Who is the greatest quarterback of all time? It’s a question all fans of this game like to pose from time to time. This season, it has been even more to the front of fans’ minds, as they have revelled in the sight of three of the best ever – Favre, Brady and Manning P – battle it out. Are any of these the best ever? It is almost impossible to say.
One of the ways you can look at this is by looking at the NFL Hall of Fame, the very real institution (you get given a special ring and everything) to which between four and seven former players or officials are elected every year. To be eligible, a nominee must have been retired from the game for five years. This allows for a period of reflection upon a nominee’s career and, as the voting is done by journalists, not players, also means that most feuds that have evolved over the nominee’s career have been settled or forgotten.
It is not an easy task to get into the Hall of Fame. Only seventeen people out of the thousands who have ever played, coached or whatever in the NFL are nominated each year. Less than half of those are elected. There are currently 30 quarterbacks in there, so it is fair to assume that the best must be in there, somewhere. But how do you compare, say ‘Paddy’ Driscoll and Benny Friedman, who played in the 1920s, with Bobby Layne from the immediate post-war years, Johnny Unitas, the first of the post-merger star QBs, or someone like Dan Marino?
In an effort to bring about some sort of comparison, in 1973 the NFL introduced the ‘passer rating’ scheme. This aims to introduce a measure of the efficiency of a quarterback’s game, comparing the number of passes which they throw and the number which are caught with the strength of the teams they are playing against. It is comparable to the Duckworth-Lewis system in cricket only, frankly, even more incomprehensible.
Using this system, the best quarterback ever was the 49ers’ Steve Young, with Manning second. However, to be rated fully, you have to have thrown over 1,500 passes in your career. Which means playing for at least four seasons and therefore rules out a number of younger players like Tony Romo from the comparison. However, if you scale it down and look at ratings over the first 1,000 passes, you get a very interesting statistic. Not only does Marino leap from mid-table to first, but lying in second place is the Pittsburgh Steelers’ current triggerman, Ben Roethlisberger.
Roethlisberger has had an odd start to his career. First season was spent finding his way, as is the case with all new quarterbacks. Second season he led his team to – and won – the Superbowl. Third season, awful. A motorcycle accident in the off-season almost killed him (especially as he wasn’t wearing a helmet) and destroyed his confidence. This year, the Steelers have quietly slid up on the rails to become the ‘other’ team who could threaten the Patriots, mostly due to Roethlisberger’s fearless and determined driving of his team.
All of which made Sunday’s matchup between the Steelers and the Pats all the more interesting. Could Pittsburgh end New England’s winning run? Steelers’ safety Anthony Smith certainly thought so – and went so far as to guarantee it. Which was like a red rag to New England, who promptly trampled all over the Steelers on their way to a 34-13 win, with Smith coming in for a particularly harsh shoeing. In fact, he was left to eat a large slice of humble pie as Brady first deceived him into letting Randy Moss run free, resulting in a 63 yard touchdown, then did him again with an outrageous play which saw him swap passes with Moss before throwing more than 80 yards right over Smith’s head for a Jabar Gaffney touchdown.
It is very hard to see who can stop the Patriots from going unbeaten now. Their next two games are against the Dolphins and the Jets and their final match is against the Giants, who will probably rest key players as they will have a playoff game the following weekend, whereas the Pats have a bye that week. And given that the first two teams both seem to think that defence is what you use to surround degarden (sorry), what price Brady beating Mannings record of touchdown passes in a season (he needs five more) or Moss beating the record for touchdown catches by one receiver (he’s currently second with 19)?
- The Cowboys reaffirmed their position as the only true rivals to the Pats with a last gasp 28-27 win over the Lions, coming from behind by scoring 14 unanswered points in the last 15 minutes. Remember I said the other week that whenever Romo was in trouble, he looked for tight end Jason Witten? Seems that no-one in Detroit reads this column, as Witten not only racked up a record-equalling 15 catches in the game, but caught the winning touchdown pass;
- Brett Favre’s playing streak continues. Despite shoulder and elbow injuries, the old man played on as the Packers romped to an easy 38-7 win over the Oakland Raiders, for whom JaMarcus Russell was not even on the bench;
- The Colts quietly and efficiently moved to an 11-2 record with a 44-20 win over the Ravens;
- The Seahawks clinched their division with a 42-21 drubbing of the Cardinals, which featured three interceptions
- The Dolphins lost again. No surprise there. I feel sorry for rookie quarterback John Beck, who was pulled from the game after throwing an interception touchdown. I’m not sure what future you have in the NFL if you are too bad for the load of garbage that is the 2007 ‘Fins;
- The Vikings continue their unexpected run of form. A 27-7 win over the 49ers means they are probably just one win from a playoff place;
- At the other extreme, Chicago’s downward spiral continues as they managed to lose to the Redskins, despite them being forced to play a quarterback who hadn’t had even half a game since 1996;
- The Chargers came from behind to beat the Titans 23-17 in what was a bizarre game for them. Philip Rivers played like a dog for all but 30 seconds of the game and was very publicly cold-shouldered by star running back LaDanian Tomlinson;
- All of which means we now know 5 of the 12 teams going to the playoffs – the Packers, Colts, Cowboys, Seahawks and Patriots. The Chargers and Buccaneers will join them if they win on Sunday, as should the Vikings and Giants;
- And finally, Michael Vick got 23 months in jail. Which is either too much or too little, depending upon your perspective.