Perhaps the most exciting player of the last 20 years, Brett Favre, hung up his cleats today. A 7-time Pro Bowler, Favre played 16 years in the NFL, all but one with the Green Bay Packers. He retires with the most TD passes, yards, completions, and attempts. However, he is also first in interceptions and third in fumbles.
Much like Cy Young, who retired with both the most wins and the most losses, Favre's more dubious records can be chalked up to longevity rather than ineptitude. His gun-slinging style may have produced the occasional turnover, but it also led the Packers in years when their running game or defense failed to produce. In fact, in Favre's 15 years with the Packers, his offense finished out of the top 10 only 4 times. The defense did so 9 times.
The weather in Green Bay was frequently bitter and unforgiving. Yet, there was Favre, starting every game for almost 15 years. He had a down year here and there (a QB Rating under 80 only 5 times), but his dependability and constant ability to win a game by himself was immeasurable. Between 1970 (Bart Starr's final season) and 1992 (Favre's first), Green Bay had only 3 winning seasons! This was a franchise that had become stale and boring. Their presence on the outlier of the American Midwest led to harsh weather and small revenue. Favre's arrival, along with the signing of Reggie White, boosted the Packers back into relevance. Fifteen years later, the Packers are next to only the Dallas Cowboys as America's Team.
As great as Favre as been for the city of Green Bay and its Packers, where does he rank among all NFL QBs? Purely statistically speaking, Favre is number one until Peyton Manning retires. And barring injury, there is no debate as to whether Manning will pass Favre. In 10 years, Manning has never thrown for below 3700 yards or 25 TDs in a season. When I rank my top QBs, I'm looking for guys who were consistently atop the leaderboards and won championships. Since the NFL passing game has changed so drastically, completion percentages have skyrocketed and INT totals have gone down. Teams now pass much more often, so I have to compare QBs to how they fared against their own competition. Going era-by-era, I'd say these are my top quarterbacks (in no particular order):
Sammy Baugh - best QB of 1940s, 2 NFL championships, excellent comp. % for his time
Sid Luckman - 3 NFL championships
Otto Graham - best QB of 1950s, 3 NFL championships, 4 AAFC championships
Johnny Unitas - 1 Super Bowl win, 2 NFL championships
Bart Starr - best QB of 1960s, 2 Super Bowl wins, 3 NFL championships, Montana of the 1960s
Len Dawson - one of most underrated QBs ever, 1 Super Bowl win, led in QB rating 6 times (tied with Young)
Roger Staubach - best QB of the 1970s, only 14 games started in his 20s, still won 2 Super Bowls
Joe Montana - best QB of the 1980s, simply a winner, 4 Super Bowl wins, kept S. Young on bench for four years
Dan Marino - never won the big one, great stat-wise
Steve Young - best QB of the 1990s, all-time leader in QB rating, 1 Super Bowl win
John Elway - 2 Super Bowl wins
Peyton Manning - 1 Super Bowl win, future record holder
Tom Brady - best QB of the 2000s, 3 Super Bowl wins, winner in Montana mold
Brett Favre - 1 Super Bowl win, multiple record-holder
Looking at these men, it's incredibly difficult to choose just the best. Starr and Montana won the most, but statistically men like Dawson and Young had better peaks and Manning and Favre had better sustained greatness. There's also the question of whether Montana and Starr benefited from the best supporting casts of their times. Ultimately, I have to choose Montana based on his 4 Super Bowl victories in only 11 years. But, it won't be long before Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are at the top. Favre's current legacy is almost more folk hero than NFL star. Fans conveniently ignore his penchant for making mistakes at the worst times. When you consider he only won 1 Super Bowl, remember how he collapsed in the second half of the NFC Title game this year. In one of his best years, he still managed to throw away the Packers' chances on their homefield with boneheaded passes. To me, that's not the best of all-time.
I want to know from the readers who the best ever is? Did I miss anyone? Is there someone on this list who shouldn't be?