Like most football fans, we have been quite entertained by Peyton Manning’s start to the 2013 season. He could be well on his way to a historically productive season.
Naturally, we began to reflect on the consistently high level of success Peyton has enjoyed throughout his career. Of course, that led to drawing comparisons to the other great NFL quarterbacks, past and present. And then for whatever strange reason, perhaps because there have been three Mannings who have quarterbacked in the NFL, we got fixated on quarterbacks whose last name begins with the letter “M”.
Noting that several of the truly great quarterbacks of all time fall into that category and that there are more than just a handful of good “M”-named quarterbacks to consider, we figured we would turn our little obscure train of thought into this week’s Top 10 exercise. Not everything can be meaningful, thought-provoking stuff!
Spoiler Alert!: We did not put Archie Manning on this list. Although he never led a team to better than a .500 record (and he only did that once), make no mistake, Archie was a very good quarterback. He just had the misfortune of being on perennially awful teams. In any event, we were tempted to include him here, if for no other reason than for his ability to procreate talented NFL quarterbacks. But in the end, we felt that others were more deserving. Now on to the list …
You would have had to have been around for a while to remember Morrall and appreciate his accomplishments. His 21-year NFL career began in 1956. Over the next 12 years he bounced around to several teams, sometimes handling the starter role, but most often he served as a backup quarterback. And it was as a backup that Morrall really made his mark.
In 1968, at the age of 34, Morrall went to the Baltimore Colts and struck lightning in a bottle. Starting the entire season, stepping in for the injured Johnny Unitas, he led the Colts to a 13-1 record and a berth in Super Bowl III where they lost to the Namath-led Jets. Morrall was named to the All-Pro Team that year.
Morrall had a similar success story when he moved on to the Miami Dolphins in 1972. Everyone remembers that as the Dolphins undefeated dream season. What most people don’t remember is the fact that Morrall came on in relief of an injured Bob Griese in the fifth game of the season. He then started the next nine regular season games and the first two playoff games that year before giving the reins back to Griese to cap off the Dolphins perfect season with their victory over the Redskins in Super Bowl VII.
Taken as the 3rd overall pick in the 1995 NFL Draft by the Houston Oilers, McNair had a lot to prove coming out of tiny Alcorn State. He passed the test.
By 1997, the franchise’s first year in Tennessee, McNair became the full-time starter for the Titans. He led the Titans to four playoff appearances, including the 1999 run to Super Bowl XXXIV, a game in which McNair and the Titans came up a yard short in one of the most thrilling finishes in Super Bowl history. McNair was voted to the Pro Bowl three times as a Titan.
In 2006, McNair moved on to the Baltimore Ravens, and as the starter that year, he threw for 16 touchdowns and over 3,000 yards. McNair’s performance was a key reason why the Ravens ran away with the AFC North title with an impressive 13-3 record.
For his career, McNair put up some very respectable numbers, throwing for over 31,000 yards and 174 touchdowns. But throwing the ball wasn’t the only way that McNair could hurt you. He was a very dangerous runner as well, especially early in his career. In five of his first six seasons after becoming the full time starter for the Titans, McNair rushed for at least 400 yards, with a career high of 674 rushing yards in 1997.
Morton is another one who had a long, successful career that just seemed to fly under the radar. He was drafted by the Cowboys in the 1st round of the 1965 draft but spent his first few years as the understudy to Don Meredith (yeah, another good “M” guy who just missed making our list).
Morton took over as the Dallas starter in 1969 and led them to a playoff appearance and then in 1970, he took them to Super Bowl V where they lost to the Baltimore Colts. By early in the 1971 season however, Roger Staubach became the starter. However, Morton had one last hurrah with the Cowboys the following year when Staubach missed the entire regular season due to a shoulder injury. Morton led the Cowboys to a 10-4 record and a playoff berth that year.
After spending two and a half unremarkable years with the Giants, Morton moved on to the Denver Broncos in 1977 and found magic that year. He led the Broncos to a 12-2 record and their first Super Bowl (XII) appearance, which ironically ended in a loss to the Cowboys. He took the Broncos to the playoffs the following two years and eventually finished his 18-year career with Denver.
If you mention the name Jim McMahon, the first thing people will think about is that spectacular 1985 Chicago Bears season (15-1) when he helped lead the Bears to a victory in Super Bowl XX. The next thing they are likely to think about is his flakiness and his irreverence toward the NFL establishment.
And it’s because of that bad-boy image that a lot of people overlook just how good of a quarterback he really was. McMahon helped lead the Bears to five straight playoff appearances, from 1984 through 1988. Unfortunately, he had trouble staying healthy for an entire season.
The injury issues notwithstanding, McMahon’s contribution to the Bears success during that five-year playoff run was enormous. In the 41 starts he made for them over that time frame, he had and impressive 36-5 record.
McMahon left the Bears after the 1988 season and bounced around the next eight seasons, playing for five different teams. Most notable among those was the 1991 season with the Eagles when he made 11 starts and helped lead Philadelphia to a 10-6 record and the 1993 season when he went 8-4 as a starter with the Vikings and helped lead them to a playoff berth.
McMahon’s numbers were not gaudy by any means. But clearly, when he could stay on the field, he made a difference. Indeed, over the course of his 15-year NFL career, McMahon had a remarkable 67-30 record as a starter.
Given Eli’s and the Giants’ horrendous start to this 2013 season, many Giants fans would suggest that it is ridiculous to even have him on this list, especially at the # 6 spot. But as is always the case with these types of lists, you have to take a look at a guy’s entire body of work.
In the years between his ineffective 2004 rookie season and the start of this season, Eli has consistently put up some pretty decent numbers with respect to passing yards and touchdowns thrown. Certainly, there’s no question that it wasn’t always a smooth ride getting there. Especially early in his career you never knew what you were going to get out of Eli from game to game. And that made it hard for New York fans to embrace him.
But, try as you might, there is no denying the key role that Eli has played in the success enjoyed by the Giants during his time with them. In five of his eight full seasons as the Giants starting quarterback, Eli has helped lead them to playoff appearances, two of which ended with Giants players standing on the Super Bowl postgame stage passing around the Lombardi Trophy. There are plenty of fans around the country who would love it if their favorite team could lay claim to such a record!
McNabb is a 6-time Pro Bowler who threw for over 37,000 yards and 234 touchdowns in his career. At 98-62-1, his record as a starting quarterback is outstanding.
While the final two years of McNabb’s career in Washington and in Minnesota were certainly forgettable, his first 11 years with the Eagles were quite memorable. He helped lead the Eagles to eight playoff appearances, and in five of those seasons, they advanced to the Conference Championship Game. But the Eagles were only able to advance on to the Super Bowl in the 2004 season (Super Bowl XXXIX). That one resulted in a 24-21 loss to the Patriots.
Unfortunately for McNabb, the Eagles consistent success under his leadership actually turned out to be a curse for him in a way. By constantly taking the Eagles to the mountaintop but failing to get them to the other side, Eagles fans became frustrated with him and for much of his career in Philadelphia, he seemed to be underappreciated.
Now we get into the Hall of Famers. Moon had an outstanding 17-year career playing for several teams, most notably the Houston Oilers and to a lesser degree, the Minnesota Vikings. He made a total of nine Pro Bowls with three different teams.
Moon’s passing numbers were prolific. Over the course of his career Moon threw 291 touchdown passes and threw for an amazing 49,325 yards, good enough for fifth place on the all-time list. He led the league in pass completions three times, passing yardage twice, and touchdown passes once. Moon had four seasons where he passed for more than 4,000 yards and in 1990, he was named the NFL’s Offensive Player of the Year.
During his 10 years in Houston, Moon led the Oilers into the playoffs seven times. Additionally, he led the Vikings to one playoff berth. What a lot of people sometimes forget is the fact that Moon spent six highly successful years in the Canadian Football League prior to coming to the NFL. Makes you appreciate his longevity and production in the NFL even more!
Okay … where to begin. How about with the accomplishments and stats? As an 8-time Pro Bowler and 3-time All-Pro, Montana is ranked in the top 15 on the all-time career leader board in almost all of the important passing categories.
In his 13-year career, Montana passed for over 40,000 yards and threw 273 touchdown passes, leading the league twice in that latter category. Ever the model of consistency, Montana led the league five times in completion percentage.
Now some may argue that Montana’s exceptional completion percentage stats are due to the fact that he played in Bill Walsh’s west coast style of offense with the emphasis on making lower risk throws. And there is some truth to that. But playing in that style of offense is one thing – executing it with the precision that Montana did is something else.
And from a team standpoint, Montana’s record is just as exceptional. He led the 49ers to the playoffs nine times and he finished up his career leading the Chiefs to the playoffs twice. With Montana at the helm, the 49ers won four Super Bowl titles.
All right, we can hear it now … how can a guy who never won a Super Bowl, be ranked ahead of Montana? Again we rely on the stats.
Marino’s body of work over his entire 17-year career with the Dolphins is truly exceptional. He threw for over 61,000 yards, leading the league in that category five times. He also threw a total of 420 touchdown passes, leading the league three times in that category as well. Marino’s career record as a starting quarterback is an amazing 147-93. He was a 9-time Pro Bowler and he was selected to the All-Pro team three times.
A look at the all-time career leader board also is worth noting. Marino ranks 3rd in pass completions (4,967), 3rd in passing yards and 3rd in touchdown passes. He also is 1st in leading his team on game winning drives (51) and 2nd in leading his team to comeback victories (36).
Marino of course could serve as the poster boy for the saying, “don’t ever take anything for granted”. His only trip to the Super Bowl (Super Bowl XIX) came in the 1984 season, his second year in the league. They lost that game, ironically, to the Montana-led 49ers.
What is surprising about him making just one Super Bowl appearance, is the fact that Marino consistently put his team in position to make a run at a Super Bowl return. During his 17 years, Marino took the Dolphins to the playoffs 10 times, three of which resulted in Conference Championship Game appearances, including that 1984 season.
And the # 1 Quarterback Whose Last Name Begins with the Letter “M” …
Could this one have been any easier? A little earlier when we said that we were getting into the Hall of Famers, we obviously were technically being presumptuous. But really, if ever there was a candidate to be a unanimous first ballot Hall of Famer, Peyton is it.
A 12-time Pro Bowler and 6-time All-Pro, Peyton already ranks right near the top of the all-time career leader board in the most important passing categories. He is 2nd in completions (5,232), passing yards (61,371), and touchdown passes (456). He ranks 4th in completion percentage (65.5%), 2nd in game winning drives (50), and 1st in comeback victories. Additionally, given the amazing start to this 2013 season, he is on pace to set new single-season records for passing yards and touchdown passes.
That’s the stats side of it. But what truly makes him remarkable is his consistency, his ability to bring out the best from his supporting cast and just generally, his leadership skills.
Much has been made of his relatively mediocre record in the playoffs. It’s true that he has only taken teams to the Super Bowl twice, winning one, and he hasn’t always come up big in the “big games”. But in eleven of the thirteen seasons that he actually played for the Colts, he led them into the playoffs. And then last year, in his first season with the Broncos and coming back from a serious neck injury, he had them in the playoffs. If not for a fluky, late game defensive misplay by the Broncos in the divisional playoff round, Manning would have had the Broncos in the Conference Championship game.
As with any player, you can find holes in his record. But there is nothing to suggest that he is not the clear choice for the top ranking on this list!