he sucks at the desk. Seriously. Fuck. Off.
5. DAN MARINO
Old No. 7: Why is Dan Marino always so angry? He had a legendary career and got to play the whole time in Miami, where the weather’s nice, the fans and media are cushy and I hear there are girls. He made a ton of money. He was handed a job right after retirement where he makes a million dollars a year to work one day a week in the fall. He’s tanned, he has his hair, and since the Nutrisystem he’s trim. So why does he always look like someone kicked his puppy?
Is it because guys like me always call him a loser? I’m just a lowly blogger, he should have a thicker skin. Is it because guys like Boomer Esiason essentially say the same thing? That might sting a little more, since Boomer actually played the game at a high level and was sitting right next to Marino when he said it. Still, though, compare Marino to Jim Kelly and Warren Moon, the only other cats in our top dozen who don’t have a ring. I don’t see Kelly and Moon walking around with a perpetual scowl, scaring all the kids in the neighborhood. They’re gracious and humble, and although either would give their throwing arm for a single title on their resume, they have a better perspective on the whole thing.
If you’re a quarterback, especially one of the all-time greats, you have a responsibility to your team and your city to represent both with class. You’re the face of the franchise and you should act like a grown up. If you want to bitch in private that dumb old Don Shula couldn’t hack it at the end (he couldn’t) or that your teams were not built for road weather in January (they weren’t) or that you never got to play with a single decent running back (you didn’t), that’s fine. Just don’t broadcast that shit every day, it makes you look like a bitch.
But whatever, he had incredible stats.
4. PEYTON MANNING
Old No. 7: I used to be hatin’ on Peyton with every ounce of energy I could muster. I once stood through an entire Broncos-Colts game screaming “Cut That Meat!” even though Indy had already clinched their playoff position and Manning only played a token possession before yielding to Jim Sorgi. I cringed at his stupid commercials, I pleaded for his gruesome injuries, I begged that God would make him suck.
But he didn’t suck, and in the Bloach Bowl he grabbed himself a shiny ring. You see a lot of great players finally win it all and wonder how it will change both them and others’ perceptions of them. To me, Peyton picked up a swagger and a confidence that he’d always tried to fake. He was more at ease with his teammates, less of a punk with his coaches and officials, and completely comfortable with his status as an icon.
But what about me, charter member of the Fuck You Peyton Society? I have to admit, I now like the guy. I still want him to lose, but no longer to I wish that his leg snaps in half while that happens. Once in a while I crack a smile when he’s on my television—he continues to be a gigantic dork but he is capable of genuine humor from time to time. And I must cop to the fact that Peyton Manning is the best pure quarterback I have ever seen. Elway and Favre were better overall football players, leaders of men, but when it comes to the science of matriculating a football to an exact point in three-dimensional space, no one has ever done it better. I am perfectly at peace with my new relationship with Peyton Manning. Me and him, we’re bros.
One more note, about guys here that were the No. 1 draft pick. We have five players on this list that were drafted first overall: Bledsoe (1993), Vinny ('87), Aikman ('89), Peyton ('98) and Elway ('83). Two of those guys fell into secretly great situations because of coaching changes--Bledsoe was inherited by Parcells, while Aikman launched his career with fledgling pro coach Jimmy Johnson. Elway ended up with Dan Reeves, who wasn't an all-time great coach but wasn't Frank Kush either. That leaves Vinny Testaverde and Peyton Manning as the two QBs that, in my opinion, did the most with the least (both Tampa and Indy were pathetic upon their arrival). And since Vinny did his best work long after leaving the Buccaneers, you could argue that no quarterback has ever had as much to do with building a franchise as Peyton Manning has.
I know, Peyton didn't draft Edgerrin James or Reggie Wayne or Dwight Freeney or Bob Sanders. Peyton didn't make intelligent decisions with free agency or upgrade from Jim Mora to Tony Dungy. But without Manning's excellence and consistency, none of that would have happened. The Colts would not have brand-new Lucas Oil Stadium, or a championship, and they very well might not be in Indianapolis at all. Measured that way, Peyton Manning might go down as the most important player in NFL history. That, or I'm just grasping at straws because I'm out of players here.
3. BRETT FAVRE
Cecil: Brett Favre was not the greatest QB I’ve ever seen. Nor is he the “toughest” as everyone likes to call him -- both of those honorifics belong to Mr. Elway, who played the vast majority of his career behind reprehensibly bad offensive lines and took an evil beating therefore -- he was, however, as close as the NFL has had, might ever have, to #7.
Not just because of his playing style, although the two were similarly strong-armed and (especially in their youth), gutsy and occasionally maddening. Not just because he said himself that he believed that Elway was his closest comparison, and not because he possessed a similar joie de football.
Nope, it’s because of something bigger: like Elway, Favre was as much an area as a person. Brett Favre was the Green Bay Packers, the Upper Midwest, the frozen tundra. We forget that all of those shopworn NFL Films clichés were ancient history in the early ‘90s, because the Pack had been terrible since they beat the Raiders in the second Super Bowl, but they were—the notion of “Titletown” was a laugh, and the franchise itself moribund. Brett Favre—and, of course, Reggie White, but we aren’t rating DEs—changed that. He reinvigorated a franchise that is arguably the NFL’s Greatest of All Time, made viable for a modern era.
He may not be John Elway. But he’s close. A hell of a lot closer than that system-dependent fraud Joe Montana.
2. JOE MONTANA
Bankmeister: Let’s cut to the chase. Joe Montana was the perfect quarterback. Okay. So he threw some picks. One hundred thirty-nine of them to be exact. Nobody’s perfect. But imagine that Phil Simms scenario I mentioned. All the right pieces are in place. Killer D. Ultimate coach. Sleeper tight ends, awesome line. And you plug Peyton Manning in there. Who’s gonna stop you, right? Well, there’s one small difference, and that’s that Joe Montana was called Joe Cool, and not Kenny Chesney fan fuck-tard teammate hollerer. Actually, I’ve heard that, off the field, Joe was not all that cool, but for a brief, waning moment, he had the Chiefs on the doorstep, and then he got hurt, and it was time to call it a career. A pretty tight, four-Super Bowl-winning, three-time-SB-MVP career, but a career, nonetheless.
Here’s the thing I liked about Montana. He couldn’t run. He totaled 1676 rushing yards in his career. That’s about 111 yards a season, or just under seven yards a game. Better yet, less than two yards a quarter. But he didn’t need to. He could stay in the pocket. He could get flushed out of it as it collapsed and make it far enough to either sideline and beat you with his arm and his brains. Those late ‘80s Giants teams pissed me off because they would hit you in the mouth on the lines and get enough done on offense to win, and win a pair of championships, to boot. On the other coast, San Francisco was just freaking dominating people. They went 100-39 on Montana’s watch. This wasn’t too say that they would come out and kick your ass every Sunday. But some Sundays they would. And some Sundays they’d just find the right way, the perfect means, to beat you.
This was the problem with Martyball. It was semi-Parcellsian. It was smash mouth, but it wasn’t hit you in the mouth and then take care of business. Montana was the answer. He was the raise on the poker table, the big fish in the barrel. And he’d missed the entire 1991 season. The fact that he came to Kansas City and led the team to a 17-8 regular-season record (2-2 in the playoffs) between the ages of 37 and 38 was flippin’ stellar. He’d accomplished most everything. Maybe that two-point NFC Conference Championship loss to New York en route to that ’90 Giants Super Bowl left him hungry for number five. Maybe he wanted to win one for another team. Maybe he just wanted a paycheck.
Can’t be certain either way, but as the fan of a team who’s never drafted and (successfully) developed a quarterback in its history, it was epic having him here. Forty thousand, five hundred fifty-one passing yards, a 273:139 TD-INT ratio, and eight Pro Bowls says most of it. But the poise under pressure, the 16-7 post-season record, and the drive to win says the rest. Montana, with all of the weapons around him in San Francisco and in Kansas City, was a fantastic quarterback to watch. Fantastic.
1. JOHN ELWAY
Cecil: Even yet, John Elway stands astride the civic self-image of the Rocky Mountain Region like no individual I can think of; maybe back in the frontier days people got all worked up talking about Buffalo Bill Cody, I dunno, but in my lifetime, there’s been no one like him. He was, and remains, bigger than football.
It’s no secret that we’re pretty far away from the rest of the country out here. The closest metropolitan areas are Salt Lake to the West, Albuquerque to the south and Kansas City to the east, all more than 500 miles away--and none considered any sort of teeming megalopolis. When it comes to the popular image of the Mountain West, the American public thinks skiing and Bronco football. And John Elway.
I don’t make a habit of agreeing with Jason Whitlock. I think he’s a charlatan who impersonates a journalist and surfs onto whatever controversy he can find in order to take some bogus “last honest man” stance.
But I’ll say this much: the dude is right on when he says that John Elway is the greatest player in the history of the modern NFL. Because that claim, while based in quantitative numbers (most wins as a starter and second most passing yards when he retired, started five Super Bowls with teams that were largely unworthy of being in the postseason at all) goes beyond mere production on the field; it speaks to the vast impact that Elway had on this city, this region. John Elway's professional legacy is beyond compare.