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Who's the GOAT?

One of the most hotly debated and discussed sports topics centers around the question of who’s the greatest quarterback of all time.

The subject has come up a lot recently, given yesterday’s matchup of Tom Brady and Drew Brees, and the incredible season Aaron Rodgers is having.

Picking your GOAT (greatest of all time) or even your top 10 is more complicated than it might seem, given the different eras in NFL history, the current emphasis on passing, the players’ supporting casts, and the weight given to winning championships.

There are top 10 lists galore, from Athlon Sports to Bleacher Report to ESPN. Some names appear on virtually all the lists—Brady, Joe Montana, Peyton Manning, and Johnny Unitas, usually followed in various orders by John Elway, Brett Favre, Dan Marino, Brees, Rodgers, Roger Staubach and Otto Graham. Others often mentioned include Terry Bradshaw, Bart Starr, Steve Young, and Sammy Baugh.

My old friend, sports PR guru Bob Rose, recently made a case for Rodgers as the best of all time. Given the fact that BR worked for Cal, that isn’t totally surprising, but he also worked for Stanford (not to mention the San Francisco Giants and Oakland A’s), so he could easily have named Elway.

Rose’s main argument is that Rodgers has the best touchdown to interception ratio of any of the top QBs. And that is most certainly true. During his career, the Packers’ great has thrown 412 touchdown passes with only 89 intercepted. In the regular season this year he threw for 48 TDs with only 5 INTs. That’s flat out incredible.

Consider the career stats of the others: Brady (579 TDs, 191 INT), Montana (273, 139), Manning (539, 251), Unitas (290, 253), Elway (300, 226), Brees (571, 243), Favre (508, 336), Marino (420, 252), and Graham (174, 135). Graham also rushed for 44 touchdowns; none of the others come close to that.

But the number most people think is more important than TDs and interceptions, is championships. As in Super Bowl (or previously, NFL) championships. In other words, winning.

Brady’s resume includes six Super Bowl championships and four Super Bowl MVP awards. He’s also a three-time NFL MVP, and what he’s done with Tampa Bay this year certainly hasn’t hurt his argument.

Montana won four Super Bowl Championships, and was the MVP in three of those games. Unlike Brady, Montana won every time he played in the title game (Brady is 6-3). He also was a two-time NFL MVP.

Unitas won a Super Bowl and two pre-Super Bowl NFL championships. He was league MVP three times and, to most NFL experts, is considered the man who revolutionized the quarterback position by emphasizing the passing game in a run-first era. He set an NFL record for consecutive games with a TD pass that stood for 52 years.

Elway is a two-time Super Bowl champ, won the game’s MVP trophy once, and was league MVP in 1987. In terms of sheer ability, Elway ranks No. 1.

Manning is also a two-time Super Bowl champ, but has the unique distinction of winning the league’s MVP award five times. (Brady, Favre, Unitas, Graham and running back Jim Brown all won it three times).

I think Rodgers can move up the list by winning the Super Bowl and league MVP again this year. That would give him two Super Bowl titles and three MVPs. Those “wins” along with his unparalleled TV to INT ratio, would put him in the middle of the GOAT conversation.

As of today, my own list of the 10 best quarterbacks includes Montana, Brady (I go back and forth on No. 1 and 2), Unitas, Elway, Manning, Favre, Rodgers, Brees, Marino and Graham.

And in another five to 10 years, we might need to include Patrick Mahomes.


Gary Cavalli - Bowl and League co-founder, author, speaker 

Gary Cavalli, the former Sports Information Director and Associate Athletic Director at Stanford University, was co-founder and executive director of the college football bowl game played in the Bay Area, and previously was co-founder and President of the American Basketball League.

Get in touch//@cavalli49//

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