Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Brett Favre’s place in history

By Rick Morris

I join football fans everywhere in saying that I will miss seeing Brett Favre on the football field every Sunday (though I’m sure none of us are quite as broken up about it as John Madden is). He was an entertaining gunslinger, somebody who really loved the game, gave a lot to it and showed how much joy he got from it. I wish him the best in retirement and the game is poor for losing his on-field contributions.

My colleague Nate Noy posed a question about where Favre rates in the eyes of history, then he attempted to answer it (#4 all-time). Likewise, my other colleague Tony Mazur rated Favre within the confines of QBs he had personally witnessed. Similar to Nate's piece, I will offer a look at my own all-time Top 10 at the position. It is striking to me how similar our lists are. Just to recap, here’s Nate’s Top 10 (read his column to learn his justification for each pick and to see the key statistics for his QBs):

10. John Elway

9. Peyton Manning

8. Tom Brady

7. Steve Young

6. Sammy Baugh

5. Dan Marino

4. Brett Favre

3. Otto Graham

2. Johnny Unitas

1. Joe Montana

Before I begin my list, I’d like to note that Sammy Baugh just missed my Top 10 list at #11. Nate’s right that he did revolutionize the position and he was the greatest quarterback of his time, but I can’t award him a spot over any of these players, many of whom helped make this modern “golden age of quarterbacks” what it has been.

10. Bart Starr. If this were a fantasy draft, I’d slot him at the top of the second tier, with the nine QBs above him constituting a top tier. This is no slam on him, merely a statement of how I see him fitting into the landscape and indeed, being proclaimed one of the NFL’s All-Time Top 10 QBs is an honor in anyone’s book. He had a very nice synthesis of statistical production and championships earned (including the first two Super Bowls).

9. Brett Favre. He was a little more all-or-nothing than most of his counterparts on this list, which is the main reason I did not have him higher. Apart from a stretch in the mid-to-late ‘90s, he wasn’t universally regarded as one of the top two or three QBs in the game at the time, but was a top 10 performer almost all the way through. He’s in the top two or three all-time, however, at overcoming any kind of adversity and may have been the most fun to watch, for whatever that’s worth.

8. Peyton Manning. As with my rating of Tom Brady (and with Nathan’s ratings of both players), the slot is awarded based on the body of work to date. As one of the most elite statistical producers ever and a player who now has a title to his credit, the Top 5 list is a certainty if he can sustain his production another half-decade.

7. Steve Young. I fully expect many people to be blown away by the slotting of Young in the Top 10 (Nate won’t be surprised, however, since he had him in the exact same spot). Look up the numbers; from 1991-1994 he was as dominant as anyone to ever play the game and he capped off that run with a Super Bowl at the end of it. With an NFL career compressed into a relatively short run by a USFL stint and backup duty to Joe Montana on the front end and injury problems at the back end, there might not be anyone else in the history of the league who could have earned such a lofty spot based on such a short time frame. And in terms of influence, he still stands as the greatest example yet of the hybrid of athleticism molded to pocket-style quarterbacking – ironic, given the racial connotations so many seem to apply to the term “mobile quarterback.”

6. Tom Brady. One of the game’s most accomplished winners put up arguably the greatest statistical season ever in 2007. As with Manning, the Top 5 is within reach and since he’s a few years younger than Manning with two more Super Bowl wins and one more Super Bowl appearance, the next few years could catapult him to the point of becoming the consensus best quarterback of all time.

5. Dan Marino. He stands at the pinnacle of “statistical quarterbacks,” while falling much further down most people’s lists of “ultimate winner quarterbacks.” This is unfair, given the fact that he had less support than arguably anyone else on this list: few marquee WRs (outside of the early stretch with the “Marks Brothers”), a complete lack of a running game (no 1,000 yard rusher the first 13 years of his career – insane, given that a RB only needs to average 62.5 yards per game over the course of a season to reach that number) and a defense that was uneven at best over the course of his tenure. Given the limited impact that one player, even a great QB, can have on the bottom line on the gridiron, Marino is a very underrated winner for getting his team to make as many playoff runs at they did. And having lost a Super Bowl to the 1980s 49ers and an AFC Championship Game to the 1990s Bills is not a mark of shame.

4. John Elway. When the bad marriage with Dan Reeves ended, Elway got a chance to prove that he could win Super Bowls and also put up ginormous statistics. Factor in his mobility and penchant for late-game comebacks and the triumphant final chapter of his career boosts him to this point.

3. Johnny Unitas. As Nate pointed out, before Marino, Johnny U. was the statistical benchmark for the league and he also was a title-winner (and as Grampa Abe Simpson once said so memorably, “He had a flat-top you could set your watch by”). He had great durability, though he was fairly beat-up at the end. He was Top 5 in anyone’s book.

2. Otto Graham. This OG was simply, the ultimate winner. Every chance he got, he was earning All-Pro honors and playing for a title (and winning several). His vast accomplishments are sadly unknown by illiterates who think the game was invented with the birth of the Super Bowl in 1967, but these accomplishments are undeniable nonetheless.

1. Joe Montana. He was more renowned as a winner than as a stat-producer, but, as Nate notes, he did end up exceeding Unitas’ career passing mark. He was the engine of the 1980s San Francisco dynasty, which may have been the game’s greatest of them all, and he generally made it look easy. He set the all-time standard for clutch play that Tom Brady still has to surmount if he’s ever to claim this position.

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