Answering who the best quarterback of all time is will likely spark great debate since the criterion determining who the best is varies considerably. Some people examine specific statistics, like pass completion average, ability to run the ball, ability to come from behind, average touchdown to interception ratio, or quick release. Not everyone agrees on which of these statistics are most important, however. Further, many believe that since a quarterback should inspire a team, so the most important factor should simply be Super Bowl wins.
There is usually a short list of players up for the title of best quarterback, including Johnny Unitas, Steve Young, Joe Montana, Fran Tarkenton, Bart Starr, Roger Staubach and Dan Marino. Although their careers are still in full swing, Brett Favre and Tom Brady are considered by many football fans to be among the best as well. Looking at Super Bowl wins only, Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw are the two best. Bradshaw probably wouldn’t make it onto the list from many other perspectives, but he and Montana are tied with four Super Bowl wins.
Bart Starr also has to be considered, even though he only has two Super Bowl victories — in fact, the first two Super Bowls in 1967 and 1968. He won three NFL championships prior to the inception of the Super Bowl, however.
On the other hand, some great players never won a Super Bowl. This is the case with Dan Marino, who is generally considered to have one of the quickest releases and currently holds an impressive number of football records. These include lowest percentage of interceptions in a season, most consecutive seasons with 20 or more touchdown passes, and most games with four or more touchdown passes in a season. He also has the second highest rating of 4th quarter comebacks. He was not, however, a great runner. In his career he averaged only a yard per run with the ball.
Many believe Johnny Unitas to be the best ever to play the game. He holds three NFL championships, one of them the Super Bowl. Additionally, when he retired, he had many records, such as most pass completions, most touchdowns, and most consecutive games throwing touchdown passes.
Fran Tarkenton’s regular season record is stunning, but many dismiss his performance because his team did not win any of the three Super Bowls in which he played. He held virtually all passing records at the time of his retirement, however. Additionally, he had great ability to run with the ball, chalking up over 3,500 rushing yards and 32 touchdowns. He is fourth in the list of number of rushing yards.
Many argue that Joe Montana is the best quarterback ever because he combined his Super Bowl wins with fantastic statistics. He holds the second highest passing record in a single season, the most consecutive games with 300 or more passing yards, most Super Bowl touchdowns, and most completed passes in Super Bowl history. He also holds the second highest career pass completion record, the third highest number of seasons with 3,000+ passes, and the third lowest interception record.
From a statistical standpoint, however, Steve Young often beats Montana. Montana had a far quicker release than Young, one of the quickest in NFL history. Many believe that Young might have had a better Super Bowl record with a better offensive line, and a better defense, than was available in the 1990s 49ers team.
Brett Favre must also be considered, especially in light of his late career resurgence. After mostly unimpressive years in 2005 and 2006, Favre came back with one of his greatest seasons ever in 2007, and now holds all-time records for passing yards and touchdowns. Favre has won one Super Bowl and three MVP awards, and has started more consecutive games at quarterback than any other player.
Tom Brady must now be included in any debate about the all-time best QBs. Brady had already won three Super Bowls by the age of 30 and two MVP awards. In 2007, Brady had a great season, breaking the all-time record for touchdown passes in a season with 50, and leading the New England Patriots to the first perfect 16-0 regular season record in NFL history. He was ranked as the best player in the league after the 2010 season and was the first player to be chosen as MVP by unanimous decision.
There are myriad considerations to factor in when naming best quarterback. He must inspire the team, but he has to have good receivers, good protection from his offensive line, and he has to play on a team with a defense that gives him opportunities to play. As part of a team, his statistics may rise or fall given the skill of other team members. As a result, it may be more valid to evaluate which football teams were the greatest ever, though here again, debate would be substantial.
Further, all statistics and career records are subject to change. Many look to the impressive statistics and skill of Peyton Manning, for example, and believe that many records now held by other players are well within Manning’s reach.