Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The NFL's Greatest Myth: Joe Montana is the greatest QB in NFL history

It just ain't so. We would not even entertain the notion if it had not been for that masterful myth-maker Steve Sabol. He was the guy who first advocated the notion that Joe was the greatest in history.

This policy was set for crass materialist gold-digging reasons. It behooves the NFL (financially) to claim that the greatest X in history is playing on the field right now. This is how you promote an entertainment spectacle. This is especially true in the case of the Quarterback position. You sell a lot replica Jerseys, a lot of tee shirts, and license a lot of film footage for the greatest Quarterback in history... who ever that is. We should remember that in 1993, the year Steve Sabol started this bullshit, Joe was still playing. He was headed for Kansas City, to be specific. You can sell a lot of #16 49er Jerseys and a lot of #19 Chief Jerseys by advocating this notion.

Don't under-estimate the power of the profit motive in the fine art of bullshit weaving.

Certain wimploid QBs with weak-ass arms--like Pat Hayden--joined in the chorus very quickly. Pat is a former Ram, so I claim family rights to bitch slap him for joining in with this foolishness.

I was one the guys acting as if the tribal gods had been offended. I wasn't the only one. I was in very good company. In his 1993 Hall of Fame acceptance speech, Dan Fouts took a hard shot at the "Joe is the Greatest" camp by declaring that the only reason he was being inducted into the Hall of Fame was his good fortune to learn at the feet of the greatest QB in the history of the game, Johnny Unitas. Unitas was the starter in San Diego in when Dan Fouts was drafted. Fouts was taught the craft by Unitas. That was a political speech. It was delivered with a curl of the lip and a snarl in the voice. The statement was intentionally pointed. It occurred at the very moment that the Joe band waggon was starting to roll. Dan Fouts was throwing his shoes at Pat Hayden and Steve Sabol... on camera... in front of a national audience... at the Hall of Fame.

I loved every frickin' second of it. I couldn't have agreed with Dan Fouts more. Dan Fouts knows a thing or two about quarterbacking. You aught to pay him some heed. Johnny Unitas remains the greatest Quarterback in NFL history. Let's leave it that way.

Pat Hayden reacted to that speech a couple of times. He was a color man for ESPN Sunday Night football in those days. Believe me, he was defensive about Fouts. He knew Fouts had, cryptically, told him to sit down and shutup. He tried to defend his position on Montana with most of the common arguments made today, but he was nervous. Fouts had a lot more clout that Hayden.

I once made this argument for an old timer who remembered Unitas well. The old timer was a resident of Concord California, and a big 49er fan. He had a few moral problems declaring that Hoe... excuse me, Joe, was the best of all time. After a few moments of consideration he asked:

"Well you at least have to admit that Joe is the greatest of the Super Bowl era, right?"

"Nope, Johnny Unitas played in Super Bowl III and V. The Colts won V against Dallas. Unitas played in the Super Bowl era."

"Oh yeah... I forgot that. well, you have to admit that he is the greatest QB in recent history?"

"Nope, the truth be told, Joe isn't even the greatest QB in 49er history, much less recent history. The guy who replaced him--Steve Young-- was better than he was in every respect."

The old man looked conflicted. He felt like the tribal gods had been offended, but at the very same time, this dedicated 49er fan knew why a serious man could think this thought. Joe had a weak arm. Steve had a strong arm. Joe was mobile. Steve Young was a threat to run the distance of the field for a touchdown. He did that much more than once. Joe threw a lot of TD passes to Jerry Rice. Young threw 30 more TDs to Jerry than Joe did. That is a literal figure. Joe was clutch, but he needed to be clutch. Steve was clutch when he had to be, but he usually got his work done by the 3rd quarter. Steve didn't need a lot of comebacks. Joe once threw 5 touchdown passes in a Super Bowl. Steve threw 6. Joe retired with the highest lifetime QB efficiency rating ever recorded (92.3). Steve retired later on with an even higher passer rating. Steve Young still has the highest lifetime efficiency rating ever recorded by a retired career quarterback (96.8). Joe is in the Hall of Fame. Steve is in the Hall of Fame. I watched Joe & Steve run the same offense with most of the same players. That offense was far more explosive and dynamic under Steve than it was under Joe.

It should be noted in passing that Kurt Warner has a lifetime efficiency rating of 93.8. He's shooting right through the middle of those two. If he finishes well, who knows...

There are good and valid reasons why the NFL's Top 10 rated Joe & Jerry as the #3 passing combo of all time. There are better reasons why they rated Steve & Jerry as the #2 ranked passing combo of all time. Jerry was the same lethal Jerry. Steve was just better than Joe. That is the difference between #2 and #3.

The old timer from Concord California chewed it over a for a few and he said:

"Yeah, but Joe won 4 Super Bowls and Steve only won 1 Super Bowl."

"Nope. Joe never won a single Super Bowl. Steve never won a single Super Bowl. Joe was part of four 49er teams that won the Super Bowl. Steve was part of three 49er teams that won the Super Bowl. No Quarterback ever won a Super Bowl."

Nothing pisses me off more than this false notion that quarterbacks win Super Bowls. You need a complete offensive, defensive and special teams package to win the Super Bowl. You need some good luck too. It takes at least 40 good men to win a Super Bowl.... and a couple of good bounces... and a couple of bad calls.

So who is the greatest Quarterback of the past 30 or so years?

There are a few candidates, and it is hard to choose between them because it is hard to compare. If I had to call it, I would name three candidates in no particular order.
1. John Elway
2. Steve Young
3. Dan Marino

In terms of pure passing skills, nobody compares to Marino. Marino could hit a golf tee on the sidelines from 65 yards away 9 out of 10 tries. Nobody had more control or accuracy than Marino. He also had incredible vision. He didn't miss open receivers down field. He did a good job of picking the most open receiver when his three guy gave him several options. It is a pure crime that Dan Marino doesn't get mentioned more often when we discuse the greatest QB of all time. There aught to be a congressional investigation. He was incredible. He was the greatest pure-passer I ever saw.

You know why they don't mention Dan...? It's this goddamn fucking stupid shit about Quarterbacks winning Super Bowls. You know how I feel about that already. That doctrine is a completely FUBAR doctrine.

Steve Young and John Elway are almost left handed and right handed mirror images of each other. Amazing athletes. Incredible mobility, but Young was better. Great arm strength and accuracy, but Elway was better. Great in 2 minute situations, but Elway was better. They both ran Shanahan's West Coast, but I think Steve Young ran it better. Elway did a hell of job, though.

In terms of the complete package of passing skills, mobility, running for yardage, 2 minute comebacks, efficiency, Young and Elway have to outrank guys like Marino and Fouts. Marino and Fouts were pure pocket passers. Either Elway or Young is the greatest QB of the recent era.

What about the young fellows like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning? Let's not comment on them. Their careers are not finished. They have plenty ahead of them. Let's see how they finish.

What about Brett Farve? Don't go there. Way, way, way too many interceptions.

For those who still want to claim that Joe is the greatest. I strongly recommend you watch three NFL films which are factual and not mythological. Watch the NFL's Greatest Games 1981 NFC championship and 1983 NFC championship. You will see things from Joe you never though could happen. You will see highly erratic performances where he turned over the football 4 times in one and several more in the other. Further, watch the "America's Game" 1988 49ers. You will see that Roger Craig was the man on that team, and the 49ers were trying to replace Montana with Young. An unvarnished look at those films will damage your doctrinaire view of Montana.