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We've all had arguments with our friends. Who is the greatest quarterback ever? How do you decide? What factors play a role in determining who is the greatest ever?
When it comes to sports, you play to win championships. You don't play professional sports just for fun. You don' play to rack up statistics. You don't play to become a great technical player. You don't play just to win a game. You don't play to have winning seasons. You don't play for individual accomplishments. You play for championships.
Let's be clear. Professional football is about winning championships. No player will ever be satisfied with just individual accomplishments or a single win. Any player you talk to, all they want is to win a championship. Ask Dan Marino if he would trade all those records for one championship, or even trade them for the chance to play in just one more championship. He would do it in an instant.
1. John Elway
Without a doubt, John Elway is the greatest player of all time. The greatest quarterback to ever play the game. The greatest football player ever. It's real simple. No other quarterback has ever started in five super bowls. John Elway played in five super bowls. In fact, he was the starting quarterback in the super bowl five times. No one else has ever accomplished that. No other quarterback has played in five super bowls. He did not win the first three, however, his final two super bowls were blowouts. What's more amazing is that Elway completely carried his teams to the first three super bowls. He willed them to the first three super bowls. Everyone remembers "The Drive" in the AFC Championship game against the Browns, and then the following year with a similar memorable drive. Elway was a superstar, with super talent, that played in more super bowls than any other quarterback.
If you love statistics, John Elway put up many yards passing and rushing and set many NFL records. Coming out of high school Elway was considered the greatest quarterback prospect in the last 50 years. In fact, Mel Kiper, an analyst who is known for his scouting reports, said that, "If God wanted to create the perfect quarterback, it'd be John Elway."
When John came into the NFL, he wowed defenses with his amazing arm strength. The NFL had not seen such powerful passer that could throw the ball 70 yard downfield accurately and quickly. Besides being blessed with his arm strength, Elway was an elusive runner. He combined passing, accuracy, strength, and ability to run. At one point in time he was the only quarterback to have passed for 3000 yards and rushed for 200 yards for seven years in a row. Elway is also the only quarterback to have four super bowl rushing touchdowns. In fact, Elway is one of only two players to have four rushing touchdowns in four different super bowls. Elway also leads all quarterbacks in game-winning fourth quarter drives at 47. He is ranked at the top or near the top of just about every quarterback category imaginable, especially in the playoffs and in championship games. If sports is about championships, then championships are John Elway.
Elway was also an iconic figure. One of the more famous Elway moments was the Koosh Vortex football commercials that aired on television showing Elway throwing the Vortex football 110 yards in the air. The Vortex Football came out again the next year called Vortex Mach 110. This after Elway tore his bicep muscle on his throwing arm. Imagine what he could do before the injury. Single seven? John Elway made the single seven, the number 7, what it is today. Any time anyone sees the "7", they think John Elway. It's almost instinctive. When's the last time that's ever happened?
When Elway retired the NFL suffered. The NFL lost a legend, the likes of which we may never see again. If you weren't alive when Elway was playing, please find some DVDs and watch those games and highlights. You can't call yourself a football fan if you don't know John Elway.
2. Joe Montana
Joe Montana played in an era where very few people understood the Xs and Os of football and dominated for well over a decade. Joe Montana played in four super bowls and won them. He was the exact opposite of Elway. He wasn't a big physical specimen. He didn't have a big arm, fast legs, or an intimidating stature. In fact, he was a "scrawny little kid from Notre Dame", as he always describes himself. What he had was accuracy, intelligence, and a coach with a system that very few people knew how to defend. Bill Walsh and the West Coast Offense was something the NFL hadn't seen before. No one realized that you could map out every wide receiver's and running back's route to fend off defenders and fool safeties. This was new and led to Montana playing in, and winning, four super bowls in dominating fashion.
Montana was surrounded by superstars. The offensive line, the running backs, the wide receivers, the defense, the safeties, all were a collection of hall of fame calibre players. The 49ers team of the 80s was a dynasty built before free agency was passed. It would be almost impossible to replicate that type of dynasty in today's NFL.
Montana was named the NFL MVP two years in a row in 1989 and 1990. Although, Montana did not rack up the statistics that Elway did, he still racked up serious numbers. Further, he changed the game forever. Long after Montana retired, Mike Shanahan brought the West Coast Offense to Elway in Denver and helped put Elway into the record books.
Elway and Montana changed the face of football forever. Almost all of today's quarterbacks have a number 7 or number 16 jersey stashed somewhere in their closets. These two quarterbacks are the epitome of class, character, skill, and dedication. Both remained cool, calm, composed, and collected under pressure. Montana played for over 14 years, while Elway played for 16 years. The quarterback position will never be played the same. It's very difficult to find quarterbacks today that can do what these two were able to do, especially Elway with his physicality, arm strength, and ability to run the ball. It's quite ironic that Montana's number was retired in a 1997 Monday night game against Elway's Denver Broncos.
3. Terry Bradshaw
Terry Bradshaw won four super bowls. Before there was Montana there was Bradshaw. Bradshaw led his Steelers to four super bowls and won them. Before the choreographed plays of the West Coast Offense, you had Bradshaw who called his own plays and led his team to four super bowl titles in six years. Before Elway, Bradshaw was "the arm". Obviously, his arm was not that of Elway's but, he was the arm of his time. You can't argue with championships.
4. Jim Kelly
The early 90s were Jim Kelly's glory years. For four years in a row, 1990-1994, Jim Kelly led his team to 4 super bowls. They never actually won any of these super bowls, but they did make it. This never happened again. No other quarterback has ever lead his team to four straight super bowls. This is quite the accomplishment. He never put up the statistics of Elway and Montana, but he did play in four super bowls in a row.
5. Troy Aikman
No one usually talks about Troy Aikman when they talk about the greatest quarterbacks of all time, but he needs to be mentioned. He wasn't the great technician that Montana was. He wasn't the physical specimen that Elway was. But he did enough to win three super bowls. He was in the right place at the right time. He was surrounded by talent, like Montana was in the 80s. Aikman was the 90s version of Montana winning his three super bowls just before free agency began to run rampant.
Check back often to see who else makes it to this list.