Unlike the article I wrote on the 1950’s top quarterbacks, which you can read here, there was no shortage of great quarterbacks to pick from during the decade of the 1960s.
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Meredith has named the Cowboys starting Q.B. by Head Coach Tom Landry in 1963. In 1966, Meredith led the Cowboys to the NFL postseason, something he would continue to do until his unexpected retirement before the 1969 season. His two most heartbreaking defeats came in NFL Championship play against the Green Bay Packers, 34–27 in Dallas (1966), and the famous “Ice Bowl” game, 21–17 in Green Bay (1967). Meredith is more remembered for his job on Monday Night Football than for his playing days which is a shame because he was an excellent Q.B.
Daryle Lamonica went 66–16–4 as a starter, suitable for a 78.4% winning percentage, second-best in NFL history. Lamonica began his career as a backup to Jack Kemp in Buffalo, where he was known as the “Fireman” for replacing Kemp whenever he was hurt and leading the Bills to come from behind victories. He was traded to Oakland in 1967 and became the Raiders starting Q.B. Lamonica was a 3-time American Football League All-Star and twice was selected as the American Football League’s Most Valuable Player in 1967 and 1969. Lamonica was known as the “Mad Bomber”, his biggest asset was getting the ball vertically down the field.
Tittle was one of the top quarterbacks of the 1950s and continued at a high level of play in the early part of the 1960s. The 34-year-old Tittle was traded to the Giants following the 1960 season, which was considered washed-up. Over the next four seasons, he won amazingly three NFL MVP awards, and on two occasions, set the league single-season record for touchdown passes and led the Giants to three straight NFL championship games. He could never deliver a championship to the team; Tittle had some amazing years at the end of his career; he ranks this low because he didn’t even play half of the decade.
Blanda retired after the 1958 season because of Bears coach George Halas insistence that he be the field goal kicker for the Bears. When the NFL came into existence in 1960, Blanda came out of retirement and joined the expansion Houston Oilers. Blanda led the Oilers to the first two league championships in AFL history, and he was the All-AFL quarterback and won AFL Player of the Year honors in 1961. He led the AFL in passing yards (3,330) and touchdown passes (36). His 36 touchdowns passed in 1961 were the most ever thrown by any NFL/AFL quarterback in a single season until matched by Y.A. Tittle of the NFL New York Giants just two years later in 1963. Blanda’s and Tittle’s mark would remain the record until surpassed by Dan Marino’s 48 touchdown passes in 1984. Blanda’s 42 interceptions thrown in 1962 is a record that still stands, unfortunately for Blanda.
Gabriel spent the first part of the decade of the ’60s as a backup Q.B. That all changed when George Allen took over as the Rams Coach in 1966, one of his first moves was to make Gabriel the #1 starter. Gabriel started all 14 games, and the Rams went 8-6 in 1966, their first winning season since 1958. In 1967 the Rams went 11–1–2 and made the playoffs as NFL Coastal Division champions. Gabriel was named the A.P. Offensive Player of the Week the last two weeks of the season. In week 13, needing a win to keep their playoff hopes alive, Gabriel was 20 for 36 with three touchdowns (including the game-winner in the last minute) in a 27–24 come from behind win over the defending champion Green Bay Packers. The following week, in a game against the Baltimore Colts that would decide the division title, Gabriel completed 18 of 22 passes with three touchdowns as the Rams won 34-10. The 1967 Rams finished as the highest-scoring team in the NFL but were eliminated from the playoffs by the Packers 28-7. Gabriel threw for 2,779 yards and 25 touchdowns and was a Second-team All-Pro and a Pro Bowler.
In 1969 the Rams opened the season with an 11-game winning streak (still a team record) before suffering their first loss to the 10–1 Minnesota Vikings in Los Angeles by 20–13. With the division clinched and the undefeated record gone, coach Allen decided to rest many of his starters, and the Rams lost their last two games to finish 11–3. In a rematch with the Vikings in the playoffs in Minnesota, the Rams lost, 23–20. For the season, Gabriel threw 24 touchdowns and only seven interceptions and was named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player by the AP and NEA, the Player of the Year by the UPI and was voted All-Pro to the Pro Bowl.
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Dawson was a pinpoint passer whose play style flourished in Coach Hank Stram’s “moving pocket” offense. He would win four AFL passing titles and was selected as a league All-Star six times, ending the 10-year run of the league as its highest-rated career passer. From 1962 to 1969, Dawson threw more touchdown passes (182) than any other professional football quarterback. In 1966, Dawson led the Chiefs to an 11-2-1 record and a 31-7 win over the Buffalo Bills in the AFL championship game, earning his team the honor of representing the AFL in Super Bowl I, the first championship game between the AFL and their NFL rivals. The NFL champion Green Bay Packers won easily, 35-10, but Dawson had a reasonably good performance in the game, completing 16 of 27 passes for 210 yards and a touchdown, with one interception.
Legendary Coach Vince Lombardi called Jurgensen the greatest Q.B. he had ever seen, which says a lot about Jurgensen’s talent. Jurgensen took over in Philadelphia after the retirement of the great Norm Van Brocklin. His first year as a starter saw him throw for over 3,000 yards; his second season did not go so well as he was hurt and missed most of the season. Jurgensen was then traded to Washington, where he enjoyed great success for the rest of his career. Jurgensen had fantastic talent, but it seems to get lost about how great he was for some reason.
Namath became the first professional quarterback to pass for 4,000 yards when he threw for 4,007 yards in (1967), a record broken by Dan Fouts in a 16-game season in 1979 (4,082). Although Namath was plagued with knee injuries throughout his career, he was a great Q.B. during the last half of the 1960s. Namath was an AFL All-Star in 1965, 1967, 1968, and 1969. It is a shame that he was injured at Alabama; he could have been one of the greatest quarterbacks. Instead, he was more of a comet that shone brightly through the night sky but then disappeared too quickly for us to enjoy it.
Unitas is still considered the greatest Q.B. of all time, and if he was not the greatest, he still belongs in the discussion. Unitas could not win a World Championship in the 1960s, but he did win a league MVP award in 1964 and 1967. The ’60s were a decade of what could have been for the Colts and Unitas. The Colts had the best Q.B. of the ’60s, but they had some holes to fill and never seemed to be able to do it; they got close but never could win the whole thing.
Bart Starr can be summed up best in four words “he was a winner”! Starr is the only NFL QB to win three straight NFL Championships; he had a playoff record of 9-1. He also owns one league MVP award and two Super Bowl MVP awards. He often gets overlooked because he wasn’t flashy; he just blended into the team and did his job. Starr was the kind of guy who didn’t care who got the credit as long as the job got done.
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