James Leroy Wilson's blog

Monday, August 08, 2005

Dan Marino, Steve Young in the NFL Hall of Fame

Comparing NFL quarterbacks is fairly easy, as the eras happily coincide with the decades. The 60's belonged to Johnny Unitas and Bart Starr. The 70's: Staubach, Bradshaw, Griese, Stabler. Only Fran Tarkenton played a lot of football in both decades. And those who continued into the 1980's like Theisman, Fouts, and Jaworski are not mentioned in "great players of the 1970's" lists.

The 80's and 90's, however, seem to merge into one era. Yes, Montana belonged to the 80's, and Troy Aikman, and Brett Favre belonged to the 90's. But there is a fairly lengthy list who played a lot in both decades: Steve Young, Dave Kreig, Boomer Esiason, Randall Cunningham, Warren Moon, Jim Kelly. And, of course, John Elway and Dan Marino.

Since then, only Favre and Drew Bledsoe have carried on into the 00's (Steve McNair didn't come of age until 1999). Vinny Testeverde is at the end of his career. So is Mark Brunell, practically speaking. Only Favre makes the list of top quarterbacks today, most of whom got their start in the late 90's or early 00's. That's part of his appeal right now. He's the only star left from his generation, whereas there were several qb's in the late 90's who'd been playing against each other since the mid-80's.

So I think we can consider the 80's-90's one era, and a wonderful time to be a fan of the NFL.

Here is how I would rank the top quarterbacks of that era. I'll change my mind tomorrow:

1. John Elway
2. Joe Montana
3. Dan Marino
4. Brett Favre
5. Steve Young
6. Dan Fouts
7. Jim Kelly
8. Troy Aikman
9. Warren Moon
10. (tie) Boomer Esiason/Randall Cunningham

Over-achiever award: Dave Kreig, too small, fumble-prone hands, coming from a defunct college, winner of many games and impressive career stats.

Greatest single year: Joe Theisman, Redskins, 1983. The best offense I've ever seen.


  1. Good list, you really cannot go wrong with any of your top 4, who I think are heads and shoulders above the rest. However, I would put Marino at number 1. Sure, he never won a Superbowl, but would the 49ers or Broncos been worse off with Marino instead of Montana or Elway? The first time I saw Marino throw a pass, I sat up in my seat and said “Wow!” No other quarterback has made me take notice like that. Unfortunately for Marino, he never had as good a supporting cast as the others.

  2. I gave the edge to Elway not because of the two Super Bowl Championships as opposed to Marino's none, but because he won an unprecedented five conference championships as opposed to Marino's one, although Marino had better coaching and arguably better teams during many of those years.

    Shula was more successful with Griese than Marino; both Reeves and Shanahan are nobodies without Elway.

  3. Good point, but when Shula had Griese, he had a better defense and running game.

    Looking back, I believe Shula fell in love with Marino’s abilities and relied too much on him, trying to imitate the Charger's offense with Fouts (of course Marino was much better than Fouts). In contrast, Reeves and Shanahan emphasized the run game and defense more. I think Shula could have put Marino in a better situation.

    In any case, I cannot blame you for choosing Elway, there is only a marginal difference between the two.