There are many ways to judge NFL quarterbacks.
Wins, championships and talent top the list. Passing stats figure in, too.
But one of the best testimonials to Brett Favre’s standing in NFL quarterback history is in coaching. If you were an assistant coach for a Favre team, your chances of becoming a head coach in the league skyrocketed.
Ten assistants during Favre’s 16 years as Packers quarterback went on to their first head-coaching positions in the NFL: Dick Jauron, Steve Mariucci, Andy Reid, Ray Rhodes, Jon Gruden, Marty Mornhinweg, Mike Sherman, Mike McCarthy, Joe Philbin and Ben McAdoo. Four of those eight (Mariucci, Reid, Mornhinweg and McCarthy) were Favre’s position coach at some point, and four others (Gruden, Sherman, Philbin and McAdoo) earned bona fides by working on Favre’s side of the ball, though Philbin and especially McAdoo owe their shot at becoming a head coach more to Aaron Rodgers than Favre..
While former Packers coach Mike Holmgren deserves his share of the credit for identifying young coaching talent — seven of the eight worked for him in Green Bay — there’s no getting around Favre’s role in those men advancing their careers.
“That’s quite a compliment to Brett,” Reid said earlier this offseason. “Maybe the ultimate compliment.”
By comparison, six assistants who worked on teams with Joe Montana ended up as NFL head coaches: Holmgren, Paul Hackett, Sam Wyche, George Seifert, Dennis Green and McCarthy. And McCarthy was only a quality-control coach in Montana’s two seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Likewise, Peyton Manning played 17 seasons in the NFL with Indianapolis and Denver, and five assistants who had worked on those staffs became first-time head coaches: Jim Caldwell, Leslie Frazier, Bruce Arians, Mike McCoy and now Adam Gase.
And Tom Brady, who has been the New England Patriots’ quarterback since 2001, has seen four of his team’s assistants become NFL head coaches: Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini, Josh McDaniels and Bill O’Brien.
I bring this up as a lead-in to what is ultimately an impossible endeavor: Ranking the top 10 quarterbacks in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The task is difficult because comparing quarterbacks from different eras is next to impossible. The game was so much different in the 1960s and '70s than even in the '80s and '90s, let alone in more recent years, to make a fair assessment.
And then there’s the great early passers such as Sammy Baugh and Sid Luckman who go back to the 1930s and '40s. What to do with them? They were on hand as teams switched from wing formations, where halfbacks were the primary passers, to the T formation, which is the forerunner to today’s quarterback-centric offenses. How do you compare Baugh and Luckman to the great passers of more recent vintage?
Nevertheless, just for fun, let’s give it a shot. With his induction this weekend, Favre is the 25th quarterback voted into the Hall — we’ll include Baugh and Luckman as candidates even though they’re listed as pre-modern players. This list considers only Hall of Famers.
Tom Brady will take over the top spot when he enters the Hall. Peyton Manning might make the top five, but it’s not a given. And Rodgers probably will get into the top 10, and possibly the top five depending what happens in the next six to eight years.
Anyway, here goes:
1. Joe Montana
I was a child when Johnny Unitas was at the end of his career, but people who saw him in his prime very well might put him at No. 1. Still, Montana’s winning percentage was substantially better (.713 to Unitas’ .648), and those four Super Bowl titles (Unitas won two NFL championships) have to count for something. Montana played with the greatest receiver ever (Jerry Rice), but Unitas had a Hall of Famer, too (Raymond Berry). I know some scouts and coaches from his era questioned Montana’s arm strength and ability to play in vertical offenses, but I guarantee every one of them would have given up his first born for him.
2. Johnny Unitas
In a poll of best players ever conducted by the New York Daily News in 2014, Bill Parcells rated Unitas behind only Montana among quarterbacks, and Ernie Accorsi and Bill Polian ranked him first. He won two titles and was the first master of the two-minute drill.
3. Otto Graham
He goes back (1946-55) almost as far as Baugh and Luckman, so this is flying blind. But his history of winning and championships is staggering. Graham played 10 seasons of professional football, went to 10 championship games and won seven of them. Yes, his first four seasons were in the AAFC, which wasn’t as good as the NFL. But his Cleveland Browns won the title in their first season in the NFL (1950) and went 3-3 in championship games in his six NFL seasons. Graham’s .814 winning percentage in NFL games was tops among the QBs on this list. He was 43-4-3 (.915) in the AAFC.
4. John Elway
Deciding between Favre and Elway is impossible. Both had extraordinary arms and swashbuckling styles. Parcells, Accorsi and Polian all rated Elway higher in the aforementioned Daily News poll, so I went with him. Elway’s record was slightly better (.635 to Favre’s .624), and he won their biggest head-to-head matchup, Super Bowl XXXII, though by then the Broncos’ offense was built around Terrell Davis, not Elway. As they say in these parts, this is a horse apiece.
5. Brett Favre
Maybe Favre’s durability should move him past Elway. His record of 321 consecutive starts (playoffs included) could very well be standing in 50 years. There’s also a good argument that he carried his team more than anyone else on this list (Reggie White is his only Packers teammate in the Hall). He had his share of bad interceptions, but he also might have been the best playmaker of this bunch.
Related: Brett Favre's wild ride
Photos: Brett Favre retrospective
6. Dan Marino
He never won a Super Bowl, but he was as good a passer as the game has seen. His lack of mobility outside the pocket was the limitation that leaves him behind Favre and Elway. As great as he was, he couldn’t escape the rush and make a play.
7. Sammy Baugh
This is arbitrary, and for all I know he belongs in the top five. His career was about split as a throwing halfback in a single-wing offense and a quarterback in the T formation. He makes this list because he was one of four quarterbacks on the NFL’s official 75th anniversary team named in 1994 — the others were Montana, Unitas and Graham. He also was one of the 17 members in the inaugural Hall of Fame class in 1963.
8. Roger Staubach
Late starter who didn’t enter the NFL until age 27 because of the five-year commitment he owed the U.S. Navy after attending the Naval Academy. A scrambler extraordinaire who has the second-best winning percentage on this list (.746) and played in four Super Bowls (2-2). Staubach was Favre’s hero growing up for good reason.
9. Steve Young
Has the third-highest winning percentage (.657) on this list and won two league MVPs. Probably the best combination passer-runner the game has seen, at least in the modern era.
10. Troy Aikman
Came down to him or Terry Bradshaw. Both were big winners who were surrounded by Hall of Fame talent. Bradshaw had the bigger arm, but Aikman had more all-around arm talent.