Bob McGinn ranks the top 25 NFL quarterbacks he has seen
New York — Longtime readers of the Journal Sentinel probably realize many of the columns that I've written over the years were developed through my legion of contacts from the ranks of personnel men, coaches and players.
You deserved hearing from the experts, and as a journalist and information gatherer I made it a practice to provide their views.
Today, with kickoff for the 48th Super Bowl set for late Sunday afternoon, will represent departure from the norm in this space.
Some have maintained that if Peyton Manning plays well and leads the Denver Broncos to victory over the defensive-minded Seattle Seahawks, he should be acclaimed the greatest quarterback of all time.
That got me started.
Probably the easiest column in the world to write is a list column.
In The Ultimate Super Bowl Book, the publisher insisted on a dozen or more top-10 lists. Somewhat reluctantly, I agreed to produce them, and can't recall doing another since the book was first published five years ago.
But with the debate about the best quarterback ever undoubtedly going on for two weeks, the decision was made to come up with a list, in order, of my top 25 quarterbacks of all time.
These are my personal choices. I didn't consult a soul. In fact, I've never really given it much thought until last week.
The first pro football game that I witnessed was Detroit against Green Bay at then City Stadium in October 1959.
My father, Denis, and I traveled by railroad (the Chicago & North Western) from our home in Escanaba, Mich., that Sunday morning. We sat in the north end zone, which probably had no more than 25 to 30 rows at the time. I was 7.
The first NFL Championship Game that I can vividly recall watching was Green Bay at Philadelphia in 1960. My family and friends watched pro football, both the NFL and AFL, every Sunday from then on.
The Packers became my reporting assignment on a part-time basis beginning in 1980 and then on a full-time basis since 1984.
In preparing the list, it was decided that only quarterbacks with 10 years of playing experience would be considered. I also included only players that I can remember watching. Because I never saw the great Otto Graham (1946-'55), he couldn't be on the list.
Criteria? There really weren't any other than years of service. I did consider the physical attributes of older players and how they would project to the NFL of today.
Passer rating didn't play much of a role.
For one thing, it doesn't factor in winning, rushing and clutch play. For another, the onslaught of rules changes since 1978 have made it so much easier for receivers and pass blockers to operate while at the same time protecting quarterbacks from the physical mayhem that had been visited upon them for decades.
More than anything, this list was based mostly on unscientific, gut feel.
So there's my frame of reference. Now here's my list.
1. Joe Montana (1979-'94): Magnificent from the pocket. Exceptional on the move. Great passer and a great runner. So poised and so accurate. It was poetry in motion.
2. Johnny Unitas (1956-'73): Helped drag the passing game into the modern era with the help of Raymond Berry. All the successful quarterbacks of that era had to be the toughest player on the field given the savagery inflicted upon them well after the ball was out. The ultimate leader of men.
3. Tom Brady (2000-'13, active): His strength of character has shone through time after time. Perfectionist in every way, shape and form. Never a threat to run but possesses brilliant feel for stepping into available throwing lanes. High overhand delivery and a perfect spiral.
4. Dan Marino (1983-'99): Perhaps the quickest release ever. Pure pocket passer with cannon for an arm. Highly emotional leader. Tremendous in the clutch.
5. Peyton Manning (1998-'13, active): Near the top of most-prepared passers ever. Used his domineering personality to make football a legitimate sport in basketball-mad Indiana. Early master of the no-huddle offense. Prototypical height, extremely limited athlete.
6. Brett Favre (1991-2010): Nobody had more fun playing the game. Not many ever had an arm like his, either. Teammates loved playing with him. Defined the gunslinger quarterback.
7. John Elway (1983-'98): Probably the best pure athlete on this or any list. Arm strength ranked right alongside Favre's. Rare running ability.
8. Steve Young (1985-'99): Six NFL single-season passing titles. Gifted scrambler-runner with exceptional speed and courage. Over time, he became a disciplined West Coast pocket passer despite standing barely 6 feet.
9. Dan Fouts (1973-'87): The backbone of Air Coryell. Almost like a boxer in that he'd stand there and take the most of brutal shots in order to deliver one downfield.
10. Roger Staubach (1969-'79): Didn't start his career with the Cowboys until age 27 because of U.S. Navy commitment. Athletic, efficient and iron-willed.
11. Fran Tarkenton (1961-'78): Might be the most exciting player ever. His crazy-quilt scrambles put people in the seats and helped sell the NFL game on TV. A little man with the guts of a burglar.
12. Len Dawson (1957-'75): The consummate passer. Six AFL-NFL passing titles. Stood just 6-0 but could be devastating throwing from Hank Stram's moving pocket.
13. Terry Bradshaw (1970-'83): Big arm and an even bigger personality. Overcame sluggish start to his career and became the all-time Super Bowl winner. Outstanding athlete.
14. Ken Anderson (1971-'86): Technically superior. Threw with pinpoint accuracy. A complete quarterback.
15. Ken Stabler (1970-'84): Fearless competitor with a whip for an arm. Big, left-handed pocket passer. Really good in the clutch.
16. Sonny Jurgensen (1957-'74): Played his final season at age 40. Deadly deep-ball thrower but, really, could throw any pass. Never took himself too seriously.
17. Kurt Warner (1998-2009): It all started with a tentative stint as a rookie free agent in the Packers' training camp of '94. Rags-to-riches story for the ages. When he got hot, it was over.
18. Ben Roethlisberger (2004-'13, active): Has anyone ever been more difficult to sack in the pocket? Better throwing on the move than from the spot.
19. Troy Aikman (1989-2000): Prototypical pocket passer with prototypical size. Effective scrambler early in career, too.
20. Steve McNair (1995-2007): Benefited by sitting early in his career. Developed into a consistent thrower, but his career was defined by toughness and running.
21. Donovan McNabb (1999-2011): Always seemed to run through the middle for first downs when Eagles needed them most. Developed into capable passer from mid-career on.
22. Warren Moon (1984-2000): Played until 44. After failing to attract an NFL contract out of the University of Washington, he led Edmonton to five straight Grey Cup titles. Rangy athlete and talented thrower.
23. Randall Cunningham (1985-2001): Rifle-armed passer, electrifying runner and serviceable punter. Dazzling, somewhat unpredictable big-play specialist.
24. Bert Jones (1973-'82): Career ruined early by shoulder injuries. Unreal competitor and passer. Bill Belichick has called him the best "pure passer" he ever saw.
25. Drew Brees (2001-'13, active): Far better athlete than given credit for. Terrific competitiveness and throwing accuracy. Unusually high delivery helped him flourish at just 6-0.
Among many considered, here in alphabetical order are the next 12: John Brodie (1957-'73); Roman Gabriel (1962-'77); Bob Griese (1967-'80); John Hadl (1962-'77); Jim Hart (1966-'84); Jim Kelly (1986-'96); Archie Manning (1971-'84); Earl Morrall (1956-'76); Joe Namath (1965-'77); Jim Plunkett (1971-'86); Bart Starr (1956-'71); Y.A. Tittle (1948-'64).