Instant Debate  


Instant Debate: Who is the greatest quarterback in NFL history?

  • By
More Columns >

Brett Favre's retirement shocked us all Wednesday morning. Or maybe not. But it again sparked the debate -- who is the greatest quarterback in NFL history? editors Adam Rank, Andy Nesbitt, Frank Tadych, Jim Reineking and Justin Hathaway are back this week to solve that question over Instant Messenger in's "Instant Debate," presented by Reebok.

Adam Rank (11:18:41 AM): Greatest QB of all-time. Is it championships, all-time numbers or what? Make your case.

Justin Hathaway (11:26:58 AM): When I think "great," I think of someone who has won a championship. As much as I like Dan Marino and idolized him as a teenager, I can't call him the greatest because he didn't win a Super Bowl. And he had his chance.

Andy Nesbitt (11:27:37 AM): Justin is pretty demanding. Glad he's not my father.

Adam Rank (11:28:43 AM): Yeah, he's like the dad in Varsity Blues. Unfairly or not, quarterbacks are measured by championships. Yes, they played football prior to the Super Bowl.

Justin Hathaway (11:29:45 AM): Joe Montana is the greatest ever. Not only did he get the 49ers to Super Bowls, he played big in them. Three Super Bowl MVPs and a nice touchdown pass to John Taylor in Montana's other Super Bowl seal the deal.

Adam Rank (11:32:14 AM): The coverage of the Steelers' past Super Bowls is showing me that Terry Bradshaw was greater than we thought. Hard to believe for a guy who won three Super Bowl MVPs.

Justin Hathaway (11:33:08 AM): Montana also won three Super Bowl MVPs, but he had much better numbers, so I think that breaks any sort of tie there. Bradshaw also threw too many interceptions -- much like Brett Favre. Great QBs don't kill their teams with turnovers.

Adam Rank (1:17:03 PM): In talking championships, that conversation starts and ends with Otto Graham. The guy led his team to a title game seemingly every year he played.

Frank Tadych (11:35:28 AM): But if you're judging on just Super Bowls and just playing well in one game, you're unfairly ignoring the biggest part of the player's career -- the regular season. Playing at a consistently great level over a long period of time. Otherwise, John Elway is in that conversation, too.

Andy Nesbitt (11:36:04 AM): When it comes to the "greatest" QB debate, I look at this way: Which QB would you want starting for your team if you needed to win one game? With that, I'll go with Tom Brady over everybody else. His hatred of losing, combined with his ability to make big plays in crucial situations makes him No. 1 in my book.

Frank Tadych (11:37:13 AM): Brady does have the unique combination of intangible leadership, championships won, leading his team to a perfect regular season and increasingly great statistics.

Jim Reineking (11:37:17 AM): How about Bart Starr? He's rarely ever mentioned in such discussions due to a lack of statistical accolades, but he helped lead the Packers to five titles in seven years. That's impressive stuff.

Adam Rank (11:38:50 AM): Starr probably hated to lose, too. Does Favre's one title hurt him here? He holds nearly every passing record. Doesn't that make him the greatest of all-time?

Jim Reineking (11:39:32 AM): I'd also like to give a shout-out to the late, great Sammy Baugh. He played in an era when the forward pass was a relatively new and unfamiliar concept. Plus, he had to play both ways. No other quarterback in this discussion ever had to do that.

Frank Tadych (11:40:37 AM): Word up on Sammy Baugh. But what about Johnny Unitas? Three championships (one Super Bowl). NFL Player of the Year three times. Ten Pro Bowls.

Jim Reineking (11:40:38 AM): Favre's one title will hurt him in such arguments. Had he won both Super Bowls the Packers played in during his time in Green Bay, this might be a totally different discussion.

Justin Hathaway (11:41:03 AM): True. I thought about Baugh. I like the Brady pick, too, but I think I like him because he reminds me of Montana. Calm, cool and one of those guys who just wins all the time.

Jim Reineking (11:41:46 AM): One day, Peyton Manning might just break some of Favre's prominent passing records. Any thoughts on where Manning sits on this list?

Adam Rank (11:42:56 AM): In head-to-head with Brady in the postseason, he doesn't. And one thing about Brady, who are the other offensive stars around him?

Jim Reineking (11:43:15 AM): Randy Moss is pretty good, last time I checked.                                             

Adam Rank (11:43:34 AM): And he has never won a title with him.

Justin Hathaway (11:43:49 AM): Manning is a great QB, no doubt, and he has the one title. He's one to watch, I think. He still has five years or so left in him, but the Colts are getting old.

Andy Nesbitt (11:47:21 AM): I think Manning changes the play too much at the line of scrimmage. That shows some insecurity on his part. I want a QB who knows exactly what he wants to do.

Frank Tadych (11:47:41 AM): Don't worry, folks, he's kidding. I hope.                                                               

Justin Hathaway (11:49:18 AM): It's almost impossible to name a "greatest" QB. You almost have to make it a top five because everyone has pros and cons. These names we're mentioning are all great.

Frank Tadych(11:50:23 AM): In terms of Super Bowl wins, MVPs, Pro Bowls, statistics and leadership ... the short list is Graham, Unitas, Montana, Brady ... not in that order.

Adam Rank (11:51:24 AM): Who dominated their competition? When you look at Graham's seven championships, that's tough to beat. If forced to pick one guy, it's Graham.

Justin Hathaway (11:51:49 AM): I'd go with Montana, Brady, Bradshaw and Unitas, with Manning on the cusp.

Frank Tadych (11:53:20 AM): Bradshaw is clearly a cut below. He trails these other QBs in every imaginable category other than playing great in two Super Bowls.

Justin Hathaway (11:54:28 AM): Well, let's pick one then. I'm sticking with Montana. He had it all -- titles, signature moments, leadership and stats.

Andy Nesbitt (11:55:31 AM): The greatest QB needs to come from an era when players lifted weights. So sorry, Unitas and Graham, but you two miss the cut.

Jim Reineking (11:55:57 AM): Those are all great names, and worthy of inclusion in such conversations. I'm going to include Sammy Baugh on that list. He put up huge numbers when there was no such thing as a pocket passer because there were no pockets, and forget about the 5-yard chuck rule.

Andy Nesbitt (11:56:35 AM): I don't want to imagine a world without the 5-yard chuck rule.

Frank Tadych (11:56:56 AM): Plus his nickname was "Slingin."                                                                        

Adam Rank (11:58:01 AM): And before the Marino fans spam the comment section, nobody wants to give him any love, other than Justin's mention above?

Justin Hathaway (11:59:21 AM): I love Marino and idolized him when I attempted to play QB in high school. But I can't call him the greatest ever because of the lack of titles. I want to do it, but I can't.

Jim Reineking (12:00:05 PM): Yeah, numbers are great and all, but I think somebody said earlier that quarterbacks are measured by championships.

Frank Tadych (12:00:38 PM): And for some people, that's the difference between winning Super Bowls and coming up short. Had Marino won a couple, this discussion would have been over awhile ago.

Justin Hathaway (12:00:57 PM): Agreed.

Adam Rank (12:01:04 PM): And even when you want to talk about quarterbacks in movies, Terry Bradshaw in Hooper and Cannonball Run beats Marino in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective.

Justin Hathaway (12:01:52 PM): No way. Marino was money in Ace Ventura.

Jim Reineking (12:01:54 PM): Brett Favre in There's Something About Mary. And that role was supposed to go to Steve Young, who's another quarterback whose name could come up in this sort of talk.

Andy Nesbitt (12:04:17 PM): Tom Brady played Computer Geek No. 1 in Stuck on You.

Adam Rank (12:04:41 PM): Sorry to bring it up. Final answers, people. I'm going with Graham.                  

Andy Nesbitt (12:06:39 PM): Tom Brady.

Justin Hathaway (12:06:45 PM): Joe Montana.                                                                                                       

Frank Tadych (12:06:56 PM): Johnny Unitas, followed closely by Brady.

Jim Reineking (12:08:03 PM): The late, great "Slingin" Sammy Baugh. I'm also really surprised nobody mentioned Benny Friedman. Trust me, Google his name. Learn some more stuff about the forward pass.

Adam Rank (12:09:35 AM): Feel differently? Let us have it.


The previous element was an advertisement.

NFL Shop

NFL News