Is Peyton Manning The Greatest Quarterback Ever?

Sep 30, 2013

Denver quarterback Peyton Manning and the Broncos have been two of the biggest stories of the 2013 National Football League (NFL) season.

In Denver’s first win, Manning became the first quarterback since Minnesota’s Joe Kapp in 1969 to throw seven touchdown passes in a game. After three games, Manning had thrown 12 touchdown passes, the most anyone has ever thrown in the first three games of an NFL season. Manning is also first in the league with 1,143 yards.

Denver, one of seven teams with a 3-0 record (the others are Chicago, Kansas City, Miami, New England, New Orleans, and Seattle), has scored 127 points this season or 42.3 per game. Green Bay is second with 96.

Manning and Denver’s success is very impressive, but their 2013 achievements pale in comparison to Manning’s career achievements. As of Sept. 27, Manning had 60,630 career passing yards, which is slightly behind second-place Dan Marino, but more than 10,000 yards behind first-place Brett Favre. He also has 448 career touchdowns, which is behind only Favre’s 508, and his passing rating, a complicated combination of statistics, is tied with Tom Brady’s for the third best in NFL history behind Aaron Rodgers and Steve Young, while Favre is tied for 19th.

As we watch Manning, 37, we should ask “are we watching the greatest quarterback in NFL history?” or is Brady, 36, who is still performing very well for New England, or someone else better?

Of course, there is no definitive answer to the “who is the best ever?” better because rankings are very subjective. However, as a longtime sportswriter, I compiled my own “Best QBs ever” list several years ago. Manning and Brady weren’t on it because they hadn’t played long enough so I decided to review my list and update it.

The bottom line is that I have concluded that Manning is the best-ever regular season quarterback, but Joe Montana is the best ever because of his superior playoff performances. Manning has won four MVP awards, been selected to the Pro Bowl 12 times in his 14 seasons (he missed 2011 with a neck injury) and been selected first-team all-pro six times. Brady and Montana both have two MVP awards and eight Pro Bowl selections, while Brady has been first-team all-pro twice and Montana thrice.

However, Montana won three Super Bowl MVP awards to Brady’s two and Manning’s one and quarterbacked four Super Bowl champions to Brady’s three and Manning’s one (Manning’s younger brother Eli has two championships. Montana threw 11 touchdown passes and no interceptions in his four Super Bowls. He also was second behind Wayne Gretzky in the voting for the Associated Press Male Athlete of the Decade in the 1980s, while Brady and Manning were sixth and eighth in Sports Illustrated’s Top 20 Male Athletes of the 2000s.

My Top 10:

1. Joe Montana

2. Peyton Manning

3. Otto Graham: Best quarterback of the 1950s. Led Cleveland to seven NFL or All-America Football Conference titles in his 10-year career (1946-1955) and still holds the record for yards per pass attempt. Retired early.

4. Johnny Unitas: Best quarterback of the 1960s. Made the Pro Bowl 10 times as a Baltimore Colt in the 11 years between 1957 and 1967 and won three MVP awards.

5. Tom Brady

6. John Elway: Now Manning’s boss as the Broncos’ executive vice president, he made nine Pro Bowl teams in the 1980s and 1990s and quarterbacked Denver to Super Bowl titles in his last two seasons.

7. Dan Marino: Held the career records for yards and touchdowns from 1990s before Favre broke them, but he was a liability as a runner and never won a Super Bowl.

8. Brett Favre: Holds all the major career records, but that includes interceptions by a wide margin (Montana is 63rd).

9. Roger Staubach: Best 1970s quarterback. Had the second best passer rating ever, behind Graham, when he retired after only 11 seasons. Began his career at age 27 after winning the Heisman Trophy because he was in the Navy.

10. Fran Tarkenton: First of the great running quarterbacks, he held the career record for touchdowns and yards from the 1970s through the 1990s.

Rest of Top 20: 11. Bart Starr. 12. Sammy Baugh. 13. Drew Brees. 14. Warren Moon. 15. Steve Young. 16. Terry Bradshaw. 17. Dan Fouts. 18. Sid Luckman. 19. Troy Aikman. 20. Len Dawson.

Honorable Mention: John Brodie, Bob Griese, Sonny Jurgensen, Jim Kelly, Bobby Layne, Eli Manning, Joe Namath, Y.A. Tittle, Norm Van Brocklin, Kurt Warner.

(Aaron Rodgers would be on list if he had the longevity.)