It’s like Groundhog’s day (literally), every year at this time every talking head on sports commentary crowns Tom Brady the Greatest of All Time. And every time, I want to bang my head against the wall. GOAT has now just become an acronym we toss around without any perspective. It’s as if football began when you remember football and that anything before your memory, or ESPN video coverage, well did it even really exist? YES! IT DID!
Let’s actually have a legitimate understanding of greatest quarterback of all time. What does it take to be the GOAT? Does it mean winning the most Super Bowls? Well, the problem with this is two-fold.
- The Super Bowl is a recent addition to professional football.
- There are quarterbacks that have won Super Bowls because of other great players. Whether they were the beneficiaries of stellar defenses or had a great team and they contributed marginally.
Here I have come up with a way to quantify greatness
- Championship Victories (Super Bowls, NFL Championships etc.)
- Regular Season Winning Percentage
- How their teams played with them versus without them
- Winning with multiple coaches, organizations
Why these criteria?
Yes of course Championships are important, but Regular Season records matter too. Being able to win repeatedly versus one game a year should matter more than modern sports media attributes. A pet peeve is when I hear “They were a good regular season quarterback but…” NO! no “but’s” being able to win in the grueling day-to-day matters. It takes more skill and talent to win repeatedly and more luck to win one-game. Also, if a team is still successful when the person in questions isn’t there are they really that good? Finally, who should take more credit for an individuals success if he only plays for one coach in his career? Is it the coach that is great or the quarterback?
Here are a list of the 7 contenders for Greatest Quarterback of All Time. If you have a problem with this list, let me know why. If it’s a stupid reason, I will ignore you. If it is a good reason I would love to debate it.
- Tom Brady
- Peyton Manning
- John Elway
- Joe Montana
- Sammy Baugh
- Johnny Unitas
- Otto Graham
We will now break down each player in “Arguments For” and “Arguments Against” while apply our 4 ways of quantifying greatness.
He has played 19 years in the league. He is going to his 8th Super Bowl and he’s already won 5. This is the most appearances and the most wins in a Super Bowl.
He has the highest winning percentage in the Super Bowl Era at .733.
Brady has only played for one coach his entire career, Bill Belichick. How can we place credit for the above winning percentage and Super Bowls at his own talent and not on Belichick? We can try by looking at how the Patriots did when Brady did not play.
He missed an entire season in 2008 for injury. The Patriots WITHOUT him went 11-5. He missed 4 games during the 2016 season for suspension, his team went again 3-1 without him. His team, without him playing, is 14-6. That does not bode well for making the argument HE is the greatness behind the Patriots.
Manning has the opposite For/Against column as Brady. Manning played for 4 coaches during his career (Tony Dungy, Jim Caldwell, Gary Kubiak and John Fox) and two organizations (Colts and Broncos). He took all four of his head coaches and both of his franchises to Super Bowls. Only Dungy retired from the game, the other three coaches have since been fired and are no longer head coaches in the League. There is no way to pin his wins on his coaches or his organization.
When looking at how his teams did without him, again his case strengthens. In 2011 Manning had to miss an entire season for injury. His team, which the year before had won their division, went 2-14 without Manning. When Manning retired after winning the Super Bowl with the Broncos, the Broncos went 9-7. They were 12-4 with him, and this was at the end of his career where nobody would make the argument he was at his peak.
Another argument for Manning is how healthy he was. Until his 2011 neck injury he did not miss a start. He led his teams and had a .685 winning percentage (4th in the Super Bowl Era).
He stayed healthy, his teams won with him and lost without him and he was able to win with multiple coaches and teams. He won 5 MVPs the most all time.
He only has 2 Super Bowl wins and four appearances. His postseason record is not nearly as glamorous as Brady’s.
Elway’s arguments look very similar to Manning’s. His winning percentage is .648 (6th in the Super Bowl Era). He only played for the Denver Broncos but played under 3 Head Coaches in the 16 years he played (Dan Reeves, Wade Phillips and Mike Shanahan).
His teams were awful when he did not play. Elway took mediocre teams to Super Bowls. When he retired after winning a Super Bowl with at 17-2 record, the Broncos without him would go 6-10.
He was injured a lot! He struggled to stay on the field throughout his career. His Super Bowl record looks a lot like Manning’s. He had 5 Super Bowl Appearances and only 2 wins.
Montana has the 3rd highest winning percentage in the Super Bowl Era at .711. He went a perfect 4-0 in Super Bowls. Hard to discount a man that was perfect in Super Bowls.
His teams were 17-10 when he did not play. This is a little unfair because he was backed up by Steve Young who is in the Hall of Fame (note: the people who backed up Brady are not anywhere as good as Young).
Montana was able to win in two locations, but only won Super Bowls with the 49ers. His 49ers success could be credited to his head coach Bill Walsh who coached him to all of his Super Bowl wins.
[Here we start to go before the Super Bowl Era. For a little history on Sammy Baugh click here. Baugh played for the Washington Redskins from 1937-1952.]
He had a .661 winning percentage and went 3-3 in Championship Games. He is most certainly the best athlete to play quarterback. In 1943 he led the league in passing, punting and interceptions. His punting record is still on the books. No player has ever lead the league in those 3 categories. There is a good argument he is the greatest punter of all time as he still holding the second highest career averaged in NFL history (45.1). By the time he retired in 1952 he held 13 NFL records and still holds on to 2 of them.
He played in a run dominate game. Though he was one of the quarterbacks credited for making the pass a threat. He would play his whole career with the Redskins.
Unitas had an impressive .649 winning percentage as a Colt. He straddles the Super Bowl era. He went 3-2 in NFL Championships and 1-0 in Super Bowls. He played as a replacement in Super Bowl III.
He was coached by 3 different head coaches (Weeb Ewbank, Don Shula and Don McCafferty).
His teams went 13-1 when he was out for the season and was 7-8-1 when he did not play. Don Shula is considered one of the best coaches who he played under. He has a very similar arguments for and against as Brady does.
Played for the Cleveland Browns from 1946-1955. For a look at his run with the Browns click here.
He has a .855 winning percentage. Think about that for a second, .855! This is the best in football. He was 4-0 in the All- American Football Conference Championship Games. When the AAFC collapsed the Browns were picked up by the NFL. They would win the NFL Championship in their first season with the NFL. Graham is 3-3 in NFL Title games.
That means he made it to 10 title games and won 7 of them. That’s a better record than anyone.
The game looked very different in these years. It was run first, throw second. Also, he played for a poor conference with the AAFC and getting to the NFL title game is nothing like getting to the Super Bowl of the modern era.
So who are your top 5?