Over the near hundred year history of the National Football League, the game of football has changed and developed from a league which leaned on running and defense, to a league carried by the passing game. As the league evolved, some passers have stepped to the challenge and set themselves apart from the rest of the pack. The quarterback position has become the most important position on the field, and so obviously, the discussion arises: Who is the greatest ever?
Brett Favre, Otto Graham, John Elway
5. Johnny Unitas (1956-1973)
The Hall of Famer was easily the premier quarterback of his era and the first great quarterback. He put up numbers that no one else in his time could dream of. In his career, Unitas threw for 40, 239 yards and 290 touchdowns on his way to winning three regular season MVPs. In that time, he lead led the Baltimore Colts to two NFL Championships, and late in his career, led the team to two Super Bowls, winning one. Maybe his greatest feat is his record of 47 consecutive games with a touchdown pass, which stood until Drew Brees broke it in 2012. His main knock is his 253 interceptions, but in his era, no one was accurate, and throwing interceptions was common. This was the most competitive spot to fill with many players deserving to be in this conversation, but it is impossible to leave out a passer who had skills and success throwing the football that no one else until the Montana era could even dream of.
4. Dan Marino (1984-2000)
While Dan Marino never could break the final barrier and clinch a Super Bowl, he is easily one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the NFL. As the first quarterback to ever record a 5,000 yard passing season, Marino retired with the records for most career touchdown passes, most career yards, most career pass attempts, and most career receptions. While his prowess in the regular season was unmatched, the one time MVP and Hall of Famer underperformed in the playoffs throwing only 34 TDs to 24 INTs in eighteen playoff games. In his one shot in the Big Game, Marino threw only one touchdown to two interceptions. It is easy to see that Marino’s regular season record puts him in the conversation for the best ever, but his playoff failures keep him out of the top three.
3. Peyton Manning (1998-2015)
He’s the epitome of what the quarterback position should be, the premier passer of the generation, and the man whose forehead never stopped growing. After an eighteen year career in the league, Peyton was able to cap it off with his second championship in Super Bowl 50. Although it was on the strength of his defense, Peyton’s second win moves him into the top three. His career was born in Indianapolis, but his late years in Denver are where his legacy grew and where he moved into the top three ever. He retired after the Super Bowl last year with records in career yards (71,940 yds), career touchdowns (539 TDs), single-season touchdown passes (55 TDs), and single-season passing yards (5,477 yds). The future Hall of Famer was arguably the greatest quarterback in the league for much of his eighteen years, and his regular season success coupled with good, but not great postseason play, settles him at number three all time.
2. Joe Montana (1979-1994)
For so many years, Montana was undoubtedly the greatest quarterback of all time. Tied with only Terry Bradshaw with four Super Bowl wins as a quarterback, the first ballot Hall of Famer was the face of greatness in the NFL. While his 40,551 yards and 273 TDs are not the best ever, no one can match his unblemished Super Bowl record, his 11 TD passes to no interceptions in the Big Game, and his three Super Bowl MVPs to go along with his two regular season MVPs. Maybe the most clutch ever, most of Montana’s Super Bowl records stood until recently when the next player on this list shattered them. The west coast scheme employed by the 49ers fit perfectly with Montana’s abilities and led him to become one of the greatest postseason quarterbacks ever and the premier quarterback in the league.
1. Tom Brady
Who knew that the greatest quarterback ever would come out of the sixth round. He was just a no-name from Michigan and a kid growing up in Montana’s shadow, but he changed the league. He stepped in to take over when Drew Bledsoe was injured, and his career took off from there. Brady is now the oldest non-kicker in the league and still playing better every season. He now is the best in the game having fully mastered the position. He leads a perennial contender in the Patriots and recently captured his record fifth Super Bowl championship in his record seventh Super Bowl. In his seventh trip to the Big Game, he set the record for the most yards in a single Super Bowl, most Super Bowl MVPs, most completions and attempts in the Super Bowl overall, most pass yards overall in the game, and most pass touchdowns overall in the Big Game. His performance late in Super Bowl LI this year, leading the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history, easily set him apart from the pack. He owns a 25-9 record in the playoffs which when added to his regular season record makes him the winningest quarterback of all time with 208 wins. In his career, he has thrown for 61,582 yards, 456 TDs, and only 152 INTs, and he does not look like he is stopping any time soon. The two time MVP is already the greatest ever, and he wants to play five more years. Tom Terrific entered the league as a nobody, but he has become a perennial contender for MVP and his legacy just keeps on growing.