Wednesday, February 8, 2012
Top 10 New York Quarterbacks
The Giants' Super Bowl win, their 2nd with Eli Manning as their quarterback, leads to the question of who are New York’s best quarterbacks.
Honorable Mention: Ed Danowski, Giants, 1934-41. The position of quarterback was not yet what it would become during the course of his career, largely thanks to Sammy Baugh of the Washington Redskins and Sid Luckman of the Chicago Bears. But with Danowski (1911-1997) as quarterback, the Giants reached 5 NFL Championship Games, winning 2, in 1934 and 1938. He was the first New York quarterback to start in and win 2 NFL Championship Games. Phil Simms could have been the second, had he not gotten hurt; Eli Manning now is.
Ed's son John Danowski was a successful lacrosse coach at Hofstra University and has been even more successful at Duke. John's son Matt Danowski is the all time Division I career leader in total points in NCAA lacrosse history.
Honorable Mention: Clarence "Ace" Parker, of the football version of the Brooklyn Dodgers, 1937-41. A great all-around athlete out of Duke University before anyone ever heard of Dick Groat, never mind Mike Gminski or Christian Laettner, he was another pre-Baugh quarterback who nonetheless became an offensive and defensive star.
He also played for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1936 and 1937. This coming May 17, if he makes it, will be his 100th birthday, making him both the oldest living pro football player, the 2nd-oldest living Major League Baseball player, and the oldest living member of any of the 4 major league sports' halls of fame.
10. Jeff Hostetler, Giants, 1984-92. A star at West Virginia University, he married the daughter of his coach, Don Nehlen. He was mainly Simms' backup at the Meadowlands, and only made 25 regular-season starts, nearly all of them in his last 2 seasons with the club. But when Simms was hurt late in the 1990 regular season, it was Hoss who got the Giants all the way through to victory in Super Bowl XXV. In 1993, he went to the Los Angeles Raiders, and got them into the Playoffs.
He is now 50 years old, and has returned to Morgantown, where he runs a construction company.
9. Richard Todd, Jets, 1976-84. Somebody had to succeed Broadway Joe as the Jets’ starting quarterback, and, like Joe, he had the University of Alabama pedigree. And while he was mercilessly ripped in the media for not being Broadway Joe, he did get the Jets into the Playoffs twice (same number of times as Joe) and into the 1982 AFC Championship Game.
He is now 58, and works in the finance industry in his native Alabama.
8. Ken O'Brien, Jets, 1983-92. That great "Quarterback Class of '83" included Hall-of-Famers John Elway, Dan Marino and Jim Kelly, All-Pro Todd Blackledge, and Tony Eason whose career wasn't great but he did get the New England Patriots to their first AFL or AFC Championship.
O'Brien wasn't as good as Elway, Marino or Kelly, but he did make a Pro Bowl like Blackledge, passed for over 25,000 yards, and led the NFL with the lowest rate of interceptions in 1985, 1987, and 1988. In 1986 he battled Marino in one of the best-remembered Jet games ever, the 51-46 win over the Dolphins at the Meadowlands. On a Monday Night Football broadcast, Frank Gifford, who's seen every quarterback since the early Fifties, said of O'Brien, "When he gets the time to throw the football, no one throws it any better than he does."
O'Brien is now 51, and has been a college assistant coach, having coached a Heisman Trophy winner, USC's Carson Palmer, and runs quarterbacking clinics.
7. Vinny Testaverde, Jets, 1998-2003 & 2005. Speaking of Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks, Vinny was one at the University of Miami, after being born in Brooklyn and raised just outside New York City in Elmont, Long Island, location of the Belmont Park horse racing track.
His pro career, like that of too many other Heisman winners, looked like it was going to be a bust, until he reached the Jets at age 34. The 1998 season was, and remains, the Jets' best season since the 1968-69 Super Bowl season, as Vinny led Bill Parcells' J-E-T-S-Jets-Jets-Jets to within half an hour of a Super Bowl appearance.
A severed Achilles tendon in the first game of the next season ruined things for that group of Jets, but he bounced back, remaining the Jets' starter until 2002, when he was replaced by Chad Pennington (who does not make this list -- nor does current Jets starter Mark Sanchez). Still, he remained in the NFL until 2007, age 44. Think about that: When Barack Obama was beginning his first campaign for President, there was a man taking snaps in the NFL who had been born when John F. Kennedy was in the White House.
Vinny is now 48, and will be eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame next year. Will he make it? Maybe: He passed for over 46,000 yards, threw 275 touchdown passes (but also 267 interceptions), and holds records for most seasons with at least one touchdown pass (21) and touchdown passes to the most different players (70).
6. Fran Tarkenton, Giants, 1967-71. He's best remembered as the first, and then the best, quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings, whom he led to 3 NFC Championships -- but lost the Super Bowl all 3 times. Still, he became the first NFL quarterback known for running to avoid a sack and keep a play alive, which became known as "scrambling." This allowed him to set all kinds of NFL records (most since broken), including most completions, passing yards and touchdowns, and reach the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
During his tenure at Yankee Stadium, the Giants weren't a very good team, but it was hardly his fault: A faulty defense meant that the best record the team would have in those years was 9-5 in 1970 -- not unlike the Yankees, whose best finish between 1964 and 1976 was their 93-win season in 1970, but 15 games behind the Pennant-winning Baltimore Orioles. At a time when Broadway Joe was leading the Jets to glory and glamour, Fran the Scrambler was keeping the Giants relevant.
Fran just turned 72, and became a gazillionaire by getting in on the ground floor of the computer industry. He's hosted and co-hosted TV shows, including ABC's That's Incredible!, been a commentator on Monday Night Football, written a self-help book: What Losing Taught Me About Winning, and co-authored a mystery novel, Murder at the Super Bowl.
5. Y.A. Tittle, Giants, 1961-64. Formerly the signal-caller for the Baltimore Colts and the San Francisco 49ers, Yelberton Abraham became, sort of, the Vinny Testaverde of his day. He debuted for the Giants just before turning 35, and got them into the next 3 NFL Championship Games, and it was hardly his fault that they lost them all.
Unfortunately, he is probably best remembered for one of his last games, in 1964, in which he got clobbered by the Pittsburgh Steelers as the great Giants teams of 1956 to 1963 suddenly seemed to get old all at once, a prelude to what would happen to the Yankees the following spring. The photo by Morris Berman of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has become a symbol of the price that football players pay for putting their bodies on the line for money.
Tittle is now 85, and retired from the insurance industry. In the film Any Given Sunday, he played the head coach of the Chicago team. He was the first quarterback to be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame without having led his team to an NFL Championship -- and that's including Ace Parker, who was elected a year after Tittle.
4. Charlie Conerly, Giants, 1948-61. Since Danowski was a pre-Baugh, pre-Luckman quarterback, Charlie (1921-1996) was the first “real quarterback” to lead the Giants to a title, in 1956. He was also the first great quarterback out of the University of Mississippi, predating Jake Gibbs, and Archie and Eli Manning.
After the arrival of Tittle led him to retire, he owned a string of shoe stores and appeared as the Marlboro Man in cigarette commercials -- before cigarette advertising was rightly banned from television. Although a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, he has never been elected to the Pro Hall.
3. Joe Namath, Jets, 1965-76. True, he only reached the Playoffs twice. Statistically speaking, Joe's credentials for the Hall of Fame are actually kind of skimpy -- he had considerably more interceptions (220) than touchdown passes (173), and his career completion percentage was barely over half (50.1). And due to injuries, he had his last good season at age 29 and was done at 34.
But how many New York quarterbacks have won Super Bowls? Four. And how many quarterbacks, for all teams, have won iconic championships? Very few. Joe’s Super Bowl III win was one – along with Johnny Unitas and the 1958 NFL Championship Game, one of the top 2 of all time.
Joe is now 68 years old. Since retiring, and being elected to the Hall, he's been an actor and a sportscaster, and has had his personal difficulties. But he's still beloved by fans for his achievement and his personality, and respected by football people for his talent and his determination to succeed despite injuries. And, while he may have been drunk at the time of the interview, I don't blame him for wanting to kiss Suzy Kolber.
2. Phil Simms, Giants, 1979-93. Okay, Phil wasn't the Giants' starting quarterback in Super Bowl XXV, due to injury, but they wouldn't have gotten there without him. And he did complete 22 out of 25 passes in Super Bowl XXI, giving the G-Men their first World Championship of the modern era. Considering how many injuries -- and how many boos -- he got at the beginning of his career, it's amazing how loved he now is.
Now 57, Phil has been CBS' top NFL color commentator for the last few years, although CBS having the AFC package has led him to call a lot more Jet games than Giant games. His son Chris Simms has also been an NFL quarterback, although the less said about Chris' off-field activities, the better.
1. Eli Manning, Giants, 2004–present. Phil Simms led the Giants to 2 Super Bowl seasons and was Super Bowl MVP in 1 of them. Eli has now been named MVP of 2 Super Bowls, and both were better games than the ones Simms and Namath played in. And let's not forget: Much like the Jets were in Super Bowl III, the Giants were underdogs in both of their Supes with the Patriots.
Indeed, being the younger brother of Peyton Manning, having played his college ball at the University of Mississippi rather than a more storied football school, having been greeted with skepticism by Giant fans upon their acquisition of him following the 2004 NFL Draft, and playing in the NFC East with the Philadelphia Eagles' Donovan McNabb and Michael Vick and the Dallas Cowboys' Tony Romo, it can be argued that Eli was an underdog for the first 31 years of his life.
No more. At the beginning of this season, he was asked if he was "an elite quarterback." He said he was. He has now proven it. It will take a mistake of O.J. Simpson or Pete Rose proportions to keep him out of Canton now -- and he and Peyton will probably become the first brother combination to both be in the Hall, unless Clay Matthews (father of the Packer linebacker of the same name) joins his brother Bruce (and he should).
Eli at his best still isn't as good as Peyton was at his best, but he's won 2 NFL Championships. Here's a list of the NFL quarterbacks who've done that since Baugh and Luckman rewrote the rules for the passing game:
1. Sid Luckman, 1940, '41, '43 and '46 Chicago Bears
2. Sammy Baugh, 1937 & '42 Washington Redskins
3. Tommy Thompson, 1948 & '49 Philadelphia Eagles
4. Bob Waterfield, 1945 Cleveland & '51 Los Angeles Rams
5. Bobby Layne, 1952 & '53 Detroit Lions (hurt for '57 Championship Game)
6. Otto Graham, 1950, '54 & '55 Cleveland Browns
7. Johnny Unitas, 1958, '59 & '70 Baltimore Colts
8. Bart Starr, 1961, '62, '65, '66 & '67 Green Bay Packers
9. Bob Griese, 1972 & '73 Miami Dolphins
10. Terry Bradshaw, 1974, '75, '78 & '79 Pittsburgh Steelers
11. Roger Staubach, 1971 & '77 Dallas Cowboys
12. Jim Plunkett, 1980 Oakland & '83 Los Angeles Raiders
13. Joe Montana, 1981, '84, '88 & '89 San Francisco 49ers
(Not quite - Phil Simms, 1986 & '90 New York Giants)
14. Troy Aikman, 1992, '93 & '95 Dallas Cowboys
15. John Elway, 1997 & '98 Denver Broncos
16. Tom Brady, 2001, '03 & '04 New England Patriots *
17. Eli Manning, 2007 & '11 New York Giants
And of those, how many have been Super Bowl MVP twice? Just 5: Starr, Bradshaw, Montana, Brady (*) and Elway.
Pretty good company, Eli. He didn't walk off the field either time holding up the "We're Number 1" finger like Namath. But he could have. On the list of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of New York Tri-State Area football, Eli Manning is Number 1. And, hopefully, he's got a few more years to go.