The debate over who is the greatest QB of all time will go on forever…and with good reason. There are so many factors that go into who is the BEST at anything. And then when you consider that comparing generations is almost impossible to do, the idea of saying without a doubt who is the best is really difficult.
But here is our case for John Elway being the greatest QB of all time. Of course the Montana, Marino, Brady, and Steve Young supporters will disagree, but I think we can make a pretty compelling case for Elway being the best.
First let’s start out with pure physical talent. There have not been many, if any, QB’s that had the total physical package that John Elway had, especially in the first 10 years of his career. He had an incredible arm, probably the best of all time. Not just an arm for throwing the ball a long ways…lots of QB’s can do that. But Elway could make throws that most other QB’s could only dream about.
He was a very gifted scrambler and runner. Not in the Steve Young mode, but he could move, elude people, and at times outrun most of the defensive players on the field. He was also very physically tough…which is a good thing when you consider some of the offensive lines he played behind.
So when it comes to pure physical ability as far as the combination of arm strength and mobility…he was a bit of a freak.
But physical prowess is not the only thing that makes QB’s great. Look at Joe Montana, he was a skinny, wimpy looking guy that looked like he belonged behind a desk crunching numbers and we all know how good he was.
Elway had the toughness, the drive, and cool to be great and he showed it on a regular basis. At the time of his retirement here is where he stood among the all time NFL greats:
1. 148 wins as a starting QB- NFL Record
2. 47 game winning or game tying fourth quarter drives- NFL Record
3. The only QB to take a team to FIVE Super Bowls- NFL Record
4. 50,000 career passing yards and 3000 career rushing yards- NFL Record
5. Seven consecutive 3000 yards passing and 200 yards rushing- NFL Record
6. Nine time Pro Bowl selection
7. Three time All Pro selection
8. NFL MVP in 1987
9. Super Bowl 33 MVP
And of course he was a first ballot Hall of Famer. Needless to say those stats are amazing and put Elway in the argument of greatest QB of all time right off the bat. But stats don’t make you great and win championships. Look at Dan Marino for the best example of that.
What Elway did was WIN. He willed his teams to win. He made plays at crucial moments that would have most NFL QB’s wanting to run off the field and hide. He was the BEST when the chips were down…and here is the key, HE DID IT WITH AVERAGE TALENT AROUND HIM.
He did not have Jerry Rice, John Taylor, Brent Jones, Roger Craig, real good offensive lines, and good defenses to help him out. He did NOT play in a system that allowed him to take full advantage of his incredible talents.
What John Elway did with AVERAGE, to slightly above talent, was just amazing. Take a look at the teams he beat to go to the first three Super Bowls. Those teams had more talent….except at one position. Dan Marino did not play with great talent most of his career but he surely played with better coaching and he surely had as much talent around him as Elway had…but Elway is the one that went to FIVE Super Bowls, not Marino. Marino went to ONE.
Why? Because when the chips were down and a play needed to be made Elway usually made it. Most NFL fans know of The Drive. Quite possibly the GREATEST AFC Championship drive of all time. This is the type of thing Elway did on a regular basis…he made plays!
If you had put Joe Montana behind those Denver Bronco offensive lines he would have gotten killed. Let’s see how great Montana would have been in the Dan Reeves system throwing to Vance Johnson, Ricky Nattiel, and Mark Jackson. Let’s see how great Montana would have been handing the ball of to Gerald Wilhite, Steve Sewell, and the rest of the mediocre Denver RB’s.
If you had put John Elway on the 49′ers from the beginning he would probably have won four to six Super Bowls. What would Elway have been like throwing to guys like Jerry Rice, John Taylor, and Brent Jones. What would Elway have been like if he had a good running game to support him? Well we know the answer to that…Denver developed a running game with Terrel Davis and look at what happened. They won two straight Super Bowls.
What would Elway have been like in a system that made it pretty easy to find open receivers like the West Coast offense the 49′ers ran? He would have been totally unstoppable. He could make every throw Montana could make and then about 20 others.
Montana, Marino, and Steve Young were great. But John Elway is in a class by himself. It is a shame that Elway had to play his first 10 years in a system that almost made no sense. Is it a coincidence that AFTER Dan Reeves left that John Elway’s numbers greatly improved and he won two Super Bowls? We don’t think so.
The bottom line in all sports is winning. And no one did it better than Elway, and again the key is that he did it with a supporting cast that is not much to talk about. True, Elway did not win Super Bowls until he got a good supporting cast…but he took THREE teams to Super Bowls that probably had no business being there, and no other QB can say that.
As far as the present day QB’s. Yes, you have to look at Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and the incredibly bizarre Brett Farve. Brady is GREAT. Manning is GREAT. And Brett Farve has been great at times. Brett Farve has gone to two Super Bowls and won one. Manning has gone to one Super Bowl and won it. He has had some AMAZING offensive talent around him. Tom Brady has gone to four Super Bowls, winning three.
Out of all of the GREAT QB’s Brady has probably been closest to Elway when you consider the talent he has played with. Brady has NOT had great offensive talent around him for most of his career. That changed last year…but didn’t get Brady the Super Bowl win. The Patriots won each of those Super Bowls by three points. Not taking anything away from Brady for being great but he can thank a lot of that success to Adam Vinitiere.
One final point…comparing passing stats is useless. The game has changed. The passing game is so much more wide open now than when Marino, Montana, and Elway played. What you have to consider is winning and getting your team to the Super Bowl and you have to consider the talent around the QB.
If you take those things into consideration we think John Elway should receive the title…The GREATEST QB OF ALL TIME. It is really hard to argue against him.