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Joe Montana, Tom Brady head 'Greatest QB of All Time' bracket


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It's March Madness. That seems like an appropriate term after seeing how the fan voting has gone in our "Greatest Quarterback of All Time" bracket. You just might think everyone has gone mad.

NFL.com has challenged fans to pick the top signal-callers in history, with four separate brackets based on the era in which they played. And there is some symmetry to the NCAA men's basketball tournament. Consider the fact that Joe Montana -- a clear No. 1 seed if ever there was one -- cruised right into the second round. And Drew Bledsoe -- a clear Northwest Oklahoma Teachers College if ever there was one -- upset Troy Aikman. Peyton Manning? Round 1 exit. Brett Favre went up in flames, too -- and I don't even want to tell you who took him out.

But hey, that's the nature of these tournaments. And, mirroring the real deal, we're down to the Sweet 16. So I was asked to rank the field. Take a look below, and don't get mad about who came in last ... although, if you do, feel free to share your reasoning @HarrisonNFL. And be sure to vote to determine who will make it to the next round.

Let's get started with No. 16, who wasn't a first-round draft pick -- just like the player who sits at No. 1 ...

16) Russell Wilson

Hey, we love Russell Wilson, but we can't put him above any of the others on this list, because the Seattle Seahawks signal-caller has played just two years in the league. That said, he might have logged the best start to a career ever. Wilson is the only QB in NFL history to post a 100-plus passer rating in each of his first two seasons -- and he's already won a Super Bowl. Dan Marino is really the only quarterback you could argue was better out of the gate.

Cool fact: Wilson is the 11th quarterback taken in the third round or later to win the Super Bowl. The others: Bart Starr, Johnny Unitas, Roger Staubach, Joe Montana, Joe Theismann, Jeff Hostetler, Mark Rypien, Kurt Warner, Tom Brady and Brad Johnson.

15) Drew Bledsoe

This is a tough one. Not to disparage Bledsoe, but how he beat out Troy Aikman in the first round of this bracket is a mystery. Still, Bledsoe has some impressive career numbers: His 44,611 yards are 10th all time, while his 251 touchdowns are 15th. Bledsoe was usually productive, and managed to take the New England Patriots to Super Bowl XXXI under Bill Parcells.

Cool fact: Bledsoe attempted a whopping 70 passes for the Patriots against the Vikings in 1994 -- which is still the NFL record for passing attempts in a game. So much for "Parcells football."

14) Rich Gannon

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There was a time in the early 2000s when the only quarterback as good as Rich Gannon was Kurt Warner. Gannon was named first-team All-Pro in both 2000 and 2002, and he also won the NFL MVP award in '02 en route to taking the Oakland Raiders to Super Bowl XXXVII. He played 17 years in the NFL and once completed 21 consecutive passes. He also threw 180 touchdown passes against just 104 interceptions.

Cool fact: In 1997, Gannon won his last five starts for the Chiefs, elevating a 7-3 team that was fighting for the AFC West to a 12-3 record and home-field advantage. However, management eventually decided to stick with Elvis Grbac, ultimately leading to Gannon's arrival in Oakland.

13) Donovan McNabb

People seem to be divided as to where McNabb stands among the elite quarterbacks in NFL history. We shouldn't forget, however, that McNabb took the Philadelphia Eagles to five NFC Championship Games -- and he did so with receivers like James Thrash, Freddie Mitchell and Todd Pinkston. Love him or not, McNabb might have been more of a do-it-yourselfer than Bob Vila ever thought of being.

Cool fact: McNabb's career interception percentage of 2.2 is the fourth lowest of all time. Only Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and the immortal Neil O'Donnell have lower figures ... Neil O'Donnell.

12) Jim Kelly

Kelly is fighting a much more serious battle in life than he ever did on a football field. But let's take a minute to remember how successful he was on the gridiron. Kelly took the Buffalo Bills to four straight Super Bowls and reached the playoffs in eight of 11 seasons. Pretty impressive, considering Buffalo made the playoffs twice in 11 seasons prior to his arrival. Kelly went 101-59 in the regular season while winning nine postseason starts, eventually earning a bust in Canton.

Cool fact: Kelly was the only quarterback to have immense success in both the USFL and NFL. In two seasons with the Houston Gamblers, he threw for 9,842 yards and 83 touchdowns.

11) Aaron Rodgers

Some feel that Rodgers will eventually be considered the greatest quarterback ever. Well, he'll have to stay healthy and win at least one more Super Bowl to potentially topple Joe Montana or Tom Brady. Rodgers currently has the best career passer rating (104.9) of all time. He hasn't fallen below the century mark in that category since 2008, his first season as a starter with the Green Bay Packers. His 45-touchdown, six-interception performance in 2011 might be the best season ever by a quarterback.

Cool fact: Rodgers is the only qualifying quarterback to have a career passer rating north of 100. Peyton Manning is the next closest, at 97.2.

10) Steve Young

What a great all-around football player Young was. When Young retired in 2000, he was the NFL's all-time leader in career passer rating -- and he was also one of the best rushers to ever play the position. While Randall Cunningham and Michael Vick rank slightly better in that department alone, No. 8 was far, far more of a complete quarterback. Young only won one Super Bowl as the starter in San Francisco, but he did take the 49ers to three straight NFC Championship Games from 1992 to 1994. He also won the NFL MVP award twice.

Cool fact: Young threw 21 interceptions in 501 attempts for the Bucs. It took him nearly 1,000 tosses to match that number with the 49ers. Good coaching?

9) Bart Starr

Starr represents winning, the Vince Lombardi Packers and postseason success to the nth degree. He went 9-1 in the playoffs, with his only loss being his first playoff start, in the 1960 NFL Championship Game. Although the Lombardi Packers were known for running the football, Starr often would take vertical shots on third-and-1. He also took a huge risk in eschewing the play call on one of the biggest plays in NFL history, sneaking the ball into the end zone himself to win the famed "Ice Bowl." Starr starred for 16 years in Green Bay and is in the Hall of Fame.

Cool fact: For all the talk of "The Packer Sweep," Starr aired it out to beat Dallas in the 1966 NFL Championship and send Green Bay to Super Bowl I. His line: 19-of-28 passing for 304 yards, four touchdowns and zero picks.

8) Terry Bradshaw

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How does someone with four Super Bowl wins not make it higher up this list? Well, Bradshaw did struggle in his first five seasons, as the defensively dominant Pittsburgh Steelers often won in spite of him. That said, Bradshaw turned it on in the big games, becoming an accomplished quarterback by the time he turned 30; that year (1978), he led the AFC in passer rating and threw the most touchdown passes in the NFL. He was fantastic in the Super Bowl. The MVP of Super Bowls XIII and XIV also made what was arguably the greatest throw in the game's history: the 64-yard bomb to clinch Super Bowl X.

Cool fact: Bradshaw's first career 300-yard game actually came in Super Bowl XIII, at the tail end of his ninth season in the league. He hit that mark three times in 19 playoff games and four times in 168 regular-season games.

7) Drew Brees

Brees is certainly a candidate to move up this list, but he probably needs another Super Bowl win to do so (matching Roger Staubach and John Elway), or at least a couple more highly productive seasons (like Dan Marino, who played 17 years). Though his career started slowly, Brees got it going in 2004 with the San Diego Chargers. In each of his eight seasons with the New Orleans Saints, Brees has thrown for at least 4,000 yards. Of course, his greatest achievement was delivering the Lombardi Trophy to The Crescent City.

Cool fact: There have been eight 5,000-yard seasons by quarterbacks in NFL history. Brees accounts for half of those.

6) John Elway

He was the 1980s and '90s version of Roger Staubach; no matter how dire the situation was for the Denver Broncos, no game was ever over if Elway was under center. He had incredible overall athleticism. He was mobile, he had a cannon for an arm and, most importantly, he could throw on the run. Elway won 148 regular season starts, a record at the time of his retirement. He also won the NFL MVP award in 1987 -- a year in which Montana, Marino, Fouts, Esiason, Simms, Cunningham and Kosar were all in the league, too. Elway took five Broncos teams to the Super Bowl, winning the last two in 1997 and 1998.

Cool fact: This is a cool fact if you like football; not so much if you're Elway. In his first 12 years in the league, only one Broncos running back topped 1,200 yards rushing: Bobby Humphrey, who had 1,202 in 1990. Talk about getting no help ...

5) Roger Staubach

Staubach played in four Super Bowls in eight years as the Dallas Cowboys' starter. Until Elway came along, Staubach was the greatest comeback quarterback, notching 15 fourth-quarter comebacks and 23 game-winning drives. He could run and had a good arm -- and he had the team-first attitude that represented his organization. More importantly, he never authored a losing season. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Staubach's career is the fact that four years of his athletic prime were spent in the military. How many more Super Bowls would Dallas have made if he had taken over in 1968 or 1969, when the Cowboys had the most talent in the league? Staubach went 85-29 as a starter ... good grief.

Cool fact: The term "Hail Mary" -- at least, as it relates to football -- comes from Staubach. After throwing that legendary scoring pass to beat the Vikings in the 1975 playoffs, Staubach recounted later that he told reporters he'd "closed (his) eyes and said a Hail Mary." The rest is history.

4) Dan Marino

Who cares if he never won a Super Bowl? I don't, because I watched about 100 Marino games and left the TV set every time thinking he was the best quarterback in the league. Elway has been elevated over Marino in recent years, but bear in mind that Denver didn't win the big one with Elway until Terrell Davis started humiliating defenses. In 1984, Marino put together what was, quite simply, the best offensive season ever: He racked up 5,084 yards and 48 touchdown passes in an era when defensive backs were both excellent and allowed to play ball. Oh, and Marino could wear some Isotoner gloves.

Cool fact: To say Marino was dominant from the get-go might be an understatement. He took the Miami Dolphins to the AFC Championship Game in his second season, throwing for 421 yards in that matchup ... on just 21 completions! That's 20 yards a pop. And Miami won, too.

3) Johnny Unitas

Unitas was the top quarterback of the NFL's first 50 years. He was also the first signal-caller to develop an intuitive sense of timing with his top receiver, so as to be able to complete passes in the most adverse of conditions. That player was Raymond Berry, who, like Unitas, has a bust in the Hall of Fame. Unitas won back-to-back championships with the Baltimore Colts in 1958 and 1959, and he was the all-time leader in passing yards and touchdown passes when he retired.

Cool fact: For all of Unitas' greatness, his first significant pass as a professional was ... uh ... pedestrian. Coming in to relieve the injured George Shaw in Chicago, Unitas promptly threw a pick-six.

2) Tom Brady

Throw out the numbers for a second. Just close your eyes and think of all the New England Patriots games you've seen over the years in which Brady was completely lasered in, not smiling, literally carrying around an attitude that screamed, "You'll beat us over my dead body!" He has three Super Bowl wins and two NFL MVP awards, and so far, he's made the playoffs in all but one of the seasons in which he's been the full-time starter. That all makes him a shoo-in first-ballot Canton lock.

Cool fact: The one year Brady didn't lead the Patriots to the playoffs -- 2002 -- was his first full season at the helm. But don't blame Tom. He still led the NFL with 28 touchdown passes.

1) Joe Montana

Surprised? Don't be. You can make a case that Montana is the top player -- not just quarterback -- of all time. He deserves to be No. 1 because of his lights-out play in the postseason, including his perfection in Super Bowls. Did you know he threw 11 touchdown passes with no picks in four Super Bowl starts (all wins)? Or that he had a combined passer rating north of 120 in those games? This choice was, is and probably always will be easy.

Cool fact: Montana is, of course, known for leading the San Francisco 49ers to a comeback win over Dallas in the 1981 NFC Championship Game. Two years later, he almost brought the Niners back from a 21-0 deficit in the '83 title tilt -- but alas, San Francisco fell in Washington, 24-21.

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.

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