The definitive list: Top 10 NFL quarterbacks

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Jan 23, 2008



 

 
By Kerry J. Byrne
Cold, Hard Football Facts issuer of edicts
 
There's a lot of talk lately about Tom Brady's status among the all-time greats, especially as he prepares for Super Bowl XLII, his every move hounded by the paparazzi in a way no quarterback has experienced since Broadway Joe rocked the Apple 40 years ago.
 
Is the New England signal-caller the best ever at his position? All the "pundits" and talking heads are asking the same question.
 
You will not find a bigger group of Tom Brady rump-swabs than the Cold, Hard Football Facts crew. But best ever?
 
Sorry folks. Not yet.
 
He's definitely worked his way onto the short list, there's no denying that fact. And he has pieced together the greatest first eight years by a quarterback in NFL history.
 
But let's remember, there have been a few other fair country quarterbacks in the nearly 70 years since it evolved into the position we know it today (primary passer and signal caller).
 
So where does Brady rank among the best ever? The ultimate Top 10 list appears below.
 
Our list will differ than most others. These lists normally begin with inherent human biases and are created by people who believe John Elway invented football at Stanford in 1982. Let's put it this way: if Dan Fouts is on a Top 10 list of best quarterbacks ever and not, say, Otto Graham or Sammy Baugh, the author is a moron.
 
Fortunately, the Cold, Hard Football Facts have memories as long as the trail of humiliation we suffered at the hands of the cool kids in high school. So our list spans the full breadth of the position, measuring passers in several key areas: statistical production (in the context of their era), intangibles such as leadership, impact on a team's fortunes and, of course, championships. As we've long noted, passers who play well in the postseason win games. Passers who do not play well in the postseason lose games. So, championships, particularly multiple championships, are often a pretty solid indicator of a quarterback who consistently played well in big games.
 
There will be bitching and moaning about who made the cut and who didn't. But that's part of the fun of these lists, isn't it? Plus, just ask yourself – who would you pull of this list to make room for your favorite quarterback, especially considering that, if he's not on this list, he doesn't belong on this list. (Apologies to the greats who came closest to making our list: Dan Marino, Sid Luckman, Norm Van Brocklin, Terry Bradshaw, Sonny Jurgensen, Y.A. Tittle and John Elway.)
 
Here, then, is the list of the 10 best quarterbacks in NFL history. Keep in mind that all other lists are wrong. Only this list is correct.
 
10. BRETT FAVRE (Atlanta, 1991; Green Bay, 1992-present)
Best season (1996): 325 for 543 (59.9%), 3,899 yards, 7.2 YPA, 39 TD, 13 INT, 95.8 passer rating 
Career: 5,377 for 8,758 (61.4%), 61,657 yards, 7.0 YPA, 442 TD, 288 INT, 85.7 passer rating 
Championships: 1996
Overview: All you need to know about Favre is this: he holds every single volume passing number in NFL history: completions, attempts, yards, TDs and even INTs.
 
And for a three-year period from 1995 to 1997, he played the position as well (and as excitingly) as any passer in history, tossing 112 TD passes to 42 INT.
 
Despite it all, he might not have even made the list if we published this back in August. He had been a mediocre (in 2000 and 2006) to even a bad quarterback (2005) over many of the past several seasons. But he responded with perhaps the greatest statistical season of his career here in 2007 – no small feat for a 38-year-old warrior who guided his young team into the NFC championship game for the first time in 10 years. Of course, shades of the "Old Yeller" Favre haunted Green Bay in that game, as he tossed a critical pick in OT that handed the Giants an easy opportunity to score the game-winning points. There have been a handful of disastrous postseason "gunslinger' moments over the past decade – and they're the only thing keeping Favre, the most productive passer in history, from earning a spot much higher on the list.
 
9. PEYTON MANNING (Indianapolis, 1998-present)
Best season (2004): 336 for 497 (67.6%), 4,557 yards, 9.2 YPA, 49 TD, 10 INT, 121.1 passer rating 
Career: 3,468 for 5,405 (64.2%), 41,626, 7.7 YPA, 306 TD, 153 INT, 94.7 passer rating
Championships: 2006
Overview: What else can you say? Manning has basically done everything faster than every quarterback in the history of football – even faster than the original QB stat monster, Dan Marino.
 
Here's how their careers stack up after 10 NFL seasons:
 
 
Comp.
Att.
Pct.
Yards
YPA
TD
INT
Rating
Manning
3,468
5,405
64.2
41,626
7.7
306
153
94.7
Marino
3,128
5,284
59.2
39,502
7.5
290
165
87.8
 
Manning bests Marino in every single category at this point in their careers and, most importantly, in the efficiency categories (completion percentage, YPA, passer rating). All of which, of course, puts Manning on pace to shatter every single passing record in the history of the game. And, don't forget, Marino played his best ball early in his career. His second season was his best season. Manning continues to pick up steam. As of today, Manning has the second best career passer rating in NFL history (94.7), with record-holder Steve Young (96.8) well within his sights.
 
The knock on Manning has always been that he doesn't play well in the postseason. That argument became harder to make after he picked up a Super Bowl title – and Super Bowl MVP award – last season. But save for an utterly brilliant second half against his former nemesis New England, he did struggle even during his Super Bowl-winning postseason run. It's the only thing keeping him right now at No. 9. But the sky remains the limit for the most productive passer we've ever seen.
 
Manning is also one of the great NFL ironmen: he has NEVER missed a game in a pro career that began a decade ago and now numbers 160 consecutive starts in 160 opportunities (174 including postseason).
 
A couple more brilliant seasons – and more importantly, another ring or two – and Manning could find himself at the top of the list.
 
8. STEVE YOUNG (Tampa Bay, 1985-86; San Francisco, 1987-99)
Best season (1994): 324 for 461, 70.3%, 3,969 yards, 8.6 YPA, 35 TD, 10 INT, 112.8 passer rating
Career: 2,667 for 4,149, 64.3, 33,124, 8.0 YPA, 232, 107, 96.8 passer rating 
Championships: 1994
Overview: Young had the misfortune of playing in the shadow of Joe Cool. It makes it easy to forget that, at the height of his powers, Young may have been the most unstoppable quarterback in the history of the game.
 
Young led the league in passer rating an unequaled six times, including four straight seasons from 1991 to 1994, and topped the 100 passer-rating mark in all four of those seasons. Every single one of those marks are unequaled.
 
To put those above-100-rating seasons into perspective, modern great and future first-ballot Hall of Famer Brett Favre NEVER topped the 100 passer-rating mark. The Cold, Hard Football Facts also put a lot of stock in the easier-to-understand (and equally effective) passing yards per attempt figure. And over those four years, Young averaged 8.71 yards every time he attempted to pass. To put THAT mark in perspective – and pigskin perspective is what we're all about – the brilliant Peyton Manning has topped 8.71 YPA in a single season just once (2004).
 
The period of dominance was highlighted by the greatest Super Bowl performance in history: a 67-percent, 325 yard, 6-TD, 0 INT explosion in a 49-26 victory over overwhelmed San Diego in Super Bowl XXIX.
 
And let's not forget: Young was the best ballcarrier in our list of Top 10 QBs. He rushed for 43 TDs – no other QB on our list comes close – including an impressive 17 in his four-year run of dominance.
 
It didn't end there: Young also led the league in passer rating in 1996 and 1997, though he played in just 12 games in 1996. The knocks against Young are well-known: he struggled early in his career, he was injured often late (he played a full 16 games just three times in 15 seasons) and won just one Super Bowl. But two potential Super Bowl titles were stymied by a dynastic Dallas team (and Young did not play poorly in those games). But over the course of the 1990s, nobody approximated Young's brilliance.
 
7. ROGER STAUBACH (Dallas, 1969-79)
Best season (1971): 126 for 211 (59.7%), 1,882 yards, 8.9 YPA, 15 TD, 4 INT, 104.8 passer rating 
Career: 1,685 for 2,958 (57.0%), 22,700 yards, 7.7 YPA, 153 TD, 109 INT, 83.4 passer rating 
Championships: 1971, 1977 
Overview: Roger the Dodger did not become a fulltime NFL quarterback until the 1971 season – at age 29! One wonders what he might have done had he not spent five years in the service after his Heisman-winning 1963 season at Navy and two years sitting behind Craig Morton in Dallas.
 
Finally given a chance, he quickly proved to be a player for the ages. He took a Dallas club that "couldn't win the big game" (five crushing playoff losses in five straight seasons, including three in NFL championship games or the Super Bowl) and turned it into a champion and "America's Team" in his first full year at the helm.
 
In that 1971 season he played something of a caretaker role, attempting just 211 passes for 1,882 yards, but he tossed 15 TDs to just 4 INTs, averaged an astounding 8.9 YPA and posted a passer rating of 104.8, the second highest of the Dead Ball Era. It's a truly remarkable number considering the season in which he did it. The league-wide passer rating in 1971 was just 62.2 – the second-lowest league-wide rating since 1956. Staubach shattered the standards of the era in his first full year playing NFL football – or football of any kind since 1963.
 
He also ended the 1971 season with an MVP performance in Super Bowl VI (a dominating 24-3 win over the Dolphins, who would not lose again until 1973) while placing himself high up on the pigskin pantheon of heroes who have defined America's Team.
 
Staubach wasn't quite done: he added passer-rating titles in 1973, 1978 and 1979, and another Super Bowl title in 1977. He's one Jackie Smith dropped pass away from a third championship ring – in a game which might have earned Staubach and the Cowboys, not the Steelers, the title of team of the decade in the 1970s.
 
He also was a great scrambler and ballcarrier who rushed for 20 scores and 2,264 yards on 410 attempts. Most impressive: he played all but two years of his career in the depths of the Dead Ball Era, yet still racked up a career passer rating of 83.4 – No. 1 all time among pre-1980 quarterbacks.
 
Not bad for a guy who spent five years in the Navy during Vietnam.
 
6. JOHNNY UNITAS (Baltimore Colts, 1956-72; San Diego, 1973)
Best season (1959): 193 for 367 (52.6%), 2,899 yards, 7.9 YPA, 32 TD, 14 INT, 92.0 passer rating
Career: 2,830 for 5,186 (54.6%), 40,239 yards, 7.8 YPA, 290 TD, 253 TD, 78.2 passer rating 
Championships: 1958, 1959, 1970 
Overview: Remember George Shaw? No?
 
Blame Johnny Unitas, a name that reeks of leathery, blood-and-spittle football lore. Shaw was the Wally Pipp to Johnny U's Lou Gehrig; or, more appropriately for the gridiron-inclined, the Drew Bledsoe to Johnny's U's Tom Brady.
 
 Shaw was Baltimore's stud first-round draft pick in 1955 – the upstart organization's quarterback of the future. Unitas was Pittsburgh's unheralded 9th-round draft pick that same year, cut by the lowly Steelers in training camp and then acquired by Baltimore off the Pittsburgh semi-pro sandlot circuit the following season as some cheap insurance behind Shaw.
 
The starter Shaw went down with a broken leg early in the 1956 season. In stepped Unitas. The rest, as they say, is legendary.
 
In 1957, his first full NFL campaign, Unitas pieced together one of the era's greatest passing seasons (24 TD, 8.5 YPA, 88.0 passer rating). He followed it with an even more effective season in 1958 – a season that ended with Unitas leading the first-ever overtime drive and walking off victorious in what may be the single-most important game in league history, Baltimore's 23-17 win over the Giants at Yankee Stadium.
 
Johnny U. wasn't quite done. His 1959 season was one for the ages – a truly remarkable 32 TD passes (to just 14 INTs) in a 12-game season, and a 92.0 passer rating. His 32 TD passes shattered Sid Luckman's 1943 record by four.
 
The name Unitas is often the first that comes to mind when fans are asked to name the best quarterback of all-time. Sports Illustrated dubbed him the best ever in its cover-story tribute following his death in 2002.
 
So why don't the Cold, Hard Football Facts rate him higher? Well, Unitas is certainly one of the best ever. And he had his greatest seasons early in his career, earning him a reputation as a clutch big-game QB throughout his career. But he never had a great postseason game after 1959 and, as you'll see, was clearly the second best quarterback of the 1960s. He also had the benefit of spending his career surrounded by Hall of Famers (seven, in fact), including players destined for Canton at tackle, wide receiver, tight end and running back, and while playing for two Hall of Fame coaches (Weeb Ewbank and Don Shula).
 
But at the peak of his game – especially early in his career – few could hold a candle to the legend of Johnny U.
 
5. TOM BRADY (New England, 2000-present)
Best season (2007): 398 for 578 (68.9%), 4,806 yards, 8.3 YPA, 50 TD, 8 INT, 117.2 passer rating 
Career: 2,294 for 3,642 (63.0%), 26,370 yards, 7.2 YPA, 197 TD, 86 INT, 92.9 passer rating
Championships: 2001, 2003, 2004
Overview: Overrated? Probably not. Consider that some "pundits" are already poised to proclaim Brady the best ever (perhaps pending the outcome of Super Bowl XLII next week). Also consider this: no individual in pro football history has had a greater impact on one team's fortunes than Brady has had on the fortunes of the Patriots.
  • Bill Belichick was 42-58 as a head coach before Brady. He's 100-26 since.
  • The Patriots organization won just 98 football games in the 14 seasons from 1987 to 2000. They've won 100 in the seven years since.
  • The Patriots won seven postseason games in the 41 seasons from 1960 to 2000. They've won 14 postseason games in the seven years since.
  • The Patriots did not win a single championship in their first 41 seasons. They're on the verge of their fourth in the past seven seasons.
The organization's fortunes lit up like an air-raid klieg light the day Brady stepped on the field. Suffice it to say, Brady's first six years in the NFL were incredibly eventful: three Super Bowl championships, two Super Bowl MVP awards, a record 21-game win streak, a TD passing title (28 in 2002, his first full season as a starter) and a passing yardage title (4,110 in 2005).
 
And then came 2007, in what could go down as the season by which all others will be measured: a record 50 TD passes (to just 8 picks), 4,860 yards, third most all time, 117.2 passer rating, second best all time, and, of course, the chance to become the first quarterback to lead a team to a 19-0 record. There's been no season in history that combined raw, dizzying numbers with the ultimate stat: victories.
 
And, after eight years in the NFL, there's been no career in history that combined raw, dizzying numbers with the ultimate stat. Brady's career passer rating of 92.9 is the fourth-best in history, and he's the only cold-weather quarterback anywhere near the top. He's rapidly climbing up the statistical charts in every area, and his 100-26 (.794) record as a starter is unmatched.
 
There's also been one clutch fourth-quarter performance after another, almost single-handedly capturing victory from what appeared to be certain defeat time and again. Brady, like Manning, has the potential to move high up the list. And matching Joe Montana's four titles and winning them in just eight years in the NFL (it took Montana 11 seasons) will make it hard to keep Brady out of the No. 1 spot. He's clearly on pace to one day make that claim.
 
4. OTTO GRAHAM (Cleveland 1946-55)
Best NFL season (1953): 167 for 258 (64.7%), 2,722 yards, 10.6 YPA, 11 TD, 9 INT, 99.7 passer rating 
Career (includes AAFC career): 1,464 for 2,626 (55.8%), 23,584 yards, 9.0 YPA, 174 TD, 135 INT, 86.6 passer rating 
Championships: AAFC 1946-49; NFL 1950, 1954, 1955
Overview: Otto Graham was Tom Brady before Tom Brady, putting up gaudy numbers for his time while winning games and championships at an unprecedented rate. He led the Browns to a championship in all four years of the AAFC's existence (1946-49). But he and the Browns proved they belonged in the big leagues by capturing the NFL title in their first year in the league.
 
In fact, they'd go on to set a record that still stands, appearing in six straight NFL championship games from 1950 to 1955, winning three of them. Bottom line: Graham played in a pro football championship game every single season of his 10-year career, winning seven of them in two different leagues.
 
He also set passing marks that stood for decades. His 86.6 passer rating, for example, is the top mark of the pre-Live Ball Era. And his career 9.0 YPA is No. 1 by a sizable margin.
 
So why, then, isn't Graham higher on the list?
 
His four years in the AAFC make for some awkward comparisons. There's every reason to believe the Browns would have been a dominant NFL team over those four years, but little reason to believe they would have won four straight championships. Graham's numbers also declined pretty noticeably when he went to the NFL, from simply unbelievable to merely spectacular. His career 9.0 YPA average, for example, drops to 8.63 if we look only at his NFL numbers. Of course, that 8.63 YPA mark is the best in NFL history, too.
 
The full measure of Graham's impact is this: the organization has never recovered from his departure at the end of the 1955 season. Sure, they remained competitive through the Jim Brown years (1957-65), winning a championship in 1964.
 
But that's the only championship the organization won since Graham last took a snap for the Browns.
 
3. SAMMY BAUGH (Washington, 1937-52)
Best season (1945): 128 for 182 (70.3%), 1,669 yards, 9.2 YPA, 11 TD, 4 INT, 109.9 passer rating 
Career: 1,693 for 2,995 (56.5%), 21,886 yards, 7.3 YPA, 187 TD, 203 INT, 72.2 passer rating 
Championships: 1937, 1942 
Overview: Here's a little rule of thumb: if you ever see a list of greatest quarterbacks (or greatest players, period) that doesn't include the Pigskin Messiah, burn the author of said heresy at the stake. Seriously. Public execution.
 
We paid Baugh the ultimate compliment two years ago when we named him the quarterback of our peerless All-Time 11. We even listed his 1945 campaign as one of the greatest Old School seasons in NFL history a couple weeks ago.
 
You could make an argument that he's the best athlete in NFL history (we're not making the argument here, but you could). He certainly can stake a claim as the most accomplished two-way player in the history of the game. He was a devastating defensive back (31 career picks) and still stands as one of the most spectacular punters in the history of the game – as evidenced by his tremendous 45.1 career punting average, second only to Oakland's current punter Shane Lechler.
 
But we're talking quarterbacks here, and even at that position, few were as good as the man they called Slingin' Sammy. He virtually invented the modern quarterbacking position, and put up performances that continue to stand the statistical test of time. (For the record, while researching the 1942 NFL championship game between the Redskins and Bears, Baugh was actually listed as a "left halfback" in the papers. But he's really one of the first players we'd identify as a passer, as the nickname Slingin' Sammy suggests).
 
His 70.3 completion percentage in 1945 has been surpassed just once (by Ken Anderson, in 1982), and his 109.9 passer rating that season stood as the second-best in league history until Joe Montana surpassed it in 1989. How impressive is that? Consider that the league-wide passer rating in 1945 was just 47.4 – Baugh more than doubled the league-wide mark!
 
We can only imagine what kind of numbers the Pigskin Messiah might have produced had he played only offense today, in an era that favored passers.
 
Baugh was also a two-time champion who led the greatest upset in NFL history. In the 1942 title game, his Redskins toppled the undefeated Bears, 14-6. Keep in mind that the 1942 Bears are the only club in history more dominant over the course of an entire season than the 2007 Patriots.
 
Are you listening, Eli?
 
2. JOE MONTANA (San Francisco, 1979-92; Kansas City, 1993-94)
Best season (1989): 271 for 386 (70.2%), 3,521 yards, 9.12 YPA, 26 TD, 8 INT, 112.4 passer rating 
Career: 3,409 for 5,391 (63.2%), 40,551 yards, 7.52 YPA, 273 TD, 139 INT, 92.3 passer rating 
Championships: 1981, 1984, 1988, 1989 
Overview: Sammy Baugh invented the position we know as quarterback today; performers like Johnny Unitas proved how deadly the forward pass could be. Montana gave the position the technical wizardry that defines it today, tearing apart defenses with a computer-chip brain and nerves of ice connected to a pinpoint passing arm that shredded defenses like Enron balance sheets.
 
Before Montana, passers attempted to stretch out defenses and beat them over the top. Montana, in perfect tandem with Paul Brown-bred offensive wizard Bill Walsh, attacked their under-protected flanks and soft underbelly. Coupled with a once-a-generation "It" factor that manifested itself in extreme poise under extreme pressure, and you have a quarterback many argue is the best of all time.
 
In the Super Bowl Era, it's certainly hard to find a peer. Montana won four Super Bowl titles, an unmatched three Super Bowl MVP awards and stands as the undisputed king of Super Bowl quarterbacks, as evidenced by his staggering 127.8 passer rating in four apperances in the spotlight game in North American sports.
 
And, in a manner befitting a legend, he orchestrated one of the most spectacular drives in NFL history – an edge-of-the-seat 92-yard drive in Super Bowl XXIII that Cincinnati appeared helpless to stop (aided by a dropped INT) and that he capped with a 10-yard thread-through-a-needle TD pass to John Taylor with 34 seconds remaining.
 
In his spectacular 1989 season, he completed 70.2 percent of his passes for 3,521 yards and 26 TDs, to just 8 INTs. His 112.4 passer rating that season stood as the best of all time until surpassed by Peyton Manning in 2004. His career 92.3 passer rating remains No. 5 in NFL history, just 0.6 points behind his statistical alter-ego, Tom Brady.
 
1. BART STARR (Green Bay, 1956-71)
Best season (1966): 156 for 251 (62.2%), 2,257 yards, 9.0 YPA, 14 TD, 3 INT, 105.0 passer rating
Career: 1,808 for 3,149 (57.4%), 24,718 yards, 7.8 YPA, 152 TD, 138 INT, 80.5 passer rating 
Championships: 1961, 1962, 1965, 1966, 1967
Overview: That's right. Bart Starr. The greatest quarterback in the history of the game.
 
Sit down and take notes:
 
History has done a grave disservice to the legacy of Starr, the 17th-round draft pick out of pre-Bear Bryant Alabama who turned into the most clutch and most cruelly efficient passing assassin of his or any other generation.
 
History remembers Starr's legendary coach, and the bevy of Hall of Fame talent that surrounded him. It forgets that Starr was Lombardi's second in command, a tremendous big-game performer, and that the Packers of the 1960s would have been just another team without the prolific Starr as their beloved on-field leader. Instead, they won five NFL championships, with Starr at the helm of every single one of those title teams, while he crafted an NFL-record 9-1 postseason mark. The rings say it all: Starr is the only quarterback in history who has one for every finger on his throwing hand.
 
And even if you listen to teammates today, they make it pretty clear that they would have fallen on a grenade for Starr. Leadership is an elemental piece of quarterbacking – probably more important than gaudy passing stats. And that love his teammates had for their field general is an incredible sign of his leadership.
 
But forget, for a moment, the team accomplishments and the "intangibles" of leadership.
 
If you want to talk passing and statistics, we'll put Starr up against anybody. Anybody.
 
He led the NFL in passer rating five times. Johnny Unitas led the league in passer rating just twice. Ditto Joe Montana. Only Steve Young surpassed Starr's mark (six).
 
And, lest we forget, Starr was the best postseason passer in NFL history, as evidenced by his record 104.8 playoff passer rating and 1.41 percent interception rate, also a postseason record (CHFF readers are well aware of the importance of not throwing picks in the playoffs). Starr played in an era when 80 was a decent passer rating. Yet he still performed more efficiently in the playoffs than folks such as Montana, Brady, Manning, Marino, Young and ... well, anybody, ever.
 
There's a cause and effect here, folks: NFL's greatest dynasty, only winners of three-straight title games, and a record 9-1 postseason mark. And there, underlying it all, is Starr with his postseason passing records. The two are intricately intertwined.
 
History also remembers Starr's Packers as a great running team, and that's certainly true of their earlier years. But the truth is that they typically passed the ball more effectively than they ran it, especially during their run of three straight, when they were a below-average running team.
 
In their 1965 championship season, the Packers were 11th in the 14-team league with an average of 3.4 yards per rushing attempt. They were second in the league, with an average of 8.2 yards per passing attempt.
 
In their 1966 championship season, the Packers were 14th in the 15-team league, with an average of 3.5 yards per rushing attempt. They were first in the league, with an average of 8.9 yards per passing attempt.
 
In their 1967 championship season, the Packers were 4th in the 16-team league, with an average of 4.0 yards per rushing attempt. They were first in the league, with an average of 8.3 yards per passing attempt (Starr himself that season averaged 8.7 YPA).
 
Starr averaged a remarkable 7.85 YPA over the course of his entire career, the 8th-best mark in history, and better than that of a slate of quarterbacks who are generally regarded as the best passers in history, including Dan Marino (7.37), Joe Montana (7.52), Roger Staubach (7.67), Dan Fouts (7.68), Sonny Jurgensen (7.56), Fran Tarkenton (7.27), Y.A. Tittle (7.52), Terry Bradshaw (7.17) and Joe Namath (7.35).
 
Six times in the 1960s, Starr surpassed 8.2 YPA for a season. To put that into context, Peyton Manning has surpassed 8.2 YPA just twice in his brilliant 10-year career.
 
And, if you want drama, don't forget that Starr scored the winning TD in the Ice Bowl, probably the most famous game in NFL history. Sure, Montana led his team 92 yards for the game-winning score in Super Bowl XXIII. But he did it on a 68-degree night in Miami. Turn down the thermostat by 86 degrees (it was 18-below in the fourth quarter of the Ice Bowl) and you begin to approximate the conditions under which the greatest quarterback in NFL history operated during his greatest moment in the sport's greatest game.
 
And Starr was brilliant on that drive, in the decisive moments of the sport's most famous game: he completed 5 of 5 passes in ball-busting cold, and then called a run play for the winning score. But instead of handing it off, he decided in his mind, without telling his teammates, that he was going to punch it in himself. It was only fitting: the game's greatest signal-caller taking matters into his own hands in the sport's signature moment.
 
To cap his career achievements, Starr earned MVP honors in the first two Super Bowls after shredding the best the AFL could throw his way for 452 yards on 47 passing attempts (9.6 YPA). Among those victims were the 1967 Raiders, perhaps the AFL's greatest single team. He posted a combined 106.0 passer rating in those two games. If you think it was no small feat to beat up on "upstart" AFL teams, just look at how NFL quarterbacks fared in Super Bowls III and IV. (Here's a hint: they were embarrassed.)
 
When it comes to a combination of leadership, victories, big-game performances and statistical supremacy nobody – NOBODY – put together a more total package than Bart Starr, the greatest quarterback in NFL history.
 

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