The Best NFL Quarterbacks of All Time

Who are the five best NFL quarterbacks of all time? Fans will usually focus on their favorites, whether it's a current player or a legend from the early days of the league, and there's no escaping the excitement that current players bring to the field. Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are on many fans' short lists, but they're an honorable mention right now next to this group of NFL giants.

  •  Dan Marino, Miami Dolphins: Before Manning and Brady began their assaults on his records, Marino was considered one of the best quarterbacks of the post-merger era. In 1984, Marino set six NFL records for passing, and he still holds the record for most yards gained in a season, at 5,084. He also holds the record for most games with 400 yards passing or more in a career, at 17, and most games with 400 yards or more passing in a season (4, also set in 1984). Under Marino, the Dolphins thrived through regular season games with a relentless aerial attack and seldom missed the playoffs. Championship games were less than kind to Marino, however, who only made it to one Super Bowl (XIX), where he lost to the San Francisco 49ers, 38-16. Today, Marino is widely hailed by NFL fans as the greatest quarterback to never win a Super Bowl.
  • Joe Montana, San Francisco 49ers: Montana beat Marino in that Super Bowl following the 1984 season, the second of four championships he won for the 49ers, with others in 1981, 1988 and 1989. Although Montana doesn't hold any NFL records, he's second to Marino for most games with 400 or more yards passing in a career (7) and tied for second for the most consecutive passes completed in a game (22), a record currently held by Donovan McNabb. Performance under playoff pressure is what puts Montana on this list, as he holds the postseason records for career touchdown passes (45), passing yards (5,772) and Super Bowl passer rating (127.8). Montana's legacy as a quarterback can still be seen today. Montana was among the first to adopt a mobile style of passing, moving in the pocket to buy more time for plays to open up downfield.
  • Terry Bradshaw, Pittsburgh Steelers: The first great quarterback of the post-merger NFL era, Bradshaw helped the Steelers dominate the 1970s with four Super Bowl wins 1974, 1975, 1978 and 1979. Although he holds no NFL records, Bradshaw was named Super Bowl MVP twice, in 1978 and 1979. Bradhsaw was a model of toughness on the field, regularly absorbing bruising sacks to keep a play alive and still somehow getting the ball down the field. Bradshaw threw the pass that led to the Immaculate Reception on December 23, 1972, widely hailed as the greatest football pass of all time. During the play, Bradshaw rocketed a pass toward Barry Pearson just before a sack. The ball bounced off the helmet of Oakland Raider Jack Tatum and into the arms of Steeler running back Franco Harris, who ran the ball in for a touchdown and the win.
  • Johnny Unitas, Baltimore Colts: As televised NFL games grew in popularity during the 1950s, Johnny Unitas was a common sight on Sunday afternoons. Much of Unitas' fame is tied to the 1958 NFL Championship game against the New York Giants. This was the first overtime game in NFL history, and Unitas led his team to a heart-stopping 23-17 win in what many consider the greatest NFL game of all time. A tough pocket passer, Unitas holds the NFL record for most consecutive games with touchdown passes (47) and is tied for first place with Len Dawson, Steve Young and Brett Farve for the most seasons leading the league in touchdown passes. Unitas won another NFL Championship in 1959 and helped his team win Super Bowl V in 1970. A lasting part of Unitas' legend is his friendly and easygoing manner off the field. This approachable, handsome NFL quarterback played a significant role in attracting TV audiences to the sport.
  • Bart Starr, Green Bay Packers: No quarterback in NFL history has won more championships than Bart Starr, who led his team to NFL Championship victories 1961, 1962 and 1965 and wins in the first two Super Bowls in 1966 and 1967. A longer NFL season has allowed newer generations of players to eclipse many of the records that Starr held, but he's still second all time for consecutive passes without an interception (294) and lowest percentage of seasons leading the league in passing without an interception (3, a record he shares with Charlie Conerley, Roger Staubach, Ken Anderson and Ken O'Brien). Starr's confidence and accuracy on the field helped him win statistical praise, but it was his stalwart leadership of the legendary 1960s Packers that helped to define him as one of the greatest quarterbacks ever to play the game.
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