During this year’s AFC Championship game, there was much talk about the two quarterbacks competing, and for good reason.
Tom Brady has never had a losing season as the Patriots’ quarterback, while it seems Peyton Manning owns every record for which a statistic has been invented.
The two have faced off 17 times, with five of those games occurring in the playoffs, according to the NFL’s website. Both are surefire Hall of Fame players, but when it comes down to it, are they the best quarterbacks ever?
One factor arguments like this leave out is the fact that these two quarterbacks come from different eras with different rules. When the NFL started in 1920, the forward pass had only been invented for roughly ten years. It took another 13 years to decide that a forward pass could be thrown from anywhere behind the line of scrimmage.
In 1977, however, rule changes were adopted to open up the passing game and to cut down on injuries. “Defenders were permitted to make contact with eligible receivers only once; the head slap was outlawed; offensive linemen were prohibited from thrusting their hands to an opponent’s neck, face or head; and wide receivers were prohibited from clipping, even in the legal clipping zone,” according to the NFL’s website.
All of this meant that if anybody wanted to get anything done in the air, they had to try and throw it to a receiver who was getting pushed around.
Even with the changes the game has gone through, the question remains: Who is the best?
Would I say Manning just because I wear orange and blue on Sundays or because I have never forgiven Brady for beating out Michael Bishop for the Patriots’ starting job? Well, no, I wouldn’t say either of these things.
Manning and Brady are both great quarterbacks, but playing in an era where safety rules allow them to have longer careers skews the argument on who is the best.
So, who is the greatest quarterback of all time? Roger Staubach, inventor of the Hail Mary pass? Brett Favre, the gunslinger?
I was going to pick Johnny Unitas, the man with the “Golden Arm.” Playing in the ’50s and ’60s, he took the Baltimore Colts, now the Indianapolis Colts, from a cellar-dwelling team to several league championships. Unlike Brady and Manning, he did it in the rough-and-tumble era where it was legal to hit people.
Although he was one of the first to reach 40,000 total passing yards, Unitas spent most of the time on the bench because of injuries in the later half of his career.
After thinking it over and looking at the evidence, Joe Montana is the best quarterback ever.
“Joe Cool,” as he was known, was a pioneer of the West Coast offense, allowing him to gain great success throwing the ball dozens of times per game. Both Manning and Brady wouldn’t get to be offensive juggernauts if Montana hadn’t shown them how it’s done.
In addition to his offensive innovations, Montana also had to face one of the era’s toughest defenses, the Chicago Bears, in the playoffs to win those four Super Bowl rings.
Maybe the new rules benefit the new guys and Unitas hung in there, but Montana changed the way the game could be played. While I know there will be different opinions on this argument, before you make your decision on who is the greatest quarterback ever, think about the difference in eras in which they played. Rules change all the time, but it is the legacy of the players that lives on.