Brett Favre Raymond T. Rivard photograph

Quarterback controversy - who is the best?

I don’t see what all the controversy is about surrounding who is the best quarterback of all time.

It’s difficult to remember back to the early days of the NFL. If you were a fan back then and had gone to games, you’d be older than 100 years.

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So, let’s get real and consider the quarterbacks dating back to the 1950s. I’ll go that far back – almost. I do go back to the Starr-Bratkowski duo of the Lombardi Dynasty.

Bart Starr didn’t have passing numbers that necessarily stand out in the record books, but he did have an uncanny method of winning, and winning key games. He was a “ball control” specialist, and an expert “time study” master. He’d do all the little things opponents couldn’t stop.

Being a Vince Lombardi project, Starr was a team player, not interested in passing yards or how many touchdown passes he threw, as long as the team scored more points when the whistle blew. Like Brett Favre he had one of the greatest ‘check down’ methods, and the re-check, his best plays were made out of what just had broken down during that play, and exploiting them.

The “now” generation quarterbacks are a product of the West Coast offense. Most offenses in today’s NFL are copied versions of Bill Walsh‘s success, with a few twists.

Take Green Bay, for example. The evolution of the offense began with Walsh in San Francisco, who was the genius behind the 49ers.

This offense made Joe Montana. The same goes for Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers. Together you have three of the top-10 quarterbacks of all-time (granting Rodgers plays enough before his time is up). Montana was the deepest in the record books until Brett Favre passed many of Montana’s records.

Then there was the best in his time, Johnny “U,” the old-timers’ favorite.

Unitas was looked at as number one during the 1960s by a majority of writers and talent scouts. In time, as teams picked up altered versions of Bill Walsh’s passing attack offense, others became successful.

Is Tom Brady one of the best ever?
Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports photograph

The New England Patriots are another team that uses a unique form of the same. They are the longest success in the NFL with their style. In San Francisco, things changed with coaching coming and going. The same happened in Green Bay, with Mike Holmgren, Mike Sherman and up until Mike McCarthy was brought back to Green Bay.

The messy end of the Brett Favre era brought about controversy around the league, and in the media. The fan bases all began talking the pros and cons. Most took sides with the athlete, while others thought the team was not any fault for the ill feelings that were spreading.

If not for the way things happened, only to be made worse by the “Texting Scandal” Favre was on his way to being the greatest of the greats. Favre’s fan base took a giant fall, but this is water under he bridge, let’s move on.

The 1960s brought out not only Unitas and Starr, there was Fran Tarkenton, the Godfather of Scramblers. Even the feared Packer defense seldom contained Tarkenton. The “D” would shut down his receivers and running back, leaving the play a bust, but Fran could book his way out of a sack, making the play work on the run. He’d either get the first down or pass to a compromising receiver.

While Tarkenton was an innovator in the scrambling, Favre belonged to a different generation, using the same technique during the first few years, perhaps without knowing it.

Only one other quarterback was able to escape and remake a play – and that was Michael Vick, who has since gone to a traditional method of dumping the ball off, rather than running it. Favre went the same route as he aged. Holmgren demanded his older, mature quarterback develop a safer way of playing. Runners risk injuries, and Holmgren battled with Favre even during games about using his legs. Coach won the battle.

You can look now, and think of others who were beyond the normal talent levels. Look to Dallas, New England, Denver, Miami, and there will always be one or two more who deserve to be recognized as among the best.

Dan Marino would be in the top-5 with Favre, Montana, Elway, and Unitas to top out a list that must exclude others. Brady or Peyton Manning (both) belong on a short list of the greatest, so we can add 5 plus 2, making the top seven (7).

Kenny Stabler and Roger Staubach are other greats worth mentioning, along with Roman Gabriel and Drew Brees, or Troy Aikman, Terry Bradshaw, and Joe Namath. Today’s Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers or yesterday’s Steve Young and Warren Moon all were top shelf ball handlers. They all deserve honorable mention. Too bad there’s only 10 spots on the top-10.

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports photograph

Following the Packers and mentioning Aaron Rodgers this far down the list is no insult. Aaron has only played five years, and might not play as long as a Montana or Favre. He certainly would be up in the top five or near, if he continues on the path he has created for himself. One concern is the hits he has taken so far. It seems as if during the past two seasons, Aaron took more hits than Favre did during any 10 seasons.

Let’s just hope Rodgers is protected well in 2014. If so, he may just be going for 10 more years. We’ll see what the record books hold at that time, compared to Brett Favre. While Rodgers does not throw into tight crowds, or force a pass, and has the best accuracy in his ball control of anyone ever in the NFL, he does not have as many game-saving plays in the final minutes as Favre did. In time he might, but he’s not the type to be taking chances, and will not get the picks Favre did.

But for every interception, there were great plays forced in traffic by Brett. Aaron will have amazing plays just the same, but his style is not the same. In some cases Rodgers seems better, and in some cases, maybe not. Staying healthy is half the battle now that we all know he can play with the best.

Time will tell the rest.

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Tags: Aaron Rodgers Brett Favre Green Bay Packers

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