Tom Brady already has it all — classic good looks, Gisele Bundchen as a girlfriend, a fourth AFC championship in seven years.
If that weren’t enough, he gets closer by the game to becoming the best quarterback of all time.
Brady entered this season as one of the greatest all-time winners, with three Super Bowl victories in his eight-year career. While that is enough for some “experts” to put Brady into history’s upper echelon of quarterbacks, the truly transcendent quarterbacks aren’t just big winners.
The greatest quarterbacks have the arm strength to throw every pass, the accuracy to complete them, the athleticism to keep a play alive, the presence to command the respect of 50 men and the poise to play their best in the biggest moments.
Statistics aren’t sufficient to demonstrate a quarterback’s worth, but the numbers Brady put up this season proved he’s not just a game manager. Given the first Pro Bowl weapons of his career — receivers Randy Moss and Wes Welker — Brady had the greatest year of any quarterback ever.
He passed for 4,806 yards (300.4 a game), 50 touchdowns, eight interceptions, a 68.9 completion percentage and a 117.2 rating.
The Patriots are undefeated with a chance for the only 19-0 season in NFL history.
Put the numbers with the Super Bowls (he’s a 12-point favorite to win No. 4 next Sunday — boot or no boot), his proficiency throwing the deep ball and his blindingly bright future (he’s 30) and Brady must be included in the Top 5 quarterbacks of all time.
The only question is: Just how high does he rank?
Of course, all all-time rankings are subjective. That’s what elicits the barstool arguments — the reason they’re so much fun.
This particular all-time Top 5 is as subjective as any, but there is plenty of thought behind it. I looked at stats, checked the history books and listened to experts and fans. I also drew heavily upon my recollection of each contender.
This may slant the list toward the past couple of decades, but so do the numbers and the evolution of the game. Bart Starr may be the best of all time, but I never saw him live and he wasn’t asked to pass nearly as much as Brady or Peyton Manning, or their predecessors, Joe Montana and Dan Marino.
In the end, this Top 5 is a mixture of generations and a blend of big winners and big arms. Above all, these are the five quarterbacks, in order, I’d pick to start a team and take it to the Super Bowl.
1. John Elway
This selection may be painful for Browns fans, but it should be just as obvious.
Elway could do it all. He had one of the strongest arms of all time, he could scramble out of trouble when necessary and he played his best when the game was on the line. (Does The Drive ring any bells?)
Elway didn’t join some people’s Top 5 until he won back-to-back Super Bowls with the help of running back Terrell Davis. But Elway deserves top billing for losing three Super Bowls a decade earlier. He was the sole reason the ordinary Broncos, not the Browns, were AFC champions in the late 1980s.
2. Tom Brady
Brady started the season at No. 5 or 6. It’s amazing what 4,800 yards, 50 touchdowns and a perfect season will do for a guy.
While Brady (never forget he’s a sixth-round pick in 2000 and the Browns took Spergon Wynn ahead of him in the same round) will never have the physical tools of Elway, he has the chance to surpass him for No. 1 on this list.
Not only does Brady have the chance to win seven or eight Super Bowls, he continues to prove that he’s at his best when the stage is the grandest. He also has one of the most underappreciated arms among the greats.
This guy would be a lot easier to root for if he weren’t in cahoots with Bill Belichick.
3. Joe Montana
He was Tom Brady without the 6-foot-4 frame and great deep ball.
No one won like Montana did with the great 49ers teams of the 1980s. He won four Super Bowls, engineered the greatest Super Bowl-winning drive ever (Super Bowl XXIII) and was Super Bowl MVP three times.
Montana had plenty of weapons — Jerry Rice, John Taylor, Roger Craig, Dwight Clark — but he also made the most of his ability and helped turn the West Coast offense into the system of choice in the NFL.
4. Johnny Unitas
Here’s a nod to history and high-tops.
Unitas was a pure passer before passing was cool. He won two NFL championships, including leading the winning drive in the Greatest Game Ever Played, threw a touchdown in a record 47 straight games and held numerous passing records for decades.
5. Dan Marino
This choice took the longest to make.
Marino might’ve thrown the ball better than anyone who’s ever played, and that’s why he gets the nod over Peyton Manning and Brett Favre (in that order). It’s only fitting that those two are next in line, because they’ve been compared to Marino millions of times.
Until last year, Manning was this generation’s Marino. He held a bunch of single-season records, but had never won a Super Bowl. Favre, who has played 17 seasons, recently passed Marino in just about every meaningful career category.
Plenty of people will argue that Favre deserves the fifth spot ahead of Marino strictly based on his Super Bowl win. But Favre throws too many interceptions — the most all time — and simply didn’t throw the ball as well as Marino.
Just because the Dolphins never had a sufficient running game or defense doesn’t diminish Marino.
Scott Petrak covers the Browns for The Chronicle-Telegram. Contact him at 329-7253 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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